Having a dog is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Our dogs rely on us in the same way our kids rely on us. That means that we are in charge of nourishing, understanding, and protecting them from threats both seen and unseen. So when you notice that your dog starts to constantly scratch his or her ear, it is natural for us to get worried. “Why my dog keeps scratching ear and licking paw?” and more importantly “What can I do for my dog’s itchy ears?”
Why does my dog itch his ears?
The reason for your dog’s itching can be:
- The dogs breed
- Their Diet
- Bacterial and Parasitic Infections
- Aural masses in the ear.
The dogs breed
Dog breeds that have low hanging ears like retrievers and setters are more prone to have itchy ears. This is because the structure of their ears creates a perfect environment for yeast infections. The inner ear would be moist most of the time and the darkness would provide the perfect cover for the yeast infection.
The best approach for such breeds is to clean their ears out regularly (once a week). This way, the ear canals would be less moist and less prone to yeast infections.
What our dogs are eating can also be a contributing factor to our dogs scratching their ear and whining at times. Increased consumption of excess grains and sugars can lead to more buildup of yeast in our dog’s ears. This is because both grains and sugars in the dog’s body lead to the formation of more sucrose and glucose which all feed the yeast in the body and makes them grow more. The yeast found in the ear becomes itchy leading to your dog scratching their ear more often. There is also this awful smell that accompanies the yeast build up.
Fortunately for us, reversing itchy ears due to our dog’s intake of excess grains and sugars is as simple as reducing the intake of these products in our dog’s diet and maintaining an ear cleaning routine. There would also be a need to visit a vet clinic in case there might be medications to be prescribed.
Different doggy lifestyles determine whether our dogs would have itchy ears or not. For example, dogs that like swimming, whether in lakes, swimming pools, ocean water, or any type of water body are prone to keep scratching their ears and licking paws because of the itch. This is obviously because the water would keep their ears wet, making it a perfect place for yeast to grow, this is also more pronounced if the dog breed has an ear that falls down, then as explained in the first reason they are more prone to itchy ears.
It is important to dry your dog’s ear after a swim with a soft towel or dry cotton. Removal of excess moisture will lessen the chances of yeast growth and itchy ears.
Another set of dogs who are prone to itchy ears are the ones who spend most of their time outdoors. If your dog has enough freedom to spend time running around in the woods or on grasslands, then they are likely to get foxtails or some other form of grass seeds getting stuck in their ear canals. Itching from foxtails and grass seeds is more painful to our dogs and in some cases might require some form of surgery to remove them. Some vets may suggest other means other than surgery e.g pouring some mineral oil into the ear canal. This will soften the grass seeds and allow the dog to shake off the stuck objects on their own.
The main point to be taken here for foxtails and other grass seeds are to seek a vet doctor’s advice before attempting any form of remedy.
Bacterial and Parasitic Infections
Now we have been talking about yeast infections and how they cause our dogs to itch their ears but Yeast infections are not the only type of bacterial infections that cause our dogs to itch. On top of the list are allergic skin diseases or reactions, unlike humans that sneeze when reacting to pollens and grass seeds, our dogs react with their skin and gastrointestinal issues. The way it happens is this, our dogs have a very large number of mast cells on their body and anytime they are faced with an allergy challenge, the mast cells release histamines and some other substances to combat these challenges. The challenges can range from skin contact to food allergies. The basic thing is that these can lead to itching in different areas of their body including their ears
The manifestation of these allergies can come through:
Allergic skin Disease: You will notice this from the inflammation of the area around your dog’s ear, however, the region was affected(whether inhaled, ingested, absorbed, etc). Because of excessive secretions coming from the ear region, Bacterias are able to survive and multiply in these regions and when our dogs scratch these areas, it only leads to more inflammation.
Ear Mites: These are parasites that feed on the excretion and wax in our dog’s ears. Although they don’t directly feed on the dog, the way they attach themselves to the dog’s ears leads to parasitic wounds and bleeding. These open points can also lead to other bacterial infections apart from the already mentioned yeast infection. It is also worth mentioning that the presence of these mites are very uncomfortable for our dogs and the scratching of these areas can lead to further wounding inflammation and infection of these areas. Worse still if left untreated, the mites end up migrating to other parts of the dog’s body.
Other parasites: There are other parasites like ticks, fleas, and scabies, there is no need to go into too many details on these parasites here but their mention is to make us know that there are other parasites that can lead to our dog’s dog scratching ear and whining or dog scratching ear and shaking head at night and day.
