What it Means When Your Dog Has Itchy Ears
When your dog’s ears are itchy, it could be from a variety of problems. The most common reason that they are scratching their ears so often is due to an ear infection. Ear infections in dogs range in severity, and the treatments vary based on the cause of the infection, like mites, parasites, yeast buildups, or foreign bodies.
Other reasons why they are scratching at their ears too much are ear drums ruptures or simple allergies. Usually, if one of these is causing your dog’s itchy ears, other signs will accompany them. Your vet can examine their ears to rule out anything serious and find the cause of the itchiness.
The Most Common Cause: Ear Infections
Ear infections often cause your dog to scratch their ears relentlessly, and these infections are the most common cause of their itchiness. Three types of ear infections commonly occur in dogs:
- Otitis externa is the most common, and it is an inflammation affecting the cells outside of the ear canal.
- Otitis media is an infection in the middle ear canal
- Otitis interna is an infection in the inner ear canal
Otitis media and interna can be serious problems and may result in deafness, vestibular signs, and facial paralysis; that’s why it’s crucial to try to prevent infections and get them treated early when symptoms arise.
Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs
The symptoms that appear from ear infections depend on the dog; some will show no symptoms other than wax buildup and a discharge, while others can have more uncomfortable ones. Even if they aren’t showing symptoms, an ear infection could be causing your dog pain. The most common signs of ear infections in dogs are:
- Shaking their head
- Excessive scratching of the affected ear
- A dark discharge from their ear
- A bad odor emanating from their ear
- Swelling and redness of their ear canal
- General signs of pain and itchiness
- Scabs or crusting in their ears
Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs
Dog’s ears are different than ours; they are more vertical and form an L-shape that tends to keep fluid in, making dogs more prone to getting an ear infection. These infections are typically caused by yeast, bacteria, or a combination. They can also be from ear mites, but those are more common in puppies.
Some things that can predispose your dog to get ear infections are:
- Moisture, which creates an environment that is ideal for yeast and bacteria to grow in
- Allergies, which can lead to a dog becoming more prone to ear infections
- Thyroid disease and other endocrine disorders
- Autoimmune disorders
- A buildup of wax
- Foreign bodies
- Any injuries to the ear canal
- Excessive grooming and cleaning
Diagnosing Your Dog’s Itchy Ears
When your dog begins to show signs of an ear infection, it’s essential to visit your vet quickly. Immediate treatment is important for your dog’s comfort and to prevent the infection from spreading to their middle and inner ear. Your vet will probably want to know:
- The duration of symptoms like pain, discharge, swelling, and odor
- If your dog has any underlying conditions or allergies
- If they are taking any medication
- What you feed them
- How often you clean their ears, and which products you use to clean them
- If you’ve plucked or trimmed your dog’s ear hair
- Any recent activities, like swimming, bathing, or grooming
- If your dog has had an ear infection in the past, and when it occurred and how it was treated
After answering your vet’s questions, they will likely perform a physical examination of your dog. They will check both ears, and the exam typically includes:
- A visual assessment to detect swelling, redness, or discharge
- An otoscope examination, which allows them to check the eardrum and ear canal
- Palpitation of the ears to assess their level of pain
- A microscopic examination of an ear swab
- Cultures from ear swab samples
- In severe cases, your vet may perform a biopsy or x-ray of the ear
Treating Ear Infections in Dogs
The first thing that any vet will do after diagnosing an ear infection is clean your dog’s ears thoroughly with a medicated ear cleanser. They may also give you a cleanser or topical medication to use at home, and in severe cases, they may prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatories for your dog.
Uncomplicated ear infections in dogs typically get resolved in a week or two after beginning treatment. Tougher infections can take months to resolve and could become a chronic problem.
Related: How Can I Treat My Dog’s Pain?
Preventing Itchy Ears in Dogs
Preventing ear infections and itchy ears in your dog is preferable to having to go to the vet to get treatment; here are some tips to prevent your dog from getting an ear infection:
- After swimming or bathing, make sure to dry your dog’s ears thoroughly
- If your dog gets recurrent ear infections or is prone to getting them, managing underlying causes like allergies can help prevent new infections from starting.
- Cleaning your dog’s ears at home. Note: only clean them at home when your dog’s ears are healthy -- don’t try to clean them when an issue pops up; it’s best to consult your vet first.
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How to Safely Clean Your Dog’s Ears at Home
When you clean your dog’s ears, do not use anything that can push debris further into their ear canal, like Q-tips. You can use them to clean the external ear flaps, but do not insert them into your dog’s ear. When cleaning your dog’s ears, the first step is to fill their ear canal with a dog ear cleaning solution and gently massage their ear from the outside. You can wipe excess liquid out with absorbent gauze; don’t use cotton or paper towels -- they can leave behind fibers that could cause irritation.
Ear infections in dogs are common and can be a recurring problem, but you and your vet can help prevent your dog from suffering from them and keep their ears clean and comfortable. Remember, if your dog begins showing signs of an ear infection, like excessive scratching, get them treated right away to make sure it doesn’t turn into a serious problem.