15 Amazing Facts About Dog Ears · The Wildest

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15 Amazing Facts About Dog Ears

There’s a lot more to your pup’s furry appendages than you might think.

by Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM
Updated February 14, 2024
Puppy with one ear up an done ear down.
Mary Swift/Adobe Stock

Dog ears are unique and serve essential functions. They help with sound localization and protect the ear canal from debris. But, unfortunately, they are also susceptible to infections, allergies, and other issues. Regular cleaning, parasite prevention, and prompt veterinary attention for any abnormalities are crucial for maintaining healthy dog ears.

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The anatomy of the dog ear

A dog’s ear is an incredibly complex structure, with names like  “anthelix and medial process of the antitragus used to describe every bump, fold, and ridge. Knowing all those tiny structures isn’t super important, but being familiar with the general structure of the ear can be helpful, especially if your dog is prone to ear issues. The dog ear consists of the following parts:

  • Pinna: This is the floppy or pointy part and its base. It helps dogs amplify sounds and figure out which direction they’re coming from.

  • External ear canal: This tube extends from the base of the pinna down to the eardrum. It is divided into vertical and horizontal portions.

  • Middle ear: This begins at the eardrum, which protects a bony chamber used to conduct sound waves.

  • Inner ear: This well-protected deep structure is crucial in perceiving sound. It also contains the vestibular system, which is responsible for maintaining balance.

Facts about dog ears

1. They have more than a dozen muscles.

Dogs have at least 18 muscles that work to tilt, raise, and rotate their ears, which helps them identify and capture sounds from different directions.

2. They have a long, narrow ear canal.

Unlike humans, who have a very short ear canal, dogs have a long, narrow ear canal that makes almost a 90-degree bend as it travels to the deeper parts of the ear.

3. Dogs with floppy ears may have more ear problems.

Compared to cats, dogs tend to have many more ear problems and ear infections — especially breeds with floppy ears like Basset Hounds.

4. Dogs can hear nearly four times better than humans.

Your dog’s hearing ability is dependent on their breed and age. Generally, dogs and people both hear similar low-frequency sounds. The average hearing range for a dog is usually around 67 hertz to 45,000 hertz (45 kilohertz). Human hearing stretches from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz (20 kilohertz), but most adults actually top out at 16k hertz. Dogs also have much more sensitive hearing than humans, picking up ultra-quiet noises that their parents can’t hear.

5. They have a higher hearing frequency than humans.

Domestic dogs can hear significantly higher frequency sounds than humans, though not as high as cats. They also have a different acoustic perception of the world. Sounds that don’t bother people often have high-frequency tones that can scare dogs.

There are many sounds only dogs can hear. For example, ultrasonic dog whistles have been used in dog training because they produce sounds at frequencies higher than those audible to humans but well within the range of a dog’s hearing. Even during the quiet hours of the night, the world is a noisy place for dogs. Because of this super hearing ability, other sounds dogs may pick up on include the high-frequency pulse of the crystal resonator used in digital alarm clocks, bodily vibrations of termites in the walls, potential sounds before an earthquake, and high pitch whirling of electronic devices like vacuums and screw drivers.

6. They use their ears to express emotions.

A dog’s level of attention can be determined by watching their ears. Erect ears facing forward indicate that they’re engaged, and slightly pulled-back ears signal that they’re feeling friendly; ears laid tightly back against the head suggest they’re feeling fearful or timid.

7. Their ears can move independently of one another.

They can tilt, turn, raise, and lower their ears one at a time.

8. A dog’s ear canal is L-shaped:

Vertical toward the jaw, then taking an almost 90-degree turn horizontally toward the eardrum. This makes examination challenging and predisposes dogs to a variety of ear ailments.

9. Hounds have the longest ears.

A black-and-tan Coonhound named Lou from Milwaukie, WI, whose ears each measure 13.38 inches, holds the title for longest ears according to the Guinness Book of World Records. That length has a purpose: to help direct scent to the hound’s sensitive sniffer.

10. Dogs can wear hearing aids.

University of Cincinnati researcher Pete Scheifele, also the director of UC’s Bioacoustics and Canine Audiology Clinic, is developing a hearing aid that will help dogs with acquired hearing loss.

11. Some dog breeds are at a higher risk for ear infections

Breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, and Shar-peis get ear infections more commonly. This is likely due to a combination of anatomy, allergies, and genetic factors.

12. Dogs’ ears are quite sensitive to sound.

Dogs can hear much quieter sounds than people can, with some reports suggesting that they can hear sounds in the negative 5 to negative 15 decibel range. This means that they pick up on sounds that are about half as quiet as humans can.

13. Puppies are born with their ear canals closed.

Puppies are born deaf and blind, with their eyelids and ears sealed closed. Their eyes and ears begin to open around 14 days of age, allowing them to begin to see and hear their surroundings. Their hearing ability continues to evolve over the next four to six weeks of life as they continue to grow.

14. Some breeds are prone to hearing issues.

Some dog breeds are predisposed to deafness due to genetic factors. Dalmatians have one of the highest incidences of deafness, with around 30 percent of them being deaf in one or both ears. A merle or dapple coat color (like that found in Great Danes, Dachshunds, and Collies) has a strong association with deafness as well.

15. Cats can hear better than dogs.

Cats are even more sensitive to sounds than dogs are. They pick up on low-frequency vibrations down to 45 hertz and high-frequency buzzes up to 64,000 hertz. This is well beyond the dog’s 67 to 45,000 hertz range.

FAQs (People also ask):

Can dogs control their ears?

Dogs have great control over their ears, using a number of small muscles to move their ears to better focus on and locate sounds. Their ear movements also accent many of their cute and curious expressions.

Why are dog ears so soft?

Dog ears are soft because of their tightly packed hairs and lack of bones. Cartilage, which is much softer and more flexible than bone, gives the ears their shape.

What frequency can dogs hear that humans can’t?

Dogs can hear frequencies that are about twice as high-pitched than those that humans can. Humans can hear up to about 20,000 hertz, while dogs can hear frequencies up to 45,000 hertz.

How often should I clean my dog’s ears?

Many dogs with healthy ears never need their ears cleaned. Dogs with allergies, previous ear infections, or other ear issues may need their ears cleaned up to twice a week. Always follow your vet’s advice about when and how to clean your dog’s ears.

Are puppies born deaf?

Puppies are born with their ear canals completely shut. They begin to hear when the canals open at around two weeks of age, but often don’t have fully developed hearing abilities until they are six to eight weeks old.

References:

Dr. Bartley Harrison holding his dog

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM is a small animal veterinarian based in North Carolina who has practiced emergency medicine since graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. His primary interest areas include pain management, cardiology, and the treatment of shock.

He is a member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Medical Writers Association. In addition to his clinical work, he writes pet health articles to help provide accurate information for both new and experienced pet parents. When he’s not working, he enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and going on adventures with his dog.