Charlie, a 2 year old male Bichon Frise who had begun to hold his head to one side, and scratch his left ear.

The Bichon Frise is a breed that is becoming increasingly popular. In many ways, they are an ideal breed for a modern Irish household. They are small dogs, with a cheerful, good-natured disposition. They do not need huge amounts of exercise, but they are lively enough to enjoy a good walk. They can be sparky little individuals, and can make excellent watch dogs, although their white fluffy appearance means that they are less likely to scare off a burglar than many other breeds.

Bichons tend to be healthy dogs, and as a breed, they are prone to fewer disease problems than some other small breeds. Their biggest complication is their long, white, curly coat. Their fur tends to grow out in an “Afro” style, and if it is not trimmed regularly, it can easily get out of control. Regular brushing and combing, several times a week, is needed to keep the coat free of mats and tangles. In addition, many owners send their dogs to the dog groomer for a trim every few months.

The long, white, curly hair can cause problems around the eyes and the ears. Owners often need to use scissors to trim the fur around their pets’ eyes to allow them to see out properly. Sometimes, long hairs grow into their eyes, causing an irritation. And the hair even grows inside the ear canals (which are a “hair free” area in most breeds of dog). Hairy ears, even in dogs, are neither attractive nor healthy. When Louise brought Charlie to see me, he was suffering from the direct consequences of his hairiness in this area.

Louise had noticed that he was cocking his head to one side, and he had started to scratch his left ear. He was shaking his head too, and rubbing his face along the carpet. When Louise tried to have a closer look, he refused to let her touch his ear. She knew something was wrong, and so she brought him in to see me. Charlie is usually a friendly little dog, but he did not want to let me near his sore ear.  He growled at me when I tried to have a look, and I had to use a small muzzle to make sure that he didn’t nip my fingers as I tried to help him. Once his teeth were under control, I could lift his ear flap and have a good look at what was going on.

I looked at his healthy right ear first, to get him used to having this type of examination. I could see a profusion of white curly hair crowding around the opening of this ear, which is typical of his breed. This hair tends to block up the ventilation of the ear, allowing wax and other debris to accumulate inside the ear. Charlie’s right ear was perfectly healthy, but I could see that it might predispose him to ear problems.

When I moved to examine Charlie’s left ear, his body tensed. He was clearly in some discomfort. I lifted the ear flap, and I could see that the skin on the inside of the ear was very red and sore. Again, long white hairs were blocking up the entrance to his ear. Charlie had a classic example of an ear infection.  It was very painful, and he would not stay still enough for me to have a better look at what was going on.

It was the first time Charlie had ever had a sore ear, so I decided to give him a standard, simple treatment at first. I gave Louise a bottle of ear ointment to apply twice daily. The ointment contains a combination of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, to treat the ear infection and soothe the ear at the same time. I also gave  Charlie an injection to ease the pain that he was suffering.

When Charlie came back for a checkup four days later, he was much better. He had stopped shaking his head and scratching his ear, and when I examined him, he allowed me to have a good look inside his ear with an auroscope. By now, even the inside of his ear was almost back to normal. It was obvious that his hairy ear had been part of the problem. I carefully removed the hairs around his ear opening, to allow air to circulate in and out freely.

Charlie is back to normal now, and this may have been a one-off episode. If it does happen again, I have suggested that Louise might start to regularly remove the hair from his ears, like plucking eyelashes in a human.  Beauty in dogs, as in humans, does not always come without complication!


  • Most breeds of dogs have no hairs growing from the insides of their ears
  • Some breeds, such as Poodles and Bichon Frises, have very hairy ears that can make them prone to ear infections
  • Treatment of sore ears can include removal of the ear hairs, so that the problem is less likely to recur

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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