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Labrador ears: Everything you need to know

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labrador ears shape

Have you ever wondered why your Labrador’s ears are as floppy as a well-cooked noodle? Or perhaps you’re intrigued by the unique shape of your Labrador’s ears? In any case, you’ve come to the right place. 

This article dives deep into the realm of Labrador ears, unraveling the mysteries of their anatomy, the reasons behind their floppy nature, and even some unique ear phenomena like the ‘Rose Ear’ and the ‘Folded Ear.’

We’ll also explore some common ear problems that our four-legged friends may face, such as ear infections and mites, and even the occasional foreign body making a home in their ear! 

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with preventive measures, symptoms to watch out for, and when it’s time to call for veterinary help. 

The Anatomy of Labrador Ears

When it comes to understanding our friendly Labradors, their ears are a crucial part of the picture. Labradors have floppy ears, but there’s a lot more to these ears than just their charming droopiness. Let’s dive into the captivating anatomy of Labrador ears!

External Structure

Labrador ears, like those of many dog breeds, are composed of several parts. The uppermost part of the ear that we see and often fondle is known as the pinna. Unlike breeds with pointy or prick ears, the pinna of the Labrador Retriever is floppy, creating what’s commonly referred to as a “drop ear.”

The drop ear design isn’t just about aesthetics. This natural fold serves as a protective barrier, preventing foreign bodies from easily entering the ear canal. The external part of a Labrador’s ear is covered with a thin layer of fur, which adds another layer of protection.

The following table outlines some key features of Labrador ears’ external structure:

PinnaThe floppy part of the ear
FoldServes as a barrier to the ear canal
FurProvides additional protection

Internal Structure

Labrador ears, just like other dog ears, are divided into three sections: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.

The outer ear consists of the ear canal, leading from the opening at the base of the pinna down to the eardrum. This canal in Labradors, similar to breeds like Basset Hounds, is long and narrow, making them prone to ear problems like infections and mite infestations.

The middle ear is the area enclosed by the eardrum. It contains tiny bones that transmit sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. The Eustachian tube, which maintains air pressure within the middle ear, opens into this section.

The inner ear is where the real magic happens! It’s the site of the cochlea, responsible for hearing, and the vestibular system, which controls balance.

Pro Tip: To ensure the aural health of your Labrador, regular cleaning and maintenance of their ears, both internal and external, is necessary. Recognizing signs of ear problems early and seeking veterinary help can prevent minor issues from becoming major health concerns.

The following table gives a concise overview of the Labrador’s ear internal structure:

Part of EarFunction
Outer EarCollects sound waves and directs them into the ear canal
Middle EarTransmits sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear
Inner EarProcesses sound and maintain balance

Why Do Labradors Have Floppy Ears?

The charming floppy ears of a Labrador might make you wonder: Why, among all the varieties of dog ears, do Labradors have this particular ear shape? Well, the explanation involves an intriguing mix of evolution, breeding, and genetics.

Evolutionary Perspective

labrador with pointy ears

Labradors share a common ancestry with the Greyhound. This breed, one of the oldest known, has upright ears, much like their wild counterparts. Somewhere along the line, several types of dog ears emerged, including the floppy ears we see in Labradors today.

From an evolutionary perspective, floppy ears are a byproduct of domestication, a phenomenon known as “domestication syndrome”.

This theory suggests that as dogs were domesticated, certain genes that controlled the development of their nervous system also influenced other characteristics, including the cartilage of the ear. This resulted in ears that no longer stood up but flopped down.

It’s also proposed that the relaxed ears help dogs communicate friendliness and submission to humans and other dogs, reinforcing their suitability as companions.

Breeding and Genetics

While evolution set the stage, selective breeding fine-tuned the characteristics we see in different breeds today. Labrador Retrievers were bred to be waterfowl retrievers, meaning they needed to be excellent swimmers. Their floppy ears, providing a degree of protection from water getting into their ear canals, likely proved advantageous in this context.

From a genetic viewpoint, the gene associated with floppy ears is a recessive one. This means that a Labrador puppy would need to inherit the gene from both parents to develop this characteristic. This aspect of genetics has helped breeders maintain the distinctive floppy ears in Labradors across generations.

Common Ear Problems in Labradors

Labrador ears, with their characteristic floppy shape, are not just adorable but also a significant aspect of their overall health. Unfortunately, these charming appendages are prone to several common issues, including ear infections, ear mites, and foreign bodies in the ear. As a Labrador parent or potential owner, understanding these problems is vital for maintaining your dog’s wellbeing.

