My Dog is Scratching or Rubbing Her Ears

    Itchy ears are one of the most annoying and common complaints of all dogs and their owners! Not only are itchy ears uncomfortable, but they are quite easy for dogs to reach, permitting them to make a mess of things without ever achieving much in the way of solving the initial problem. Your prompt action may save you some money and a great deal of aggravation.

    What to Look For

    Start with a thorough examination of your dog's head and ears, paying strict attention to signs of asymmetry in the way she holds her head and moves her ears and the angles that her ears adopt at rest. Look at each ear both outside and in, using a flashlight if needed. Finally, watch your dog walk both toward you and away from you, checking for signs of clumsiness or imbalance.

    What to Do

    Asking yourself a few questions should help you figure out what to do next:

    • Does your dog display signs of imbalance? A head tilt, imbalance, or even clumsiness can be signs of an ear infection. As mentioned, some ear infections are quite painful and if your dog is anxious to begin with, she may snap at you. If you are comfortable enough to proceed after you have finished your exam, try to clean and even medicate your dog's ears following the directions provided in “How to Clean and Treat Your Dog's Dirty and/or Infected Ears” [not available online]. Keep in mind that when an ear infection is serious enough to cause a head tilt and imbalance, it is often necessary to treat the infection with oral antibiotics. In such an instance, your veterinarian is the one to provide you with the proper strategy and protocol.
    • Does your dog have any wounds or lesions on or in her ears? If you discover any minor wounds or other superficial lesions of the ears and you are comfortable treating them, do so by following the directions for wound management outlined in “How to Clean a Wound” and “How to Dress a Wound” [not available online]. Be sure to use an Elizabethan collar in conjunction with your treatment plan to ensure that your dog doesn't go right back to her self-destructive scratching.
    • Does your dog suffer from allergies? If so, your dog's scratching may be in response to the discomfort arising from some environmental or food allergy. Check your dog's recent meal and exposure history for the introduction of any new foods, cleaning products, fabrics, air fresheners, or perfumes. If you are strongly suspicious that the scratching is due to one of these potential allergens, try the combination of a weight-appropriate dose of Benadryl, cold compresses, and the trusty Elizabethan collar to put an end to the immediate scratching problem. See “Treating Your Dog with Anti-Inflammatories” [not available online] for dose information.
    • Does your dog have evidence of any parasites? This could take the form of little red spots, black flea “dirt,” reddish-brown droppings, and/or actual fleas or ticks. Fleas, mites, and flies can all be responsible for making your dog's ears itchy. Use the combination of a weight-appropriate dose of Benadryl, cold compresses, and an Elizabethan collar to soothe your dog's ears while you devise the appropriate strategy for treating the parasites. Check “How to Treat Your Dog's Fleas” and “How to Treat Your Dog's Mites” [not available online].

    Warning

    If you suspect that your dog might have an ear infection, be particularly thorough, yet cautious, in your examination of the insides of her ears. Some ear infections are quite painful and if your dog is anxious to begin with, she may snap at you if you try anything too aggressive.