Why are My Dog's Ears not Standing Up?
Why are Puppy's Ears Not Standing Up?
A puppy with one ear up and one ear down is very cute and surely attracts people with his comical expression, but many dog owners grow concerned as time goes by and the ears are not standing up as they should. What gives? If you own a young puppy, you may want to immortalize this look by taking several pictures as this floppiness is often short-lived. But what causes a pup's ear to refuse to stand up as the other, and most importantly, what can be done about it? It helps to learn a bit more about canine anatomy and a pup's life stages.
If you are concerned about your dog's ear flaps not standing up, most likely you are the proud owner of a purebred dog whose breed standard by definition puts an emphasis on erect ears. Whether you have plans of showing your dog in the ring or simply want a nice representative of the breed, that floppy ear may become a source of concern. I have known dog owners who really couldn't sleep thinking about it and obsessed over it. If you own a puppy of a dog breed where hanging ears are serious faults, don't panic as of yet as I have known many pups with floppy ears who have blossomed into beautiful representatives of the breed. I can't deny though that I have also known though of a few pups whose ears have remained floppy, but I must admit that they were nonetheless adorable dogs.
Let's go over a bit of anatomy.The part of a dog's ear that causes most concerned is known as the ear flap or "pinna." The pinna is a flap of skin covered by fur and composed by numerous muscles attached to the curved cartilage. Depending on the breed of dog the pinnae varies greatly in size and shape. You may see pinnae that are short and erect and pinna that are long and floppy. In this article, we will be discussing about the pinna of dogs that are normally erect by standard but for some reason are not carried that way.
As an altricial species, puppies are born deaf, blind and with floppy ears that are tightly closed. The ears then begin opening during the second week of their lives, generally between the 13th and 17th day. This is when the pups start hearing, seeing and exploring their surroundings. Later, as the pup grows, the cartilage starts to strengthen and eventually allows the pinna to stand up erect. This of course, happens only in the breeds known for having natural erect ears. Puppies of dog breeds meant to have floppy ears remain with floppy ears, whereas, dogs who by standard must have erect ears but have naturally floppy ears, may be at times altered surgically by a cosmetic surgical procedure known as "ear cropping."
As mentioned, this article will tackle purebred puppies who by standard must have natural erect ears. If you own a mixed breed dog, the only way to know if the ears will stay floppy or erect, is to just wait and see. In the next paragraph we will see exactly when we should expect these ears to stand up and what may cause them not to, along with some options to guide them.
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Causes of Pup's Ears not Growing Erect
So we know that pups are born with floppy ears and that as they grow, they start to become erect, but when does this happen? and when are the chances for them not actually standing erect getting slim? Generally, there's no black and white answer to this as this varies from one pup and another.
Generally, you should expect the ears to become erect anywhere between 6 weeks up to several months. In the German Shepherd breed, the ears typically should be erect between 8 to 10 weeks old, but some may take as long as 6 to 7 months. There are reports of owners giving up on the ears, and then they magically grow erect when the pup is almost 1 year old! So not all hopes are lost, however, it's quite unlikely for a pup to grow erect ears once reaching 1 year of age.
Moments of ears standing up and then flopping down like an overcooked souffle' are not uncommon. There may be times when one ear is up and the other is down. Some owners even report a pup waking up with erect ears which then flop overnight as the pup gets tired.
So what causes a delay in floppy ears that don't grow erect? There can be several reasons for ears delaying to become erect or failing to completely. Let's take a look at some.
- The pup has ear flaps that are particularly large and heavy often seen in dogs with big heads.
- Soft, light ears that flop from the base of flop at the tip or middle. *Note: this is often inherited and specimens with this trait should not be bred.
- Wide space between the ears.
- Excessive rough rubbing and handling of the ears.
- Consistently petting the ears backwards.
- Exposure to other puppies/dogs who chew ears.
- Growth spurts.
- Teething phase.
Let's take a closer look at several of these factors. The delay may have a genetic basis (parents with large heads, wider spaces within the ears, soft ear leather etc), but the environment may also have a role (owners over handling the ears), and so can the pup's developmental phases. With genetics there's not much to do other than hope and perhaps help the ears through artificial means (we will look at these in the next sections). The way the pup is raised you have great control over, just control the urge to touch those ears too much, and developmental phases all pups must go through--not much you can do about.
Generally, if your puppy had erect ears before the puppy teething phase started (between 3-5 months), but then flopped down during teething, they should come back up once the teething phase is over. Why does this happen? Simple. When the pup is teething his body will need to borrow some calcium for the teeth to grow well along with important bones. The cartilage of the ear at this time is not that important overall, so they will resume using the calcium only once the teeth and bones have used it.
What Can be Done to Help a Puppy's Ears to Stand Up?
Worried about those ears? There are some things you can do to help your pup grow beautiful erect ears, if that's what your dog's genetic makeup is meant to be. Of course, you can't force nature if your dog's genes are programmed to develop floppy ears! Following are some things that may help, but often the wisdom of waiting a bit if the pup is still young surpasses all.
- Consult with your breeder. He or she knows best how long it may take by reviewing the history of the pup's parents.
- Consult with your vet for a check up and an idea of the pup's development.
- Shave the hair on the ears, the hair can make them more heavy and harder to stand up.
- Offer safe raw bones to chew on. This will give your puppy some extra calcium but chewing will also help exercise those muscles found at the base of your pup's ears.
- Resist handling those ears albeit how tempting it may be to touch those soft ear flaps!
- Limit exposure to dogs who constantly chew those ears or offer toys to keep the mind off of them.
- Avoid calcium supplements. You may give too much which will cause problems in the long run such as bone spurts, arthritis and joint problems in a growing pup.
- A better idea is to give only 1 tablespoon of choice of cottage cheese or yogurt.
- Consider taping/glueing the pup's ears if they are not up by the time the pup is 5-6 months. Ask your breeder when and how. If you wait too long, it may be too late.
- Always ask your vet about calcium supplements. The vet may suggest calcium injections if your pup is over 7 months and the ears are reluctant to stand up.
As seen, there are many steps you can take to help your pup's ears stand. However, always ask your vet and breeder before taking any measures to play it safe. Consider also that some pups with erect ears may still have them flop at the top when the pup is running. This is called "friendly ears" but it's typically not considered a disqualification. See your breed standard.
Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Always ask your vet before using supplements and ask your breeder how to intervene if the ears are not standing up. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer and will not hold us responsible in any way.
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For further reading
- How Dogs Communicate with Their Ears
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- Dogs with swollen ears
Learn what causes swollen ears in your dog and how to treat this condition. Dog swollen ears are often due to a condition known as aural ear hematoma.