Ear Infections: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Ear infections are one of the most common ailments in Labradors. The design of their ears, which fold over and trap moisture, creates a perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to flourish. This is especially true for dogs who love water, as Labradors do!

Symptoms of an ear infection in your Lab might include:

  • Scratching or pawing at the ear
  • Head shaking or tilting
  • Discharge, often smelly and either yellow, brown, or black
  • Redness and swelling in the ear canal
  • Pain and sensitivity around the ears

If you notice these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately. Treatment usually involves a thorough cleaning of the ear canal and a course of topical or systemic medication. Regular cleaning of your Lab’s ears can help prevent ear infections.

Ear Mites: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Ear mites are tiny, highly contagious parasites that can make your Labrador’s ears their home. They feed off the wax and oils in your dog’s ear canal, leading to severe itchiness and discomfort.

Signs of ear mites include:

  • Persistent scratching of the ears
  • Head shaking
  • A dark, coffee-grounds-like discharge from the ears
  • Redness and inflammation

Ear mites are diagnosed by a vet who will typically take a sample of the discharge and examine it under a microscope. Treatment often involves a topical medication to kill the mites and regular cleaning to keep the ears mite-free.

Foreign Bodies in the Ear: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Occasionally, foreign objects can find their way into your Labrador’s ears, especially during outdoor activities. This could be anything from grass seeds to small insects.

Indications that a foreign body might be lodged in your Lab’s ear include:

  • Sudden onset of head shaking
  • Scratching at the affected ear
  • Redness and discomfort

Excess Hair in Ear Canals: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


Excess hair in a Labrador’s ear canal might be a genetic trait, or it could be an indication of hormonal imbalance or other underlying health conditions. These hairs can trap dirt, moisture, and debris, creating an environment conducive to bacterial and yeast infections.


If your Lab has excess hair in its ears, you might notice:

  • Frequent scratching of ears
  • Head shaking
  • Irritation or discomfort
  • A foul odor emanating from the ears


The treatment for excess hair involves carefully plucking the hair to ensure proper airflow. It’s advisable to let a groomer or a vet perform this task to avoid any injury. Your vet might also recommend specific ear-cleaning routines to maintain good ear hygiene.

As with any health concerns, if you notice anything unusual about your Labrador’s ears, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian. They can provide a proper diagnosis and guide you on the best course of action to keep your Lab’s ears healthy.

Small Ear Canals in Labradors: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


While small ear canals aren’t typically seen in Labradors, they can occur. This condition, often congenital, can make it difficult for air to circulate, leading to a higher risk of ear infections.


If your Labrador has smaller than usual ear canals, watch out for symptoms such as:

  • Frequent ear infections
  • Pain or discomfort around the ears
  • Unusual head tilting or shaking


Treating small ear canals involves managing the symptoms and preventing infections. Regular cleaning of the ears can be beneficial, and in severe cases, surgery to widen the ear canal might be an option.

Unique Ear Characteristics in Labradors

Rose Ear Labrador

The ears of a Labrador Retriever are not just endearing appendages that add to their irresistible charm; they also showcase unique characteristics that are distinct to the breed.

Two such phenomena, unique to Labrador ears, are the “Rose Ear” and the “Folded Ear”. Understanding these traits can help you appreciate your Labrador’s breed standards and health.

The “Rose Ear” Phenomenon

The term “Rose Ear” is often used in the dog world to describe a specific type of ear carriage where the ear folds backward, exposing the inner ear.

While this is not the standard for Labradors (the breed standard requires the ears to hang close to the head), it is not an uncommon sight.

This term originates from the English Bull Terrier’s breed standard, which is considered to have a perfect “rose ear.” A rose ear on a Labrador might not meet the breed’s show ring standard, it is by no means a fault or an indicator of poor health. It’s just one of the many delightful quirks that make each Labrador unique!

The “Folded Ear” Phenomenon

A “Folded Ear” is another unique characteristic seen in Labradors. This occurs when the tip of the ear folds forward, covering the ear canal partially.

This doesn’t align with the breed standard, which dictates that Labrador ears should hang straight down rather than fold over.

A folded ear could occur due to various reasons, including genetics or trauma during the puppy’s development phase.

It does not typically impact a Lab’s hearing ability, but it can make ear maintenance a bit more challenging due to reduced ventilation.

Caring for Your Labrador’s Ears

Labrador Retrievers are known for their characteristic floppy ears, which while adorable, can be prone to certain health issues if not properly cared for.

Here, we will discuss essential practices like regular cleaning and maintenance, recognizing signs of ear problems, and knowing when to seek veterinary help.

Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

Labrador ears require regular maintenance to keep them healthy. Due to their droopy nature, they can trap moisture and dirt, creating an ideal environment for bacterial growth. It’s advisable to clean your Lab’s ears at least once a week or as needed.

