Why Do Basset Hounds Chew On Their Ears

Unusual
Irregular

Introduction

You love the roguish charm of the Basset Hound and have been considering adding one to your family for years. When the opportunity came for you to go on the waiting list of a reputable breeder for your very own Basset Hound puppy, you were elated. You envisioned lazy summer romps in the nearby field, hikes through the woods, and late night snuggles while watching TV. What you didn't picture was the endless ear chewing. From the minute you brought your darling Basset Hound puppy home, he has seemed to have a fascination with his ears. You've checked them thoroughly for the presence of infection or ear mites. You've even made a trip to your local veterinarian to rule out any injury or illness. Fido received a complete bill of health while you handed over the vast majority of what was in your wallet. But Fido is still chewing his ears, and you are at your wit's end trying to figure out what is causing it. Is this a behavior that Basset Hounds are prone to? Is there something wrong, or is this a normal activity for this particular breed?

The Root of the Behavior

Basset Hounds are much-loved members of the hound group. Well-known for their gentle, amiable natures, Basset Hounds are ideal family pets. One of the hallmarks of this sweet-natured breed is their long, droopy ears. Yet the Basset Hound, like many other breeds, was selectively bred to refine him into the dog that he is today, and his ears play a prominent role in the job he was intended to do. Basset Hounds trace their origins back to France and Belgium. The "basset" portion of their name is derived from a French word meaning "low." Legend dictates that the friars of a local French abbey were desirous of a dog who would be low to the ground in stature, capable of easily scaling challenging terrain, and who would be able to assist their hunting companions in scent work to help detect rabbits and deer. So successful were they in their mission to create the ideal low-perched scent hound that this breed soon became the ideal choice for the well-to-do French who enjoyed hunting on a regular basis. The ears of the Basset Hound provide a valuable tool for use during hunts. When a Basset Hound is merrily trotting along hunting grounds with his trusted master and companion, his ears trap then dispense smells upward to allow the Basset Hound to more easily determine the direction of the desired prey. 

Since Basset Hounds fall second only to Bloodhounds when it comes to scent detection work, their sense of smell is incredibly powerful and invaluable to the serious hunter. So too are his ears. But this still doesn't explain why Basset Hounds sometimes chew their ears. There are several explanations that could help pinpoint the reasons behind this strange phenomenon in Basset Hounds. While this particular behavior is not directed at ears alone, Basset Hounds are a breed that are prone to chewing in general. People who are new to the breed are often surprised by this fact because Basset Hounds are not known to be excessively energetic. However, Basset Hounds do require mental and physical stimulation, and if it is not provided for them by their owners, they will create their own distractions. These distractions could range from snacking on your grandmother's antique dining set to turning your favorite t-shirt into a kitchen sieve, or yes, chewing on their own ears. Dogs are quite opportunistic. In the absence of something else to chew on, their ears might seem just as good a thing as any to sink their chompers into. Boredom is a very strange thing indeed! 

Encouraging the Behavior

Stress also plays a role in ear chewing. If your dog finds your absence particularly distressing, he may resort to nuisance behaviors such as obsessively licking his paws, biting at his tail, or even chewing his ears. Why do dogs do this? Licking and chewing help a dog to self-soothe. It is a very calming activity for him and greatly aids in reducing anxiety. Your dog exercising his jaws has the same effect on him. It is a natural behavior, and when your dog engages in it, he feels more at peace. However, licking and chewing body parts can be painful for your dog and can become an obsessive habit which is difficult to break, similar to a human biting their fingernails. Care must be taken to help your dog deal with any anxious behavior in a more productive manner. Veterinary assistance may be required. In some cases, dogs suffer from a chemical imbalance which makes them more prone to obsessive-compulsive disorder. If this is the case for your dog, he will most certainly need medical intervention. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to take the "edge off" for your Basset Hound, enabling him to concentrate sufficiently for you to teach him alternatives for coping with his stressors. For some dogs, it all comes down to convenience. Let's face it; a Basset Hound's ears are in his face every time he moves! What we may interpret as chewing might just be Fido attempting to keep his ears out of his eyes, so he can see where he is going. 

Of course, there is always the possibility that your Basset Hound has an ear infection. Ear infections are itchy, smelly, and painful, and your dog's chewing of his ears might be his attempt to find relief from the irritating condition. Ear infections generally are also accompanied by head shaking in an effort to rid your dog's ears of any fluid or bacteria that is causing him discomfort. If left untreated, ear infections can lead to deafness or aural hematomas. Aural hematomas develop from trauma to the ear and cause the ear to become misshapen and appear to be filled with fluid. The condition is not painful for your dog and will subside in time; however, it will most often leave your dog with what is known as "cauliflower ear." Cauliflower ear is just simply a gnarled looking ear reminiscent of what a boxer might sustain from years devoted to the thrashing he takes in the name of his sport. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Yet ear infections are not the only medical ailment that may result in ear chewing in Basset Hounds. Allergies may also be a culprit. Allergies are often evidenced by bacterial or yeast infections that develop as a result of scratching, licking, and chewing. On the whole, Basset Hounds are not particularly prone to allergies; however, each dog is an individual, and as such, food, or environmental allergies could be a possibility. Your veterinarian can assist you with diagnosing and treating any suspected allergic reaction your dog might be experiencing. A foreign body in your Basset Hound's ears might also be the cause for his incessant chewing. Always remember that the ear canal is curved, dark, and deep. Even if you cannot see an obstruction, that does not necessarily mean there isn't one there. 

Typically when a dog's ear contains a foreign substance, there will be dark, waxy debris in the outer ear which shows evidence that the ear is irritated for one reason or another. Never attempt to remove a suspected foreign body on your own or to do any exploration within the ear canal. The ear is a delicate and sophisticated body part. Only your veterinarian can provide proper treatment, care, and relief if your dog has something lodged in his ear. In general, dogs sometimes simply chew because something is itchy or sore. The source of your Basset's ear chewing habit may come down to something as simple as that. Unfortunately, though the motivation might be simple to detect, the treatment can be more challenging. A thorough examination of your dog by your veterinarian can help you systematically rule out potential problems to get to the root behind the behavior then help you to treat it. 

Conclusion

Has your Basset Hound's ear chewing got you down? It may be a very normal reaction to stress or boredom. But if your Basset seems to be adding itching, licking, and head shaking to his chewing repertoire, it may be time for a visit to a veterinary professional to rule out any illness, obstruction, or injury.