Q: I have two Dalmatians--a mother and a son--who are constantly licking the insides of each other's ears, the son in particular . She also does it to him, but not to the same extent. I am always having to clean out the saliva, which neither of them likes, but they still don't stop. Have you any suggestions?--D.D. A: Licking of the ears is a natural grooming behavior among dogs. However, certain ear infections create odors that will promote excessive licking. In your case, it may be that the mother is grooming, but that she's got an infection. Common causes of inflammation of the external ear canal, called otitis externa, may be foreign bodies such as foxtails, dirt, sand, matted hair or dried medications; parasitic ear infections, for the most part caused by ear mites; hormonal imbalances; allergies; fungi, yeasts, and a wide range of bacteria.
The first step is to have your pets' ear canals thoroughly examined by a veterinarian. Depending on test results, the appropriate therapy may involve cleaning of the ears, which may need to be done under anesthesia if the canals are extremely sensitive or painful. You may also have to apply ointments or solutions once you get home.
If there's no evidence of infection in either dog's ears, this may be a problem that necessitates behavior modification. There are animal behaviorists in the Southern California area who can work with you in this reconditioning.
-- Sandra J. Jongeward DVM