Use a gentle, dog-approved ear cleaner and a soft cotton ball to carefully clean the outer portion of the ear. Be careful not to push anything into the ear canal, as this could cause harm.

Recognizing Signs of Ear Problems

Being familiar with your Labrador’s usual ear appearance and behavior can help you identify any changes that might signal a problem. Signs to watch out for include:

When to Seek Veterinary Help

If you notice any of the above symptoms or if your Lab seems to be in discomfort, it’s time to seek professional help. Ear infections, mites, and foreign bodies can lead to serious complications if left untreated. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and let your vet make the appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Do Labradors have a Henry’s pocket

Labrador ear with Henry's pocket

Ever noticed a small, open pouch on the lower part of your Labrador’s ear and wondered what it was? This is known as Henry’s Pocket, or more formally, a cutaneous marginal pouch.

In some breeds of dogs and cats, Henry’s pockets form an open pouch at the back of the outer ears, making it a common anatomical feature among certain pets.

While it’s a characteristic feature in several dog breeds and even other mammals, its presence in Labradors can sometimes go unnoticed due to their floppy ears.

The pocket of Henry is located in the approximate location of the antitragus in the human ear. The exact function of Henry’s Pocket remains a bit of a mystery.

One prevailing theory suggests it might help in the detection of high-pitched sounds by filtering out lower frequencies. Handy trait for our furry friends who were once predators in the wild and providing flexibility for expressing emotions through ear positions.

This fascinating hypothesis hints at a connection to their ancestral hunting skills, although the scientific community has yet to reach a consensus.

One practical aspect that cannot be ignored is the pocket’s tendency to harbor parasites.

It’s a reminder for all pet owners to pay extra attention during grooming sessions. A quick check behind your Lab’s ears for any unwelcome guests can prevent a host of issues down the line.

How to Clean Your Labrador’s Ears: Step-by-Step

Proper ear care is an essential part of maintaining your Labrador’s overall health. Regular cleaning can prevent a host of common ear problems, including infections and mite infestations. Here, we provide a detailed guide on how to clean your Labrador’s ears effectively.

Equipment Needed for Ear Cleaning

Before you start, gather all the necessary items to ensure a smooth, hassle-free cleaning process:

  • A high-quality canine ear cleaning solution, preferably as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Cotton balls or a soft cloth.
  • Treats to reward your Lab for his patience and cooperation.

Note: Avoid using cotton swabs as they can damage your dog’s ear canal.

How to Get Your Dog Used to Ear Cleaning

Getting your dog used to ear cleaning can take some time and patience, especially if your Lab is not accustomed to it. Here are some tips:

  1. Start slow: Begin by touching and handling your Lab’s ears without any cleaning solution. This will help him get used to the sensation.
  2. Reward your dog: Give your Lab a treat and praise him each time he allows you to touch his ears. This will create a positive association with ear handling.
  3. Be gentle: Never force or rush the process. Make it a calm, positive experience for your Lab.

How to Tell When Your Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning

Knowing when to clean your Labrador’s ears is just as important as knowing how to clean them. Here are some signs that your Lab might need an ear cleaning:

  • Excessive scratching or rubbing of ears.
  • Swelling or redness.
  • Unpleasant odor.
  • Discharge or excessive earwax.

Regularly inspecting your Labrador’s ears will help you notice any changes early. A healthy Lab’s ear should be light pink and clean, with no signs of irritation or inflammation. Always consult with a veterinarian if you notice any severe symptoms or if your Lab appears to be in discomfort.


In the wonderful world of Labrador ears, there’s always something new to learn, isn’t there? From their unique anatomy to the charming rose and folded ear phenomena, these floppy appendages surely contribute to your Lab’s irresistible charm.

Don’t forget, keeping an eye (or ear) out for common problems, and regularly cleaning those ears is key to keeping your furry friend in tip-top shape.

As we wrap up our ear venture, let’s remember that every Lab has a story to tell, often with their ears! So, why not share yours? We’d love to hear all about your experiences, tips, and anecdotes regarding your Labrador’s ears. After all, the joy of having a Lab is in the shared experiences and the community we build along the way.

Daniel Rowe
Daniel Rowe
Daniel is an experienced writer who specializes in canine topics. He has gained firsthand knowledge from years of research and engagement with dogs. This has given him deep expertise in breed profiles, behavior insights, and more. Fellow dog enthusiasts recognize Daniel for his authoritative content. He is dedicated to sharing reliable and trustworthy information. He is committed to enriching the lives of dog lovers through his writing.
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