Dogs with floppy ears take cuteness to a whole new level, but have you ever wondered why certain breeds have floppy ears?
Did you know that only one wild animal has naturally floppy ears?! And no, it’s not a dog. It’s the elephant!
Wolves, the direct ancestors of the domesticated dog have always had erect ears. This leaves us with a curious puzzle, how did some dog breeds develop floppy ears?
This question is actually quite a head-scratcher to some historians. Charles Darwin, for example, studied the issue (among other subjects about the differences between wild animals, and domesticated ones) in the 19th century.
Modern science has shed some much-needed insight into this perplexing problem.
Let’s get sciencey!
Why do dogs have floppy ears?
Why do some dogs have floppy ears while others don’t? The truth is that no one can be 100% sure what causes floppy ears in dogs.
Yes, artificial selection for special physical traits such as leg length, coat type, and body shape led to the evolution of different dog breeds.
Digging deeper, why do individual canines of the same breed differ from one another? One theory suggests that these differences, including the floppy dog ears, are due to the domestication syndrome.
It was therefore the more friendly and easy-going wolves that first met early humans and not the wild and vicious ones.
Experts believe that these amiable wolves were more manageable because they had smaller suprarenal glands. Higher levels of “fight or flight,” hormones can make a dog more aggressive. The bigger the suprarenal glands are, the greater the risk of a dog becoming aggressive. It makes sense then that domesticated wolves with smaller suprarenal cells were preferred.
A collection of germ cells makes up the suprarenal gland, which also makes up parts of the ear. Dogs with smaller suprarenal glands are believed to have fewer germ cells. These germ cells don’t fully stretch to the ear and cause structural drops.
This is just an idea. Another theory is that dogs with floppy ears may have weak cartilage.
We can only say that early humans liked the friendly wolves with the tendency to have floppy ears. They selectively bred them and made the floppy-ear gene more common.
Are Floppy Ears Bad For Dogs?
Floppy dog ears and other effects of selective breeding for domestication do not seem to cause any harm to dogs or other tamed pets.
They are not found in all dogs. Many dogs could have erect ears that look like wild wolves.
However, even though floppy eared dogs can be quite adorable, there are downsides:
- Malformed ear cartilage is a sign of anatomical problems.
- Affected hearing — Any animal that wants to hear well, whether it’s a dog, cat, or rabbit, is not going to benefit from its ears being flopped down beside its face.
- A dropped frame can also lead to ear infections.
Similar to how we can hear better when we cup our hand around our ear, an erect ear helps to focus sound. This is because the audial waves accumulate better and jump straight down into the ear canal.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that dogs with floppy ears such as the Bassett Hound or Poodle, Bloodhound, or Beagle don’t have as good a hearing as dogs with straight ears such as Siberian Huskies and German Shepherds.
However, dogs with floppy ears have their merits. Their sense of smell is far superior and they are excellent at following scent trails.
The question of whether floppy dog ears can hear as well as dogs that have erect ears remains a controversial topic. Unfortunately, this topic is not well researched and there haven’t been many studies or researches done.
Yes. Ear infections are common in dogs with floppy ears.
About 20% of dogs suffer from ear infections. More than 75% of these occur in dogs with floppy ears.
If your dog has dropped ears, you should be aware of signs such as excessive head shaking, whining, and scratching. These symptoms are common signs of ear disease. However, we recommend you consult your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis.
It’s possible that too much moisture can become trapped in floppy ears. This can lead to the growth and spread of bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both. Ear mites can also be found in puppies and may take up residence and multiply in their floppy ears. This can lead to infection.
Fortunately, ear infections in dogs can be treated easily.
Are Floppy Ears Dominant Or Recessive In Dogs?
Some of the genetic traits that a dog inherits are recessive while others are dominant.
To be dominant, a dog must have one offprint of a particular genetic gene. If either the father or the mother passes on a dominant trait to their offspring, they will also display it.
Recessive traits require two offprints, one from each parent. These traits can remain hidden in a dog’s genetic makeup for generations and not be expressed until the pup inherits two of the recessive genes.
Floppy dog ears are a dominant genetic trait, which means it is much easier to acquire than a recessive one. Floppy ears can be passed from one parent to a pup.
However, floppy ears aren’t always a natural trait. They can occur even if your dog has straight, erect ears. Their shape, size, or stiffness/thickness may become affected by diet and illness, leading to floppy ears.
Will My Puppy’s Ears Stay Floppy?
All puppies, regardless of breed, are born with floppy ears.
Don’t panic. Floppy ears on your pup doesn’t mean that you were conned into getting the wrong breed. Your pup’s ears haven’t had the time to mature yet.
The first year of your dog’s life will be full of changes. One of those changes will be the shape of their ears.
Not all dogs have it in their genes to develop ears that stand up. For breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel or the Bassett Hound, tall erect ears will never happen.
However, it is important to remember that just because a breed has pointed ears, such as Corgies or Huskies, doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog will have this physical feature. Every breed has its unique characteristics. External factors can also have an impact on the development of your dog’s ears.
If you are concerned, there are two methods to determine if your dog’s ears will remain floppy:
- First, check where the ears are located on the pup’s head. If the ears are positioned close together, and high on top of the head, it’s likely that the ears will grow tall and erect as the pup gets older.
- Second, you can observe their ears when they are excited. If they raise their ears a bit, it’s likely that they will stay that way at some point.
How Can I Help My Dog With Floppy Ears?
If your dog is genetically inclined to have striking, erect ears, there are steps you can take.
You can’t control nature, however. If your dog is born with floppy ears, you have no choice but to adore them!
Here are some suggestions that might help. Keep in mind, however, that if your puppy is young, it’s better to wait a while before doing anything else.
- Talk to your breeder. The history of the dog’s ancestors will help them determine how long it might take.
- To get an accurate assessment of your pup’s ears, make an appointment to see your veterinarian.
- Remove the hair on the ears, it may be making them too heavy and harder to point up.
- Avoid touching your pups ears until they’re fully developed.
- To keep your dog’s mind off chewing on their own ears, you can give them chew toys.
- Do not give too many calcium supplements to your pup as they could cause long-term problems such as arthritis, bone spurs, and joint problems.
- Tape your pup’s ears if they’re not up by the time your dog is 5 – 6 months of age.
- Over the age of 6 months, ask your vet for guidance on calcium supplements. They may recommend calcium injections if your pup’s ears are still reluctant to stand up.
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All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian’s advice.
Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of hands-on practical experience, and qualified in the following disciplines: Holistic Healing, Canine Anxiety & Therapy, Zoopharmacognosy, and CBD Oil for Animals
Founder of Anxious Canine and proud member of the Complementary Medical Association.