Unfortunately, there are many reasons your dog is itching his ears. It’s up to you to figure out the cause so that you can properly resolve the problem. Otherwise your dog with itchy ears will not only drive him crazy, but you crazy as well. Although there are many ear problems that may be itchy and annoying, there can also be ear problems that are quite painful as well. You really won’t know until you take your dog to the veterinarian for further examination. While most cases of itchy ears are benign, they can sometimes indicate something more serious. Something that may even require treatment from your vet. This means if you notice your dog scratching his ears a lot, you should never ignore the problem.
Reasons Your Dog Scratches His Ears
The cause of itchy ears can run the gamut from canine bacterial allergies, to infections, to masses in the ear. It can be hard to pin down one single cause. You’ll have to engage in a bit of detective work and observe other symptoms your dog may display to narrow down the cause. If you still don’t know what is causing your dog to itch after some inspection, take him in to your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
Bacterial or Fungal Ear Infections
A dog can suffer from a canine ear infection that may be bacterial or fungal in nature. All dogs naturally have bacteria within their ears. However, the problem arises when those bacteria or fungi begin to proliferate and grow out of control. Fungi like yeast and other bugs love to hide and hang out in dark, warm spaces.
Your dog’s ears make the perfect environment for those little bugs to hide and multiply, especially if your dog is exposed to moisture. Moisture is actually one of the leading causes of ear infections in dogs and often affects dogs who spend time outdoors, in warm, wet weather, or those that swim. These dogs may be more vulnerable to an ear infection than dogs that stay dry and live in cooler environments. Note that ear infections are more commonly manifested in one ear and not both.
Canine yeast infections are particularly irritating and will cause your dog’s ears to itch like mad. You might also notice a funky odor wafting up from your dog’s ears, or notice scabbing and a waxy residue near the ear’s opening. When a yeast infection is bad, you may notice a discharge from the ear that looks brown, yellow, or bloody in color. Yeast infections should never be ignored because they can lead to significant damage and even lead to deafness.
Sometimes infections of the middle ear can occur. When they do, they can spread and cause problems with your dog’s inner ear. This can throw your dog off-balance and trigger other behaviors like weird eye movements or walking in circles. A dog can also get ear infections in both ears at the same time, which is usually caused by allergies or ear mites, not moisture.
Occasionally dogs may develop bacterial infections too, either alongside the yeast infection or instead of a yeast infection. Dogs with allergies or a pre-existing yeast problem may be more prone to developing a bacterial infection. Dogs that get foreign bodies and debris trapped in their ear may also be more prone to bacterial infections. Bacterial infections often develop in conjunction with another health problem, so it’s important to narrow down the source of your dog’s ear woes so that you can effectively treat your dog and relieve not just his itching and infection, but whatever caused the bacterial infection in the first place.
Dogs are attractive hosts for many different types of parasites. Yeast and bacteria aren’t the only ones that love them. The parasites that most often attack a dog’s ears are ear mites. Canine ear mites are tiny parasites that can wreak havoc inside your dog’s ear, cause significant irritation and trigger infection if not promptly addressed.
Ear mites also get passed back and forth between other household pets very easily, so if you suspect your dog has ear mites, you can be reasonably sure that the rest of your household pets may also get them. This is one of the reasons it’s important to treat ear mites as soon as you know your dog in infected with them. It’s kind of like people with lice. You don’t want to wait around because the problem will just get worse and spread.
It’s easy to spot a dog with ear mites due to a dark discharge that leaks from the ear, and the strong odor that comes along with it. The discharge can be waxy and even cause an obstruction in the air canal. An obstruction can lead to further discomfort and irritation.
Sometimes dogs can rupture blood vessels in the ear because of vigorous itching. This can cause painful swelling and may even need surgery. Of course, there are other parasites too, like fleas, ticks, and mange mites. Though these can also cause itchy ears in dogs, ear mites tend to be the most problematic.
Allergies and Allergic Skin Disease
Sometimes dogs suffer from allergies and it can affect the ears and cause canine inflammation. It could be an allergy to something he has eaten, something in the environment, or something he has inhaled from the air like cigarette smoke or pollen. This allergic reaction can affect his skin as well as his ears.
You might notice your dog’s ears secreting a waxy looking discharge. Allergic skin disease can affect a dog at any age, although it often seems to impact younger dogs, usually between the ages of one and three.
Allergens can be anything in a dog’s environment, from carpet cleaners and laundry soaps, to outdoor allergens like grasses, weeds, and pollen, to canine food allergies and reactions to ingredients in your dog’s kibble. Some dogs may also be allergic to fleas, or more specifically flea saliva. All of these allergens can cause a reaction in a dog with sensitivity to them, and itching ears are often a telling symptom.
Trauma and Injury
Sometimes a dog may suffer some kind of injury or trauma to the ear that can cause them to be itchy. In other cases, he might get some kind of foreign body trapped in his ear, especially if he is outdoors a lot. Common foreign objects that cause a dog problems in his ears are grass awns and foxtails. A dog can even get tiny twigs caught and trapped in his ear.
Unless the object is found and removed early, it can cause quite a bit of damage before treated. Any time a dog suffers some kind of cut or injury to his ears, he is susceptible to infection. All of these things can make your dog scratch like crazy in an effort to find relief.
Aural Masses and Hematomas
Sometimes a dog may develop some kind of mass in his ear. This can be severely uncomfortable and even painful. Masses include polyps, canine tumors, and hematomas. Hematomas are like a big blood blister in a dog’s ear. Aural hematomas often recur, so if your dog has got one once, he may get one again. If your dog is prone to ear infections, polyps can be very common. Tumors and cancer in the ear are less common but not unheard of.
Symptoms of Itchy Ears in Dogs
Symptoms a dog may experience coupled with itching ears can vary depending on the root cause of the itching. You may notice odd behaviors like your dog shaking his head a lot, along with scratching his ears. In some cases, you may notice swelling, along with some kind of funky discharge from the ear. This discharge could be brown in color, black in color, yellow, or bloody. Hair loss is also quite common as well.
Odor could be a problem too, especially with yeast or bacterial infections. If your dog has suffered injury, you may notice scabbing or tiny cuts and abrasions in or on your dog’s ear. Lumps and such can be visible if your dog has some type of aural mass causing his itchy ears. With severe ear problems, your dog could lose his hearing entirely, especially if the issue is not caught early.
Treating Itchy Dog Ears at Home
Though you cannot really prevent things like aural masses or ear injuries, there are a few things you can do to help keep your dog’s ears clean and free of infection or allergens. Checking your dog’s ears is something you should do at least once a week to make sure everything inside looks healthy, clean, and slightly pink. There should be no funky odors or weird discharge.
Along with checking your dog’s ears, you should clean them, especially if your dog is particularly prone to ear infections. At the minimum you should clean your dog’s ears at least once every few weeks. Talk to your vet though, because your dog may require more frequent cleanings depending on his history.
It is also important to keep your dog’s ears properly groomed, especially if he is a long-haired breed. Hairs can grow or get stuck in the ear canal and create problems for your dog, especially if moisture gets trapped inside as well. Once moisture gets in, the hairs found there can become a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria. Also, while these methods are helpful for maintaining the health of your dog’s ears, you should always consult with a vet if you think there is anything seriously wrong or your dog is itching more than normal.
Treating Itchy Dog Ears at the Vet
If you find your home ministrations aren’t working and you need to take your dog to the vet, make sure you give them a thorough medical health history for your dog. They will want to know when the itching began, what has changed since you first noticed the itching, and any other symptoms your dog may be showing. You never know what might be related to his itching.
They will also want to know your normal home care routine for your dog’s ears and may want to know if you use any type of medications or treatments. A physical exam will also be necessary, not just of your dog’s ears but of his whole body. This is because itchy ears could be a symptom of something more systemic. If your dog’s ears are secreting any kind of discharge, your vet may want to analyze that as well and take cultures from it.
For a dog that is brought to a vet in severe pain due to a foreign body in the ear, anesthesia may become necessary so he can be comfortable before the vet removes the offending object. Putting your dog under will also allow the vet to clean your dog’s ears completely and remove any additional fluid or debris that could be contributing to your dog’s discomfort.
One thing to also keep in mind is if your dog has any sort of aural mass, like polyps or a tumor, a biopsy may be necessary. This is to make sure the tissue is not cancerous and to help determine the course of treatment.
If your vet suspects allergies may be the problem, a food elimination diet may be recommended in order to narrow down what might be causing your dog’s allergic reaction. In some cases, allergy tests may be ordered in an effort to determine environmental factors that could be causing your dog’s irritation.
Though there are several reasons a dog itches his ears, most of them are not too serious as long as they are addressed in a prompt manner. The key is paying attention to your dog’s behavior so that you recognize when something is off and can seek the appropriate treatment.
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