It is not unusual for the dog to scratch his ear. Like us humans, your dog sometimes experiences itchiness in various places on the body. This can be completely normal and harmless, but if you have a dog that scratches its ear a lot, it could be a sign of ear problems. We explain what can be common reasons why the dog itches in the ear!

Table of contents

The dog scratches his ear

Fungus in the dog's ear 

One of the reasons why the dog scratches his ears a lot is a fungal infection. Symptoms of ear fungus in dogs can vary, and in addition to itching, you can also often see an increased production of earwax. Nevertheless, these are symptoms that also overlap with other ear problems, and it is therefore important to have a veterinary examination to make the correct diagnosis. 

Treatment of ear fungus in dogs

Although fungal infections in the ear are quite common in dogs, it can be unpleasant for the four-legged friend. At the vet, the dog's ears are examined and samples will be taken to identify the type of fungus that is causing the infection. The treatment is often medicine in the form of ear drops or ointments with antifungal agents. 

Common symptoms of ear fungus in dogs 

In addition to itchy ears, there are also some other common symptoms of yeast infection. Other symptoms include: 

  • Overproduction of earwax. Often thick, dark and with a characteristic smell.
  • Redness and swelling
  • Discharge from the ear. May be yellowish, greenish or brownish-yellow in color and have an unusual smell.
  • Reduced hearing 
  • The dog may show signs of pain or discomfort when the ears are touched or handled
A dog with allergies, read the symptoms here. Dog and allergy. The dog scratches his ear.

Ear infection in dogs

Did you know that dogs can also get ear infections? Actually is ear infection in dogs a common nuisance, which we vets encounter regularly. Approximately 20-50% of Norwegian dogs and 10% of our cats are affected by ear infections one or more times in their lives. Read on to learn how to identify signs of an ear infection in your dog, and what you should do if you suspect your dog has an ear infection. 

Causes of ear infections in dogs 

Ear infections in dogs are usually caused by an increased growth of bacteria or fungi in the dog's ear canal. This increased growth is typically related to various underlying causes, such as:

  • Excess hair in the ear canal, moisture or earwax build-up
  • Frequent or excessive picking and cleaning of a normally healthy ear
  • Infection with ear mites
  • Presence of foreign objects in the ear canal
  • Underlying allergic reactions
  • Hormonal disorders, such as low metabolism
  • Polyps or tumors in the ear canal

Acute and chronic ear infections 

Dogs can experience both acute ear infections and develop more persistent chronic inflammatory conditions.

In acute cases, the dog will usually show signs of itching and redness in the ear canal. Increased production of earwax or brownish secretions in the ear canal is also not unusual. As an owner, you can often notice that the ear has a different smell than normal.

If acute ear problems are not treated correctly, the condition can develop into a chronic one. Chronic ear infections are usually more painful than itchy, and it is common to notice changes in the discharge. The ear can become inflamed, swollen and very painful. The pain can become so intense in the dog that it disturbs both sleep at night and significantly reduces its quality of life.

If the dog goes a long time with an untreated ear infection, the risk of the eardrum rupturing increases and the infection can spread to the middle ear. This can also lead to permanent damage to the ear canal, which in turn can result in increasing problems for the dog over time. Especially in spaniel breeds, scar tissue can form in the ears, causing the ear canals to become narrow. From there, ear function will gradually decrease, and surgery may be necessary to gain control of the situation.

Despite the fact that ear infections are common and usually harmless, the condition should therefore be taken seriously, as untreated ear infections can over time lead to permanent damage to the dog's ear. The most common cause of chronic conditions is the lack of early examination of acute problems.

Symptoms of ear infection in dogs

In order to detect an ear infection and ensure that the dog receives the correct treatment, it is advisable that you as the owner familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of ear infections in dogs are:

  • Frequent shaking of the head or a crooked head posture
  • Visible accumulation of earwax in the ear canal, often with a brownish to yellow colour
  • The dog scratches the ear area or tries to rub the ears against the ground
  • An unusual smell coming from the ears
  • Redness and irritation of the skin inside the ears
  • Pain is experienced when the ears are touched
  • Presence of scabs or hair loss around the ears
  • Swelling in the ears
  • Balance disorders
  • Reduced hearing

Diagnosis and treatment of ear infections

During a veterinary examination, the ear canal will be carefully inspected using an otoscope, a small device used to examine the ear canal and eardrum. Usually, a sample is also taken from earwax or pus in the ear canal, which is then analyzed under a microscope. Based on the results of these examinations, the vet will determine the most appropriate and effective treatment for your dog. 

Most cases of ear infection are treated with local treatment, which includes the use of ear drops or ear cleaner. The vet will give you training on how to carry out this cleaning to achieve the best possible result of the treatment. You can read more about how we treat ear infections in dogs here.

Other ear complaints in dogs

There are also other potential reasons why the dog scratches his ear a lot. For example, the itching can be caused by food intolerance, allergies, ear mites or a foreign body. It is difficult to find the correct cause without a veterinary examination. We therefore recommend taking your dog to the vet if you notice that it is scratching its ears abnormally a lot. At our clinic, you can easily book an appointment online. 

It is important to note that untreated ear problems in dogs can lead to chronic and permanent problems that cannot be reversed.

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Elisabeth is a veterinarian and authorized ophthalmologist with specialization in eye surgery, as well as further training in internal medicine, general surgery, oral surgery and ultrasound from the European School for Advanced Veterinary Studies in Toulouse.