8 February, 2018

Dog Ear Health 101: The Case of A Dog Scratching Ear

The Case of A Dog Scratching EarYou’re watching TV and hear the telltale scratch and jingle of a collar: the dog scratching ear problem. 

A dog can be scratching its ear for many different reasons, but it could be a sign that there is an ear problem that needs attention. Itchy ears could mean an infection, which requires a trip to the vet, or just simply itchy ears that need to be cleaned with an ear cleaner and cotton ball.

Dog Scratching Ear…What Could This Mean?

Ear Mites

Ear mites can cause many dog ear problems.

Ear mites are parasitic infections that your dog can pick up from other dogs and cats.  They start on the body and work their way to the earflap and into the canal.

Treating ear mites often requires a trip to the veterinarian.  Treatment usually includes a thorough ear cleaning and topical medication.


Just like us, dogs can get allergies too.

Dogs can get itchy skin due to food allergies, flea sensitivity, or different environmental factors like pollen.  Allergic reactions can develop into skin infections in dogs and lead to excessive scratching, head shaking, and hair loss.

Chronic allergies is called atopic dermatitis.

Dog Ear Infection

Problems like allergies and ear mites can turn into ear infections if not treated. Ear infections have many different causes, so it is important to see a veterinarian to diagnose what caused the ear infection to prevent future ear problems. 

Ear infections are typically diagnosed through an examination of the ear canal and taking samples of the discharge and sending it off to a lab for analysis. Ear infections can be prevented by cleaning and proper drying the ears after exposure to water through baths or swimming (to prevent swimmer’s ear). 

Veterinary Medicine suggests regularly cleaning the ear using veterinary-prescribed ear cleaning solution and a cotton ball (never cotton swabs).

Skin Infection

Skin infections can be caused by bacterial infections, skin disease, yeast, and parasites.  Skin infections can spread to the ears and cause itching.

Because there are so many different possible causes, the vet will need to perform a thorough examination which often included blood tests, urinalysis, and skin cultures according to PetMd.

Common causes of skin infections:

  • Sarcoptic Mange (contagious to other animals)
  • Demodectic Mange (not contagious)
  • Cushingtons Disease
  • Lupus
  • Yeast Infection

Yeast Infection

Allergies can lead to yeast infections, which can make a dog very itchy, especially in the ear canal. 

Yeast infections can cause itching, hair loss, and sometimes oily, foul-smelling skin.  Yeast infections can be treated with topical medication or oral medication in persistent cases.

The vet often prescribes a special anti-fungal shampoo to take home and use frequently over a specific amount of time for a yeast infection.

Overall Ear Problems

The cause of itchy dog ears may not always be obvious.

Ear problems can be caused by too much ear wax or a foreign body stuck in the ear canal, which can be easily treated.   Dogs with hairy ear flaps and floppy ears like Cocker Spaniels are more prone to ear infections and other ear problems.

Check and see if the issue is only in the ear or if there are other symptoms on the body.  Look around the ear for any hair loss, or hot spots, and check inside the ear for any odors or discharges. Try to find out as much as possible by examining your dog.

dog scratching ear faq

You Ask and We Answer! The Top FAQs of Dog Scratching Ear

An Inflamed Ear Canal? Dog Scratching Ear and Shaking Head at Night

If your dog is scratching its ear and shaking his head at night, it may have an inflamed ear canal.

Inflammation can be caused by an overproduction of earwax, due to bacterial or fungal infections, ear mites, or allergies.  The vet will often prescribe topical drops to put in the ear, or an oral antibiotic or antifungal if needed. 

If the inflammation is recurring, the vet may suggest frequent ear cleanings as a preventative measure.

Painful Infections: Dog Scratching Ear and Whining – What Do I Do?

If the ear scratching is accompanied by whining, it may be time to see the vet. 

If infections are left untreated, they can to severe problems like hearing loss.

If the ear is too painful, the vet may not be able to perform an examination or wash the ear properly, so sedation may be necessary.

