One of the most important grooming and care elements with your Maltese will be the ears. Since this breed has dropped ears, not pricked or standing, rather they fall to the sides of the face, cleaning will be a must. A common ailment with this breed is infection, most widely seen in the exterior ear canal. While you cannot prevent all infections, a high percentage of cases are due to improper care or accidental damage.
Wax build up is another issue…And this is problematic with all breeds, no matter what the ear shape. While some wax should remain, as it works to catch dust and debris, too much blocks the canal and can create problems.
How Shape Affects Health
When ears are folded over, dropping to the sides of the head, air flow to the canal is blocked. This, in turn, keeps moisture and heat trapped inside.
Cleaning and Plucking
While a dog may develop issues such as mites (discussed ahead), the most important element is to keep the ears clean and free from excessive hairs. Most Maltese will have excessive hairs in the ears, and these need to be removed on a regular basis.
As we discussed above, the shape and formation of the ear lends to a moist environment…If you add collection of long hairs to that equation, you now have a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. It is important to note that this type of care should be done on a regular basis… Only done sporadically, your Maltese may suffer from reoccurring infections.
There are 2 elements that will be involved with this:
Removal of Hairs
Cleaning the canal
The first step will be to remove ear hairs. While not the most pleasant feeling in the world, most Maltese only feel a slight discomfort…And some do not notice anything at all. Plan for this in advance, choosing a time in which you do not feel rushed and your dog will have more toleration. The time to not do this is: Right before meal time, right before bathroom time, when your dog has been in the house for hours and is itching to walk and/or play inside.
The best time to do this is approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour after a meal (not hungry but not overly full) and after some sort of exercise (walk, play time etc.) so that he or she is more prone to resting and will not resist remaining still.
Since this is a very sensitive area, you will want to do all that you can to create an environment that will help your dog to stay still. Many find it helpful to place down a soft baby blanket, offer a small chew toy and then place one arm around the dog’s chest, with the hand reaching up to hold the ear flap, while the other hand is holding the tool.
What You Will Need
You do not necessarily need to spend money obtaining a special tool for this, a good pair of tweezers works just fine. With some Maltese, just your fingers alone will do the job.
Powder – While you can obtain ear powder, baking soda works very well.
Your goal will be to only remove long hairs in the canal. Please do not pull any that are growing out from the inside of the flap.
This may seem overwhelming the first time that you do this. However, do know that after just a few sessions, you will be a “pro”, your Malt will become used to this, your speed and precision will increase…And it will soon be a very easy job.
With baking soda, sprinkle a bit on your fingers. With canine ear powder, sprinkle a bit into the ear itself.
Holding the flap with one hand, use your other had to gently pluck out hairs. If you are having a difficult time and the powder is not working to allow you to have a firm grip, certainly use the tweezers (very carefully – do not go too deep and be sure to not pinch the skin)
Most find it easiest to clean right after ear hair removal. This way, both tasks are taken care of in the same sitting. At any rate, both tasks should be done approximately 1 time a week…and it is much easier to do both consecutively as opposed to expecting your Maltese to endure 2 sessions.
It is suggested to use a commercial canine ear cleaner or simple hydrogen peroxide, as homemade cleaners run the risk of not being properly diluted and not being sterile. In addition, while some purport the use of rubbing alcohol, you run the risk of causing a burning sensation should there be any swelling or small scratches.
The main reason to clean is to remove wax buildup and debris that is caught over the course of time. If you find that the ear is very clean, you may do this flushing every other week…However, do not forget to routinely check. The last thing that you want is for 2, 3 or 4 weeks to go by, only to then notice a heavy buildup and blockage that may require professional help.
What You Will Need
For very dirty ears, you will need to carefully dispense cleanser into the ear, massage the base (to aid in distributing the solution throughout) and then swipe out with the cotton balls. It will be normal for your Maltese to shake his or her head in an effort to remove the liquid… And this is fine.
Cotton Balls – It is not recommended to use Q-Tips as they can push wax and debris down further and since this area is sensitive, many Maltese dogs feel discomfort with this.
If you provide routine cleanings and the area is relatively clean, all that will be needed is to dampen the cotton ball and then wipe down the inner surface – being careful to not go too deep and to change out to clean cotton as needed.
Problems that Need Professional Treatment
There are 2 parasitic problems that can affect canines: mites and ticks. Other issues can be bacterial infection, yeast infection and (much more rare) tumors or foreign bodies.
Signs that call out for a through veterinarian check-up are:
3 Elements That Contribute to Issues:
Bright red color to the inside flap
Tilting of the head
Shaking of the head
A very bad odor
Scratching of the Ears
Leakage of a puss or liquid substance (often occurs if treatment has not been given)
Living in a humid environment – Be sure to provide routine cleanings
Swimming – in pools or lakes – dry out the ear with cotton as soon as swimming is done
Bath water getting into ears – place a small piece of cotton in each ear before starting a bath to prevent water from going inside
The type of infection: Yeast (most common is Malassezia pachydermatitis) or Bacterial (most common is Staphylococci, Pseudomonas SPP or Streptococci ) will be determined with a complete checkup. This should always include an ear swab that is then examined under microscope.
Once the culprit is identified, treatment can be given right away.
Mites - While at the veterinarian’s office, a flushing and rinsing is done. At home treatment includes a prescribed medication that will be applied in the ear and to the inner flap of skin. In addition, if there is a lot of swelling, which can cause pain to the dog, an anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed. This is usually cured within 2 weeks and a follow-up visit should be completed to make sure that the mites have been eradicated.
The only way for an animal to catch ear mites is from another animal that has them. Therefore, if you have other pets in your home, you will want to have them checked out for this as well.
Infection – After a professional flushing, a drying agent will be applied. With severe swelling, an injection of anti-inflammatory medication will be given. At home care may include an oral anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotic medication (usually topical).
Maltese With Ears that Stand Up
The majority of puppies will have drop down ears, just as adults have. However, some will have erect ears and this can cause a lot of concern for new owners.
While there is always the chance that this may be due to the pup not being a purebred Maltese – remember that a mix may have occurred several generations back – therefore even if dam and sire are Maltese, a separate bloodline may be there from any number of generations back – most common will be that if you purchased from a reputable breeder, the puppy simply must grow into his or her ears.
When this happens, if it is simply an element of growth, over the course of 3 to 4 months, a change will occur. Not only will the ear itself grow in length, hair will thicken, causing them to go down.
In rare cases, even with a purebred, it can be a matter of having a high ear set, which is due to poor breeding practices.
With this said, while the dog should not be used for breeding, he or she will still be an adorable canine family member and cherished pet.