A dog’s hearing is just one of their many superpowers. Their ears can detect pitches at frequencies three times higher than our human ears can! Whether listening for hunting prey or their favorite squeaky toy, dogs need their ears in tip-top shape.
But your dog’s favorite massage spots are vulnerable to a range of health issues. And many of those problems can lead to the most annoying symptom of all—constant ear itching. If you catch your dog scratching ear to ear in frustration, don’t panic. To help out our favorite furry friends, we have a guide on every way to relieve your dog’s itchy ears.
Start with Symptoms & Signs
At the first sign of a frantic itchy ear, pause before speed-dialing your vet.
We at Vetericyn know that your pet’s health is a number one concern—and it should be! But not every head shake or ear scratch is a red flag. If your dog’s itching turns constant, however, check for signs of underlying ear issues first. After all, no one wants to pay for an unnecessary visit to the veterinarian.
To that end, here are some ear symptoms that often go with consistent itching:
- Funky or fruity odors
- Discharge (usually yellow or brown)
- New bumps or spots
- Bleeding or dried blood
- Hearing loss
- Sudden loss of balance or sense of direction
If any of these signs crop up, then your dog might need a little more than a behind-the-ears scratch. Ask your veterinarian if he could take a look inside your pup’s ears, just to play it safe.
Figure Out What’s Scratching
Sure, you might pop a Tyelnol with every headache. But to find a real cure, you need to learn why your head actually hurts in the first place. The same goes with your dog scratching away at their head—some temporary relief, but no cure.
From microscopic bugs to seasonal sniffles, let’s review the many causes behind dog itchy ears.
Maybe your pet is a fan of muddy hikes. Or maybe they love roughhousing at the dog park.
No matter the activity, dog ears encounter millions of tiny organisms every day. And those critters can cause some serious ear itching and health issues.
If you notice pain and discharge alongside ear scratching fits, your dog might host one of these culprits:
- Mites – While visible to the eye, mites are sneaky critters. They usually appear on the body first, so skin scabs and overall itching are common symptoms. As well, if you notice crusty dog ear discharge that is black or brown, mites are likely the cause.
- Bacterial Infections – Common and dangerous, bacterial infections can affect the outer, middle, and inner ear. Symptoms like yellow or brown discharge, swelling, and redness will appear quickly. Treat a bacterial infection as soon as possible, as festering canine ear infections can lead to hearing damage.
- Yeast or Fungi – While slightly less common, yeast and fungi (like Malasezzia or Aspergillus) will often create foul odors and hair loss on top of bacterial infection symptoms.
It’s hard to beat a dog’s enthusiasm for play time—that’s what makes them so lovable! But sometimes, that playful nature can lead to accidents. And other times, life just happens.
Besides teeny critters, there are a few other reasons why you might be googling “dog keeps itching ear.” In which case, these are some non-living culprits that might be the cause of the issue:
- Trauma or Injury — Anything from a small cut to a ruptured eardrum counts as ear trauma. If your dog shows any sign of pain, treat their injury ASAP to avoid an unwanted ear infection.
- Allergies – Your kid’s 4th grade classmates aren’t the only ones with serious allergies. Dogs can be allergic to substances found in food, the environment, and elsewhere. Ask for allergy testing if you notice swelling, eye watering, and redness with ear itching.
- Foreign Bodies – Remember that canine sense of play? While playing fetch in the backyard, your dog’s ears might just pick up a “toy” of their own. Again, a vet’s tools are the only way to see if a foreign object is the culprit.
- Tumor or Polyps – Before you freak out, know that every ear bump doesn’t mean cancer. Sometimes, a buildup of ear wax or infections can lead to polyps. Tumors & polyps often hide in the ear canal, so make sure to check with your vet for an expert diagnosis.
- Plain ‘Ol Dirt – If you notice a few minutes of ear itching after hiking with your pup, don’t worry. Sometimes, a bit of dirt can resolve itself. So long as the scratching eases after a few hours, your dog is in the clear.
Build an Itch Relief Toolkit
You saw the vet. You got the diagnosis. You picked up the prescription. Now, it’s showtime.
Well, your dog may not agree. Getting your pet to tolerate pesky routines requires a ton of patience (and treats). But with these tips, we’ve got your back and their ear health covered.
Apply With Care
“A spoonful of sugar” is the motto here. Try and cushion your dog’s ear medication with as much soothing and praise as possible. After all, it’s not the most comfortable experience for them.
Antibiotics and other pills are easy to hide in a liverwurst treat. But if applying liquid medication, here are a few key tips:
- Vet Assistance – Before flying solo, ask your vet if they can demonstrate correct medicine application. That way, you can avoid weeks of ineffective treatment.
- Grab a Partner – A helping hand can make all the difference, especially with bigger dogs. Ask a friend to hold your pup still while you administer the treatment.
- Stay Clean – Most ear medicines will have a squeeze tip for easy application. However, try and keep that tip from actually touching your dog’s ear—that way, you won’t spread germs.
- Rub It In – Once applied, take a few moments to massage your pet’s ear. This will ensure the treatment properly disperses throughout the whole ear area.
Most dog ear medicines eventually cure the cause behind pesky scratching. But during the healing stage, consider a safe over-the-counter or natural itch relief aid.
A few dog-friendly home treatments:
- Calendula lotion
- Apple cider vinegar (diluted)
- Hydrocortisone ointment
- Mullein oil
Remember—unless vet-approved, do not drip these substances down the ear canal. Instead, stick to applying along the outer cartilage and skin.
Keep It Clean
Nothing strikes fear in germs like hygiene. To keep canine ear infections at bay, start with monthly ear cleaning sessions. Unless your dog has daily “mud visits,” you probably won’t need more than that. For ear cleaning novices, you’ll need to gather a few simple materials:
- Scissors – For particularly furry friends, a mini pair of round-edged scissors will clear up intrusive ear hairs. You’ll need maximum visibility to give a proper and safe cleaning.
- Cotton Material – Pads, wipes, or tissues will all work here. A cotton ball is strong enough to pick up debris, but gentle enough not to irritate your pet’s delicate ears. However, stay far from Q-tips. A pokey swab could potentially cause inner ear injuries.
- Ear Cleaning Solution – Water won’t do the trick, here. You need an ear cleanser that can battle germs and soothe any irritation or itching. As a nontoxic solution, Vetericyn’s antimicrobial ear rinse does the job. No stinging alcohols, no harmful steroids, only fast itch relief and efficient cleaning for your dog’s ears.
- Rewards – Like giving medicine, cleaning a dog’s ears requires a little extra pampering. Rewarding your dog teaches them to tolerate a less-than-comfortable situation. Treats, belly rubs, and kind words usually do the trick.
An Ounce of Prevention…
…is worth a pound of expensive vet bills. Isn’t that the saying?
Holistic care gets a bad rap as a new age fad. But even your dog could benefit from a top-down healthy lifestyle. From feeding time to playdates, let’s break down how to improve your dog’s protections against itchy infections.
Allergies are one issue. But according to experts, your dog’s diet also plays a huge role in their immune system.
Your dog’s microbiome—a collection of useful, germ-fighting bacteria—lives mainly in the gut. These protective bacteria love a natural, carnivorous diet. Stale kibble, though, can lead to bacterial imbalance and lower immunity.
Ditch the dry chow. Instead, switch to moist and natural dog food options (fiber and whole ingredients are key). From shinier hair to less infections, your dog will reap the benefits.
Not all supplements are created equal. To specifically treat itchy or infected ears, look for anti-inflammatory substances like:
- Fish oil
- Vitamin E
For safety reasons, make sure to get vet approval before giving any supplement to your pet.
From grassy fields to sandy lakes, dogs love to roam the outdoors. However, the outdoors don’t always equally return the love.
If you own a champion doggy paddler, you’ll need to step up the ear care effort. After every swim, lightly dry your pet’s ears with a soft towel or T-shirt. Ridding any moisture will cut down on the most infectious germs from creeping into your dog’s ear canal.
For dogs who love the woodlands or meadows, watch out for seeds from foxtail and other grasses. Always follow adventures with an ear check, and call the vet if symptoms appear after outdoors time.
Say It’s Over to Itching
No dog deserves to be in pain. Whether it’s a small scratch or repeat fungal infection, we hope this itch relief guide will bring some peace to your dog’s ears. With loving care and the right tools, like Vetericyn’s effective ear solutions, your dog can keep their superpower ears in super condition.
Most importantly, if you’re concerned about the cause of the itchiness, reach out to your vet. They’ll likely be able to diagnose the issue immediately.
Reviewed by Dan Richardson, Veterinarian
Dan Richardson has been a practicing veterinarian for over 10 years. He specializes in surgery and orthopedics. Dan is originally from rural western Nevada and attended the University of Idaho for undergraduate study and Oregon State University for Veterinary School. The Richardson Family enjoys camping and spending time on the water fishing, paddle boarding, or digging their feet in the sand somewhere warm.
- Dogs Naturally Magazine. Home Remedies For Your Dog’s Itchy Ears. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/ear-health/
- PetMD. Natural Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Immune System. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/natural-ways-improve-your-dogs-immune-system
- Central Texas Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital. How to Spot an Ear Infection In Your Dog. https://www.ctvsh.com/services/dogs/blog/how-spot-ear-infection-your-dog
- Oakland Veterinary Referral Services. Ear Polyps in Pets: What Pet Owners Need to Hear. https://www.ovrs.com/blog/ear-polyps-pets-pet-owners-need-hear/
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- American Kennel Club. Dogs Don’t Have a Sixth Sense, They Just Have Incredible Hearing. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/sounds-only-dogs-can-hear/