A Constant Itch? Why Does My Dog Keep Scratching his Ear?

There are many reasons why your dog may be scratching its ear from bacterial infections to allergies. First, check the ear and look for any symptoms of an infection.  You may find a discharge, odor, or discoloration. 

If there are secondary symptoms like hair loss or itching of the body, the problem is more than just an ear infection.

Dog Scratching Ear, Bleeding!

Dog scratching itchy ears

If you notice your dog is scratching its ear and you see blood, don’t panic.

Examine the ear gently.  The bleeding may be from a cut due to scratching. Dogs have many blood vessels in their ears and a small scratch can cause significant bleeding. 

If you can not see any scratches, the bleeding may be due to an infection such as ear mites or a parasite.

Should You Be Worried if your Dog won’t stop Scratching Ear?

If the itching is persistent, it may be signs of an infection or skin problem.  If the scratching increases or there are any other symptoms, the dog may need to be treated by a veterinarian. 

If there is any whining or your dog seems to be in pain, it may have an ear infection and need medication.

Dog Shaking Head and Scratching Ear. Is it Time for a Vet Visit?  

If your dog is scratching its ear or shaking its head, it’s cause for an investigation and if there are any other symptoms, a trip to the vet. 

Itchy ears can cause head shaking.  Dogs shake their heads after baths or for the occasional itch, but frequent head shaking can cause permanent damage to the ear flaps if not treated according to VetWest.

When Should I see a Vet?

If the symptoms do not subside or get worse, it is time to see a vet. 

Treating your dog with over-the-counter medication can be tricky, as the specific problems are hard to diagnose.  If the dog seems to be in any pain, take them to the vet before it becomes too painful for an examination.

The Dog Keeps Scratching Head and Scratching Ear. What are the Dog Scratching Ear Treatment Options? 

If your dog is scratching its head and ears, there are a few at home treatments you can do if there seems to be no pain associated with the scratching. 

If your dog has seasonal allergies, you can use a soothing shampoo to help with the itching.  This can help if the ear itching seems to be external. 

If you think there can be a foreign body in the ear or too much wax, you can gently clean the ear canal with a dog ear cleaning solution.

If your dog has fleas, you can use a flea comb to get rid of the active fleas, and then use flea medication to kill the eggs.

No Matter the Causes, Don’t Ignore Itchy, Inflamed Ears in Dogs

Itchy, inflamed ears can become painful for dogs. 

Head shaking and excessive scratching can cause permanent issues.  Ear mites and infections can become worse if not treated.  If your dog is itching and has inflamed ears, check for any other symptoms that may indicate the specific cause.  If the dog seems to be in pain or the symptoms get worse, take them to the vet for treatment.

If your dog is scratching its ear, it does not cause for panic, but you should pay close attention. 

Check for any other symptoms to see if the issue is isolated to just the ear or the ear scratching is a secondary symptom.  Dogs may scratch their ears every once in a while just because it feels good, but if the scratching is persistent or accompanied by head shaking, it calls for further investigation.

Common Questions on Dog Ear Health 101: Dog Scratching Ear

How do I know if my dog has a problem or just needs to get an itch?

How do I know if my dog has a yeast infection?

Why can’t I just use OTC medication for the scratching?

Comments 2

  1. Yes. For a dog up to 100lbs they can have 25mg of benadryl (or off brand) every 4 hours as needed. Over a 100lbs they can have 1 and a half same every 4 hours. Over 150lbs you can give him/her 2 every 4 hours. I would watch for changes in mood. Benadryl can do the opposite of making them tired. It can sometimes cause them to feel agitated, nervous, high strung and hyperactive. If this happens just give them space it will wear off bs and then next time try a smaller dose to see if it helps the problem and also doesn’t effect their mood. Another alternative is Zyrtec (or off brand) the dosage would be different though. Under 50lbs (ask a vet) over 50lbs 1 a day.

  2. Can my dog have a Benadryl for his itchy ear for now my vet said there’s nothing wrong with him maybe allergies but didn’t give me anything for him????

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