Why is My Dog Constantly Itching His Ears?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on July 28, 2018
Posted in Dog Skin Allergies
We’ve all had an itch on our bodies before and know the painful sensation of itches that just won’t go away. Dogs can experience this sensation too and may get relentless: shaking, thumping and scratching away to relieve the frustrating sensation. One of the most commonly afflicted areas in dogs is the ear.
When dogs have an itch in one or both ears, they will usually shake their head in an attempt to clear it or use a paw to scratch at the backside of the ear. While this behavior is perfectly normal every once in a while, there may be instances where the itching seems excessive, and your dog is driving itself—and you—crazy trying to fix it.
Consistent ear scratching may be a sign of a few different ailments in dogs. It is typically accompanied by a few other symptoms, such as:
- Head shaking
- Redness or inflammation
- Pus or discharge (yellow, brown or bloody)
- Bad odor
- Hair loss
- Scratches or wounds on ear
If you notice your dog scratching at its ears repeatedly, check them for any of the above-mentioned signs. If it’s clear that there is something wrong with the ear based on the symptoms, take your pup into the vet as soon as possible. If left untreated, ear conditions can worsen and lead to permanent ear damage and other bodily ailments.
What causes ear scratching and how to fix it
There are a few different reasons your pooch might be scratching relentlessly at its ears. While some problems are easy to identify at home, others might require veterinary assistance to diagnose, and all will likely require a vet’s guidance for proper treatment.
1. Allergic reactions
Just like humans can be allergic to certain substances, dogs can, too. Atopic dermatitis, a manifestation of allergies on the skin, can cause your dog’s ears to become red, inflamed, itchy and filled with wax or secretions. This can lead to even more problems in the ear if bacteria of yeast start to overgrow. Atopic dermatitis also commonly shows on the belly and feet.
Dogs may be allergic to things they ingest, inhale or come into physical contact with. They may be sensitive to household cleaners, perfume or smoke, outside allergens like pollens, grasses and weeds, or foods like dairy or wheat products.
If you suspect your dog’s itchy ear is caused by an allergic reaction, you will need the help of a vet to run tests to determine the specific allergen causing the problem. After the diagnosis, you will need to try to keep your dog away from that particular allergen or use shampoos and ear cleaners to soothe the affected skin.
2. Ear mites
Another cause of itching ears is ear mites. These are tiny parasites that jump from one pet host to another and burrow within the ear, causing inflammation and itchiness. Two of the tell-tale signs of ear mites are a strong odor in the ear and brownish-black secretion.
Fortunately, ear mites are relatively easy to get rid of. You will need to clean the ear using an ear mite remover and cotton balls to dislodge any buildup. Your vet may also prescribe a stronger medication to help reduce inflammation and provide additional instructions to completely remove the parasitic infestation.
3. Ear infections
The ears are moist places full of wax buildup and trapped water. Sometimes, bacteria or yeast can begin to overgrow, leading to an inner-ear or middle-ear infection. These types of infections are often caused by other problems, such as ear mites, debris and foreign objects or tumors in the ear.
Ear infections typically result in redness, swelling, odor and yellow or brown discharge. These infections can also spread to the inner ear and affect your dog’s sense of balance and hearing.
To treat a yeast or bacterial ear infection, take your pooch to the vet and have the cause of the itchiness officially diagnosed. Your vet may then prescribe medication like antibiotics or ear drops to clear up the infection.
Prevent your pup from itching
While most ear itchiness problems are easily cured, the best way to keep your pooch from scratching at their ears nonstop is to prevent these problems from occurring. Regular ear care is needed to ensure your pet’s long-lasting health.
Check your dog’s ears once a week and clean them as needed. You can use a wet and dry cotton ball to wipe out the ear or utilize a cleaning solution designed to keep ears squeaky clean. Regular cleaning and check-ups will help prevent bacteria, yeast or ear mites from settling in and wreaking havoc in your dog’s ears.
Additionally, avoid foods or other allergens your dog has a known reaction to in order to curb allergic triggers. Talk to your vet about pet antihistamines or other allergy treatments if the allergies are seasonal or unavoidable in nature.
With a quick cleaning and close attention every week, your dog’s ears should remain clean and irritation-free, giving both you and your pup a rest from the frustration itching can cause.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan