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Although it may look like something small, an itchy ear is something that should not be overlooked. It can be a sign of something serious and can also be very irritating and painful for your pet. Your dog’s itchy ears can be cured but will require different treatments depending on the cause. Here are some of the most common reasons for a dog to itch their ears:
Your dog will show signs of irritated ears by scratching or rubbing the areas around the ear or the ear itself, discharge coming from the ear that are either brown, yellow or bloody, redness, swelling and odors in the ears, hair loss, crusts or scabs around or in the ear, a loss of balance, strange and unusual eye movements, a loss of hearing or walking around in circles. If your pet is showing any of these signs, bring them to the vet as it can be painful and cause some serious damage to their ear canal.
Although any dog can develop these diseases, some dogs are more susceptible. For example, pets with non-erect ears or allergies can be predisposed to infections. Dogs with lots of hair in the ears can also develop ear problems more easily.
Allergic Skin Disease
If your dog has an allergic skin disease, their ears will become inflamed in reaction to an allergen that could have been either ingested, inhaled or absorbed. There can also be excessive amounts of wax or other secretions coming from the ears. Ears are the perfect environment for yeast and bacteria, as they thrive in warmth and moisture. The presence of yeast and bacteria can lead to more inflammation and more infections. The most common allergens found around the household include house dust mites, carpet cleaning products and detergents. Common outdoor allergens are pollen and grasses. Food allergens that are seen the most in dogs are dairy products, wheat, beef and pork. Fleas can also cause allergic reactions in some dogs. Most dogs will show their first signs of allergic skin disease around the ages of 1 to 3 years old. The affected dogs can show signs all over the body, but the most common places are the ears, the feet and the tummy. The affected areas will be red and your dog will want to itch it, which will cause further damage. If your dog licks the area a lot, it can become brownish or blackish and a surface infection can form.
Yeast infections are known to be extremely itchy. Besides rubbing and itching, other signs of yeast infection includes scabbing around the opening of the year and a waxy residue. Yeast infections are usually associated with allergies, ruptured eardrums, a trapped object, a tumor or polyp in the ear or a bacterial infection. Yeast infections can be painful and in some cases can lead to deafness if not treated. They are usually caused by trapped water or debris in the ear canal. Mold, dust, feathers, pollen, cigarette smoke, certain foods, cleaning products and other allergens can also lead to infections. If your dog gets infected in the middle ear, it can spread to the inner ear and affect their sense of balance and position. If your dog has a yeast infection, you may notice yellow, brown or bloody discharge as well as redness or swelling, an odor, head tilting or shaking, hair loss around the ear, scabs on the ear flap, unusual behaviour such as strange eye movements or walking in circles, and a loss of hearing or balance. Dogs with floppy ears, like Basset Hounds, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels or Golden Retrievers, as well as dogs with allergies or breeds with hair growing in the inner ear canal, for example Schnauzers, can be more susceptible to these infections.
Ear Mites or External Parasites
Ear mites are very common and can be found in the ears of many pets. There are many types of ear mites, but the most common is Otodectes cynotis, which are very small eight legged insects that have a lifespan of about three weeks. They will cause irritation and inflammation and can also infect the inner and outer canal or cause skin infections if left untreated. They will leave a dark discharge that will be easy to identify. Ear mites are highly contagious and are passed easily between pets. The general symptoms include head shaking , a strong odor and a dark black or brown waxy secretion which can also obstruct the ear canal, inflammation and excessive rubbing or scratching. The excessive scratching can cause your dog to rupture the blood vessels in the ear which can make it swollen and painful and will require surgery to correct. Dogs of all ages can be affected, and all pets in the household will require treatment as they are so contagious. Apart from ear mites, ticks, fleas and mange mites can also make your dog’s head and ears itchy.
Anything that is in the ears that do not belong can cause discomfort and lead to pawing, itching and head shaking. This can include anything from foxtails, grass awns, cotton swabs or twigs. The symptoms can be similar to those of an ear infection, such as itching or rubbing the ear, tilting their head or walking in circles. Your dog’s scratching can lead to infections, and they can also experience a loss of hair at the base or tatters on the ear tips.
Tumors, polyps or any other aural masses can act just like foreign bodies and be uncomfortable for your dog. Ear polyps are a type of tumor that grow in an abnormal place, like the ear canal, and get out of control. Causes of ear polyps are unknown, but it is known that chronic inflammation can lead to their development. They can be fairly common in pets with frequent infections. If left untreated, they can cause infections and wax buildup, which can interfere with the function of the ear, such as balance and hearing.
In most cases, bacterial infections will develop as the result of another problem. Many of the other reasons listed above, such as allergic skin disease, foreign bodies or aural masses, can also be accompanied by bacterial infections. Like the diseases previously mentioned, signs of bacterial infections include redness and swelling, shaking of the head and itching or rubbing of the ear. Ear mites are the most common cause of bacterial infections in younger dogs, and older pets may develop them due to yeast or bacteria. Dogs who have allergies can be predisposed to bacterial infections.
To diagnose the reason of your dog’s itchy ears, your vet will use a magnifying ear cone to examine the ear. If your dog is in a lot of pain, this procedure could require sedation. Your veterinarian may also want to look at an ear discharge sample to search for bacteria, parasites or yeast. They will also take into consideration the history, a physical examination, biopsy, an analysis of your dog’s ear discharge, as well as culture of the discharge and a sensitivity testing. Your vet will then most likely perform a biopsy, an anesthetic evaluation, an ear canal cleaning as well as food and allergy testing. If your vet suspects bacterial infection in the sample, a sample may get sent to a laboratory to determine the exact type of bacteria that is present and causing the infection. Most cases of ear infections can be treated by a professional cleaning followed by medication taken at home. Sometimes topical or oral medication can be prescribed. Ear infections can be recurring. If a dog is brought to the vet for skin disease, they will require a complete examination and blood tests to determine whether it is caused by something else. Skin scrapings and hair samples will also be taken. In some cases, your vet may suggest steroids to help control the inflammation and itching, but it will not aid against the cause. They can also have negative side effects and should not be used long term. Cyclosporine is also a frequently used drug that may cause vomiting and diarrhea at first but is safe for long term use.
Your vet will look for yeast infections by performing an otoscope to look for any reasons for the infection as well as taking and examining a sample from in and around the ear. If a yeast infection is discovered in the outer ear, your pet may be prescribed a topical antifungal cream or ointment. Infections in the middle ear are treated with systemic medications, but in some cases additional tests or surgery could be necessary. Curing the infection can take up to six weeks. Ear mites will be treated by products given to you by your vet that should be applied directly in the ear, or parasitic medication that will need to be applied to the skin. A gentle cleaning may be required for infection or debris buildup, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics. To remove a foreign object from your dog’s ear, get him to shake his head by cleaning his ear with a liquid. Ear polyps can usually be diagnosed by otoscopic examinations, but some cases that are far back in the ear canal can require sedation and an MRI or CT scan. The most effective way to treat aural masses is to remove it surgically. Your vet will also want to take samples for bacterial infections, and cleaning of the ear will be necessary.
Preventing your dog from having allergic reactions can be done by keeping them away from the allergen. If this is not possible, your dog may require treatment for the rest of their life. The best way to prevent the side effects of yeast infection is to catch and treat it early. To do this, check your dog’s ears regularly for odor or discharge. It is also important to clean your dog’s ears monthly to prevent ear mites. Keep from using Q-tips or rubbing alcohol when cleaning a dog’s ear, as they can cause further damage.
To keep your dog’s ears healthy, check them regularly and take note of anything unusual, such as redness, abnormal discharge or odor. Keep your dog’s outer ears clean by gently cleaning them with a cotton ball dampened with a solution. You can ask your veterinarian to recommend how often you should wash your pet’s ears as well as the solution to use. Thoroughly dry your dog’s ears after swimming or baths, and if your dog has excessive hair in the outer ear canal it should be removed by a groomer or anyone who knows the proper technique for removing hair. Antihistamines can reduce itching related to allergies and shampoos can improve your dog’s general skin health. If your dog has a food allergy, they may require a refined diet.
Stopping your dog’s itching of the ear can have different costs depending on the cause. Yeast infection due to allergies can cost about $500, treating ear mites can be $250 and ear infection and inflammation can be cured for $300. Ear tumors can be more expensive with an average cost of $3000, and ear infections caused by allergies will be treated with a cost of $300.
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0 found helpful
My dog is all of a sudden really shaking his head twitching and itching his ear area and he's never ever had an ear infection nor does he have fleas... So I'm just really concerned why all of a sudden his ears are bothering him and what or how do I check if it's was mites?
Jan. 26, 2021
Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS
I'm sorry to hear this. A new ear infection or ear mites can present at any age. You may notice a red ear, discharge, a bad smell etc. I would advise a vet visit as soon as you can as your dog may well need antibiotics and the sooner they are started the better. We can sometimes see small white dots (mites) of we look closely within the canal but an otoscope is usually needed to achieve this. The vet will certainly check for mites.
Jan. 26, 2021
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pit bull terrier
3 found helpful
My dog scratches his ear and then licks and bites his back nails afterwards. He does not do this all the time but sometimes he will scratch the ear for a while like it feels really good. I have checked his ear and do not see anything, there is no odor from the ear, no discharge. I also keep them clean by using a qtip to get any dirt from the ear not the canal. He also will bite his back nails without scratching his ear.
April 9, 2018
Itching and scratching may occur for a variety of reasons including infection, parasites, allergies among other causes; if Kilo isn’t causing any physical injury to himself I would keep an eye on it and try to look for any triggers or other factors. You should also visit your Veterinarian if there is no improvement to look into other possible causes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
April 9, 2018
My dog cant stop scratching his ears he's really disturbed and walks all over the house at night right now.When I went to the vet last week they cleaned his ears with a cotton bun and said they didn't see anything however his ear started going on side now and he cant stop scratching or shaking his head.I'm taking him to the vet in the morning first thing to do but really worried about him.Its not red but it looks very little dirty on the inside and he doesn't let me touch it unless I wrestle him a bit to take a gentle look please help
June 19, 2018
Thank you. No he is not causing.any damage to his ear or nails. He just bites the middle 2 on both back paws down short but not too short. Thank you, I will have them check when we go
April 9, 2018
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