Aural masses in the ear.
These are basically abnormal growths in the ear canals of our dogs. These growths are abnormal and feel like foreign bodies to our dog hence making them each when present. Sometimes, this growth may be cancerous leading to more health issues for our dog.
How can I soothe my dog’s itchy ears?
Let’s walk through some things we can be doing at home to prevent our dog’s ears from itching or worse still getting an infection.
- We need to be observant and check on our dog’s ears regularly. Normally, our dog’s inner ear will look smooth and shiny with a delicate pink undertone. Anything aside from this should be brought to your vet doctor’s attention.
- Maintain a regular ear cleaning routine for your dog. Some people like to clean their dog’s ears daily while others choose to do the same weekly. Personally, I would suggest once a week. This is because overcleaning their ears can lead to dryness which has its negative effects on the ear. Whatever you do, apply moderation to it.
- Dogs with hairy ears need regular grooming, apart from cleaning their ears, trimming their hair region around their ears is a good way to avoid itchy ears. A regular grooming practice has many positive effects apart from preventing itchy ears.
- Regular vet visits. Create a routine for visiting your vet doctor or vet clinic for your pet’s health. It may be once a month, once in three months, etc. Whatever suits you. Just maintain the schedule. But if you find your dog scratching its ear and shaking its head at night or your dog scratching its ear and whining in the daytime, then you should report it immediately to your vet doctor.
What will vet doctors do when your dog itches his ear.
Normally, while taking our dogs to the vet doctor, we don’t assume much responsibility for whatever happens in the hospital or clinic. But depending on the severity of the itch, you may want to understand what your vet doctor expects from you to assist him or her and get the necessary treatment quicker for our dogs. So here we go.
- Your dog’s history: Your doctor would want to understand things like when did the situation start? Did you change anything of recent with your dog? Is he on any medication currently? Answers to questions like this help to give our vet doctors a better insight and possibly a better approach to solving the problem.
- Your dog will undergo some physical examination: Obviously, even though it was your dog itching his or her ear that brought you to the vet doctor, all aspects of their body would be examined. There are obviously things we don’t understand about our dogs which make the vet doctors the expert, so it’s better to allow them to do their work.
- Analysis of their ear discharge: After examining their whole body and examing the ear with the handheld otoscope for dogs. They would likely obtain a sample of the discharge from our dog’s ear for further analysis. This analysis would include but is not limited to observing the sample under a microscope to determine which parasite or bacteria that may be involved with our dog’s itchy ear problem.
- Culturing the ear discharge: After the sample analysis, and the bacteria or parasite has been identified using their scientific processes, a culture of the discharge is made. The essence of this is to keep a record of the problem and proposed treatment for your particular dog case, especially if another vet doctor needs to handle your case at a later date.
- Applying anesthetics for further evaluation: This is done to put the dog to sleep for further analysis of the ear canal, true a sample has been taken, but there is a need to know how much damage has been caused to the ear region by this situation. The itch and pain will not allow our dogs to relax and have their ears properly checked hence the need for the anesthetics
- Cleaning of the ear canals: In the sedated state, your vet doctor apart from evaluating the state of the ear, can now do some proper cleaning of your dog’s ears.
- Biopsy: This is often done when the cause of the itch is an abnormal growth or cancerous. A sample of the outgrowth is taken for further analysis and to determine the best treatment for it.
- Diet Change: If the suspect is the current diet of your dog, your vet might make some suggestions on changes to our dog’s diet. This is meant to eliminate the suspected ingredients and determine which of the food substances our dogs may be allergic to.
- Testing for allergies: If all of the above dosen’t provide expected results, then some advanced form of testings would be done on our dogs, from blood samples to skin samples might be required. Basically, this is to find out what exactly our dogs are allergic to in order to avoid them.
Based on the above, your vet doctor will now suggest the best treatment and drugs that will be needed to treat the situation. Some might be short term application of medication or change in feeding habits. Some may be long-term in cases where surgery might be needed.
There you go, now you have the answer to the question “Why does my dog itch his ears?” Go out and do the necessary things to give your dog the best life.
Hi, I am Charles Nwankwo Editor-in-Chief, Mydoggything.com. Gleaning from Professional Dog Trainers, behaviorist, Registered Veterinarians, and Breeders. We are passionate about making dog care easy for you. My job is to make sure that you get the best-updated dog care information to understand and take care of your dog or dogs.