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Why Your Dog’s Ears Are Itchy and How to Soothe and Clean Them

This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Lisa Coder of Vital Animal Veterinary Clinic Dr. Coder was compensated for the review of this article but is in no way affiliated with Angels’ Eyes. 

Every dog parent knows the tell-tale hard thumping sound of their dog scratching their ears. It’s incredibly common for a dog’s ears to become itchy. But sometimes it becomes more than an irritation – it’s a problem.

By learning why your dog’s ears are itchy, seeing your veterinarian if necessary, and maintaining a regular ear-cleaning schedule, you can soothe your dog’s ears and keep them itch-free.

How to Tell if Your Dog’s Ears Are Itchy or Irritated

If your dog’s ears are itchy, depending on its cause, you may notice:

  • Persistent scratching

  • Redness in or on their ears

  • Head shaking

  • Tilting their head

  • Pulling away when you pet them near their ears

  • Rubbing their ears on the furniture or carpet

  • Visible dirt or debris in their ear

  • Discharge from the ear

  • Odor from the ears

  • Dried blood in the ears

  • Balance issues

Below you can see a picture of a dirty, itchy ear versus a clean ear. 

If you suspect your dog’s ears are itchy, it is important that you figure out the cause. If day-to-day dirt or debris is to blame, there are several things you can do to clean and soothe your dog’s itchy ears.

5 Common Reasons Dogs’ Ears Get Dirty

Dogs’ ears get dirty just like ours do - and for some of the same reasons! But it doesn’t have to cause your dog distress. Regular ear cleaning, like with Angels’ Eyes Gentle Ear Cleansing Wipes , can alleviate and eliminate built-up dirt and debris and help prevent dirt-related complications. But how do our dogs’ ears get dirty in the first place?

Here are the most common reasons for dogs’ ears to get dirty.

1. Ear Wax

Like our ears, dogs have natural wax that is designed to trap dirt and debris and keep it from reaching the sensitive inner ear.

When that wax builds up or gets full of dirt, however, it can cause itching and irritation. This may happen even more quickly if your dog has allergies or is exposed to environmental irritants like smoke or pollen.

2. They Have Long Ears

If your dog has long ears, they may be more prone to dirt buildup, itching, and irritation. The long ears more easily trap dirt and moisture and may require cleaning more often than other short-eared dogs. Dogs with floppy ears also have the disadvantage of less air flow in the ear canal - leading to moisture build-up, which can trap dirt and potentially provide a damp place for infection to take hold.

3. They Have Hairy Ears

If your dog has more hair in or around their ears than most, they may experience more ear itching and irritation. That extra hair is great for keeping dirt out of the inner ear, but it also can collect dirt more easily and then keep it there.

4. They Have a Flat Face

Flat-faced, or brachycephalic, breeds are genetically prone to narrower ear canals than other dogs. This means it takes less wax or dirt to clog them up, making it more likely for them to develop itchy, dirty ears.

5. They Swim or Are Bathed Often

Some dogs need to be bathed more often than others. Other dogs absolutely love going for a swim. In both cases, getting water in their ears regularly can lead to trapped water or dirt remaining in their ears.

5 Other Reasons for Itchy Ears

It’s important to note that sometimes something more serious may be causing your dog’s itchy ears. And, in some of these cases, you may need to see your veterinarian to treat them.

1. Allergies

One of the most common causes of itchy ears is allergies. Dogs can have allergic reactions to environmental allergens like pollen, household scented products (think plug-ins, candles, and wax burners), cigarette or marijuana smoke, or even to ingredients in their food. Other dogs may develop allergies to certain materials, like the plastic in some water and food bowls.

Allergies may cause localized or more systemic issues. For example, a plastic allergy might mean your dog develops irritation only where the plastic touches them. Or it might set off a wider reaction including itchy ears, itchy skin, welts, rashes, sneezing, runny nose, and even mild facial swelling.

Some allergies can be avoided by simply removing the allergen from your dog’s environment or by keeping your dog out of environments with the allergen. If your dog has more severe allergies or if you’re having trouble identifying the allergens at play, talk with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan.

2. