dog scratching ear

A Dog Scratching Ear: 6 Causes, Solutions, and Prevention

Katelyn Son
By Katelyn Son
Medically reviewed by Ivana Crnec, DVM
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What are Signs of Ear Problems in Dogs?

What are Signs of Ear Problems in Dogs

A dog scratching ear is the first and main sign of ear problems. According to First Vet, other common signs of ear problems in dogs are:

  • Scratching and pawing at the ear
  • Redness in the ears and on the ear flaps
  • Strong or unusual odor coming from the ears
  • Ear discharge (due to ear wax buildup)
  • Bleeding or dried blood in the ear canal
  • Bumps and scabs in the outer or inner ear
  • Intense or vigorous head shaking and tilting
  • Hair loss around the ears
  • Loss of balance and wobbly walk
  • Impaired hearing to complete hearing loss

Different clinical signs and symptoms point to different ear problems. Itchy ears and a dog scratching ear are usually a symptom of the most common ear problem – dog ear infections.

What does it Mean When a Dog Keeps Scratching its Ear?

A dog scratching ear is a sign it has an ear issue and needs to be examined by a vet. Keep in mind that the occasional ear itch is normal (just like people itch their ears from time to time, dogs need to do it as well).

However, persistent or frequent dog scratching ear is troublesome. For example, if the dog stops eating or wakes up just to give its ear a good scratch, it is time to call the veterinarian.

What Causes Itchy Ears in Dogs?

What Causes Itchy Ears in Dogs

A dog scratching ear can be a sign of many underlying conditions. Here are some of the most common causes of itchy ears in dogs.

Ear Infections. Ear infections in dogs are a widespread issue, especially among dogs with large ears (Retrievers), floppy ears (Cocker Spaniels), or hairy ear canals (Poodles). An ear infection can be caused by bacteria, yeasts, and fungi. In most cases, they are triggered by an imbalance of the microflora living in the dog’s ears, resulting in a yeast infection.

Ear Mites. Ear mites are parasites that live in the dog’s ear canals and feed on cerumen (ear wax). Ear mites are infectious, meaning they are spread from one dog to another. A dog with ear mites will have excess ear wax with an unusually dark or even black color. Managing ear mites requires help from a veterinarian

Allergies. Dogs with food allergies and sensitivities experience itchy ears. Itchy ears are also one of the signs in dogs with atopic dermatitis and flea-allergy dermatitis. Dogs sensitive to environmental allergens (pollen, dust, human dander) can develop ear issues if continuously exposed to the problematic allergen. Dog scratching ear is an unusual yet common sign of allergies. 

Foreign Body. Foreign bodies may get lodged in the dog’s ear canal and cause issues. A dog with a foreign body will shake its head vigorously and paw at the ear in an attempt to get rid of the object. The most common foreign body in the dog’s ear is foxtails. Solving the problem requires veterinary help – removing the foreign object and damage control.

Ear Polyps and Tumors. A dog with growth inside the ear can also exhibit signs similar to ear infections. Such growths can be benign (for example, polyps) or malignant (tumors). In both cases, they have to be surgically removed to relieve the symptoms and improve the dog’s life quality. Based on the exact location, full removal may not be possible.

Skin Disease. Various skin diseases (bacterial infections or parasitic infestations like mange) may cause ear issues – scratching and redness. In such cases, the dog ear scratching issue cannot be solved until the underlying skin disease is managed. In this case, the exact treatment for a dog scratching ear depends on the type of skin problem.

How can I Soothe My Dog’s Itchy Ears?

When dealing with dog scratching ear, there are several things and products the pet owners can try. Here are some highly recommended products for itchy ears in dogs.

Veterinarian Formula Hot Spot and Itch Relief. This itch relief spray provides rapid relief as it manages inflammation and itchiness. Plus, the vet-formulated spray is straightforward to use – spray the affected area until well-saturated and repeat twice a day for a week.

NaturPet Ear Drops for Ear Infections. These homeopathic ear drops are perfect for outer and inner ear infections and general ear cleaning. For infections, they are used twice daily for a week and as a dog ear cleaning solution on a bi-weekly basis.

Canis Cattus Allergy & Immune Supplement. This oral supplement is perfect for dogs with allergy-trigger itchy ears. The supplement can be mixed with dog food for easy feeding. Or, you can squirt between one and three drops directly into the dog’s mouth.

Ear Well Dog Ear Wipes. These natural and gentle wipes are perfect for maintaining healthy ears and preventing ear problems. They are made with aloe and eucalyptus and help reduce ear odor and itching. When using them, gently rub the inside of the dog’s ear flap.

How do Vets Diagnose Itchy Ears in Dogs?

How do Vets Diagnose Itchy Ears in Dogs

To diagnose itchy ears in dogs, vets start by performing a thorough physical examination. This is important as sometimes the underlying cause of the dog scratching ear issue is not in the ear itself.

According to the American Kennel Club, the physical examination for a dog scratching ear includes:

  • Visual assessment of the ear (redness, swelling, discharge, skin lesions)
  • Otoscope examination (to examine the inner ear – ear canal and eardrum)
  • Gentle palpation of the ear to evaluate the level of pain
  • Microscopic examination of the dog’s ear wax
  • Culture of the samples taken from the ear
  • Biopsy or X-ray of the head in severe or chronic cases.

How do You Treat Itchy Ears in Dogs?

Home remedies can be used to treat itchy ears. However, if the dog is in pain or has other signs and symptoms and itchiness, it needs to be taken to a vet. Better Pet suggests that a dog scratching ear may benefit from these products.

Vetericyn Plus Ear Rinse. This dog ear cleaning solution can be used to remove foreign materials, alleviate irritation, and combat odors. Saturate the affected area and massage the ear gently. Repeat the procedure one to four times a day or as needed.

Veterinarian Formula Ear Therapy. This ear drops help with bacterial and fungal infections in both dogs and cats. Simply fill the ear canal and massage gently. Repeat the procedure as often as needed, as there are no harsh ingredients.

Curaseb Ear Infection Treatment. This ear flush has anti-inflammatory properties and can manage infections, inflammation, and itchiness in a dog’s ears. Apply liberally to the affected area twice a day or as often as a vet suggests.

Entederm Topical Ointment. This topical medication in the form of ointment helps treat pets with bacterial or yeast infections found in the ears. Apply to the affected area once a day or once weekly, depending on the severity of the problem.

Itch Relief Pet Ear Cleaner. This ear cleaner with aloe vera and eucalyptus gives rapid relief for dogs with itchy ears due to allergies. Gently massage in a few drops twice daily and swab the gunk gently with a cotton ball.

A dog scratching ear is a progressive issue that can worsen quickly if left untreated. So, if your dog has itchy or inflamed ears, see your trusted veterinarian.

Vetericyn Plus Ear Rinse
  • Provide safe and effective relief for your pets ear infections, irritations, odors, or to remove foreign materials. Approved for use on all animals, from cats and dogs to horses and livestock. Safe for all ages.
  • Save yourself the expense of a trip to the vet with solutions your animal care provider would recommend. From your home to the farm or ranch, care for your animals where they are happy and comfortable.
  • Vetericyn is committed to developing the most safe, effective and innovative animal health and wellness products in the world. 

How can I Prevent Ear Scratching in Dogs?

How can I Prevent Ear Scratching in Dogs

To prevent ear scratching in dogs, regularly take care of your dog’s ears. The dog scratching ear scenario is preventable by following these steps: 

  • Clean the dog’s ears (exact frequency and products should be discussed with the vet)
  • Keep the hairs in the dog’s ear canal well-trimmed (groomer visits might be required)
  • Never use Q-tips and hydrogen peroxide (they can cause damage to the pet’s ears)
  • In case of an ear problem, be proactive and seek immediate veterinary attention.

Proper and regular veterinary care can be expensive. Therefore, it is advisable to prepare yourself and get a good pet insurance plan. We recommend OneVet – it gives 24/7 access to licensed vets, $3.000 in emergency funds, and coverage for pre-existing conditions for only $19.99.