Written by Samary Birkline, © 2021
Potentially the most stressful time in a the lifespan of a Doberman puppy is post-surgical ear care. Many breeders take care of this hectic time for their litters, seeing the puppy through the most difficult of times on behalf of the client. Even for the breeder, it can be a chaotic time. Here at The Kennel Birkline, we have tried many methods to achieve the best results and we’d like to share it with you.
First, it is necessary to point out that there is great debate among breeders and veterinarians, alike, on the subject of post-surgical care. Some vets will perform the surgery, and post the ears immediately. Some will cover the incision edge with tape or gauze. Some leave the incision open to the air. Yet others will put the head in a sleeve. There is no “wrong” way, however there are ways that are prone to infection and ways that promote a healthier healing process, thus speeding the rate of success.
After the surgery, there is even more debate about the method of posting, both earlier on and later in the process. Some breeders find success just after the surgery using the “cup method”, however, I’ve never found a method with the cup that isn’t easily removed by the puppy. I’ve tried the backer rod method straight from the recovery room, and this method most often results in infection, which causes the dog to shake its head or scratch and also attracts other dogs to lick the infected wound. All of this promotes further infection, popping of stitches, and dramatic swelling, which causes the stitches to tighten and become very painful. Most importantly, this prolongs the process of healing and standing, making things more complicated for everyone.
At The Kennel Birkline, after years of trying different methods, we believe the healthiest way is to have the surgery performed and to allow the ears to remain unposted until the stitches are removed by the veterinarian. We believe the best way to heal during the first 7 – 10 days is to use prescription pain management and antibiotic medicines, and to perform a “light taping” to stretch out the healing edge of the ear. This gently brings both ears together in an un-posted way that won’t allow for ribbing and gives the wound free access to the air; critical to proper healing. Once the stitches are removed, the healing edge has sealed and the zip-tie method is used for 6-12 weeks or until standing.
This tape crown method is particularly attractive to our kennel because it allows the ear to heal more naturally, while eliminating the folding of the ear during this time. The concern with allowing the ears to heal at ease is that the folding over of the healing edge can become resistant to the training process after being healed in this hunched form. Pictured below is Ceto’s ears before putting on the tape crown. Note the sharp fold on the corner of her ear.
This tape crown eliminates the hard folding of the ear, keeping the ear from drooping while healing. This will be worn until the stitches are removed; an interim hat to wear until the ear is prepared for a zip-tie or backer rod method. Below, the same girl, Ceto, wears a tape crown to keep the ear from folding. We also apply antibiotic salves, such a Mupirocin or Neosporin on a daily basis to discourage surface infection.
At eight weeks, the stitches are ready to come out (and we go on our first month of Trifexis). This time is usually when our clients will take home their babies. Though The Kennel Birkline will do most of the heavy lifting, our clients are encouraged to find a veterinarian nearby who specializes in (or can at least manage) the posting of the ears. With practice it’s also possible to learn to post them at home. Whichever method is used, several things are common to the necessary care.
- Keep the posted ears dry. If either the sockets or the posts themselves get wet or dirty they must be removed, the ears cleaned and allowed to dry out, and then the ears must be reposted.
- Change posts every 5 – 7 days, or any time there becomes a foul odor.
- Use clean towels and hydrogen peroxide to clean the healing edge of the ear each time the posts are removed.
- Rest the ears every 7th day, or one day per week, to give the ears a day in the air without tape or glue. During this day, observe the ears. If both stay firmly erect for 24 hours, then the ears may be finished.
- Go for one more “good measure” week after the ears appear to be trained.
- If ear becomes physically warm, swollen, emit a foul odor, or appear angrily red, seek a veterinarian’s treatment for infection.
In most cases, posting must be continued for several months. I advise my clients to expect to endure the posting process for anywhere between 8 – 12 weeks. Sometimes, we get lucky and the ears stand flawlessly in just 7 weeks. Sometimes, they take every bit of 12 weeks or even longer. In rare cases, an additional assist is needed in the form of a tuck. Even The Kennel Birkline has experienced a “failed” crop with one of our own dogs. We’ve also experienced success with the tuck procedures that have the potential to assist the lazy or rouge ear(s).
Even the most experienced of Doberman owners can run into challenges while training the ears to stand. For new Doberman owners, it can be very frustrating to have a new puppy with so much energy taking down his ears or having one ear stand perfectly while her other one stands straight like a soldier at a rouge angle. Despite the effort and [yes, sometimes] frustration involved, a properly executed after-care program can make the process much easier for the patient and marginally more simple for our clients.