Common Causes of Itchy Ears in Dogs

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Common Causes of Itchy Ears in Dogs

Your canine buddy’s ears can be prone to a variety of health issues. And a considerable chunk of these can lead to constant itching and discomfort. The good news is, taking a proactive approach to keeping your pet’s ears in tip-top shape can help prevent a lot of these problems. Regular ear cleaning and inspection and seeking prompt veterinary attention can go a long way in alleviating symptoms and preventing more serious problems, including loss of hearing. Keep reading to learn why your dog’s ears might be itchy!

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Signs of Ear Problems in Dogs

You should have your pet checked by your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent itching and scratching
  • Redness in and around the ears
  • Strong or unusual odor coming from the ears
  • Ear discharge
  • Bleeding or dried blood from the ears
  • Bumps or lumps in the ear canal that weren’t there before
  • Loss of balance
  • Hearing loss

Important Causes of Itchy Ears in Dogs

Some ear scratching now and then is not really something to be worried about. However, if your pooch seems to be scratching his ears or rubbing them on surfaces more than usual, the first step to take is to identify what is causing the behavior.

There are several causes of itchy ears in dogs. Some of the most common are:

1. Ear Mites

Ear mites are microscopic parasites that live on the ear canals. They feed on ear wax and skin oils. Although adult mites have a short lifespan (about 2 months), they are very prolific and contagious. Their eggs hatch within 4 days and it will take only three weeks for newly hatched eggs to develop into adults and be ready to reproduce.

An ear mite infestation causes your dog to scratch at his ears and shake his head excessively. There can also be an excessive production of ear wax. The ears may appear red, inflamed, and irritated. A black ear discharge and an unusual odor are also typical of ear mites.

To confirm that your pet’s itching is caused by these microscopic parasites, your vet will get samples of debris from the ears and examine them under the microscope to check for the presence of the ear mites.

The popular form of treating an ear mite infestation in dogs is spot-on medication. Your vet may also recommend ear drops and other types of topical medications. Make sure to give the medication as prescribed and recommended. The medications are formulated to kill the eggs and adult ear mites and address any infection that may be present.

2. Ear Infections

The L-shaped ear canal of dogs makes them more prone to ear infections compared to humans. The good news is many ear infections can be prevented with regular ear cleaning. If your dog is showing signs of ear infection, you should take him to your vet sooner rather than later.

Bacteria or fungus (yeast) are the likely culprits of dog ear infections. Moisture in the ear passages creates a favorable environment for the growth and multiplication of these pathogens. The presence of foreign bodies, ear canal injury, the buildup of ear wax, and excessive ear cleaning are also important predisposing factors of ear infections in dogs.

Recurring ear infections are a cause for concern because they can lead to changes in the ear canal that may require surgery.

Other factors that can increase your dog’s predisposition to ear infections include allergies, endocrine problems, or autoimmune disorders.

3. Allergies

Dogs can have hypersensitivity reactions to allergens in their food and/or environment. Allergens can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed to trigger an allergic reaction

Your pet’s ear itching may be caused by an allergy when scratching is accompanied by red ears, odor, and excessive waxy discharge. There may also be frequent head-shaking and rubbing of the affected ears against surfaces.

If your vet suspects an allergy, there is a need to identify the allergen culprit so your dog’s exposure to it can be prevented, if not significantly reduced. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. To rule out a food allergen, a food trial may be recommended. If the itching seems to worsen during certain times of the year, it may be a hypersensitive reaction to seasonal allergens, such as mold and pollen.

4. Foreign Bodies

Sometimes, things can end up in your dog’s ears that could lead to intense itching and persistent pawing and head-shaking. Bits of cotton or paper towel from cleaning your pet’s ears, grass awns, and foxtails are just some of the foreign bodies that cause ear irritation and itching.

5. Trauma or Injury to the Ears

This can be self-inflicted or a result of excessive scratching or head-shaking. Ear injuries commonly occur in the ear flap as a result of fights or rough play. Blood and fluid-filled pockets, called aural hematomas, can also develop on the ear flaps as a result of rough play or excessive head-shaking. Using Q-tips when cleaning your pet’s ears could also lead to injury of ear tissues.

6. Contact Dermatitis

Some dogs may have an adverse reaction to certain ointments or medications that are applied to the ears. Signs of inflammation can develop within 1-7 days after treatment is started. Itchy and/or painful bumps or sores can be seen on the inner side of the ear flap that’s devoid of hair.

7. Tumor or Polyps

The presence of abnormal growths in the ears, whether they’re benign or cancerous, can irritate the ear passages.

8. Build-up of Dirt and/or Ear Wax

Without regular ear cleaning, dirt and ear wax that has accumulated in the ear passages can cause itching and irritation.

9. Insect Bites

Bites from mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and other insects can cause raised red bumps and crusts that itch.

10. Other Parasites

While ear mites are the most common parasites associated with itchy ears in dogs, mange mites, fleas, and ticks can also make the ears and the area around them very itchy.

Treating Your Dog’s Itchy Ears

The treatment regimen will depend to a large extent on the underlying cause. At the first sign of a potential ear problem, you should seek veterinary attention for proper diagnosis before the appropriate treatment can be given.

Tips to Prevent Ear Itching in Dogs

  • Give your dog’s ears a weekly cleaning. Your vet or groomer can show you how to do it properly.
  • Avoid using Q-tips when cleaning your pet’s ears as these can puncture the eardrum and push debris and earwax further inside the ear canal.
  • Use an appropriate ear cleaner that is recommended by your vet. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol as these irritate the delicate tissues of the ears.
  • If your dog has been diagnosed with an ear infection, your veterinarian may recommend more frequent cleaning. Make sure to follow specific instructions with regards to the frequency. Over-cleaning can lead to ear irritation and breakdown of the delicate skin tissues of the ear canals.
  • The best way to protect your pet from an ear infection and its potentially serious complications is to be proactive in safeguarding your pet’s health and well-being on the home front and in seeking prompt veterinary attention for any concerns you may have about your pet.

Read more:

Examining and Caring for Your Pet’s Ears

Common Ear Problems in Dogs

10 Facts About Your Dog’s Ears

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Published: 10/27/2021

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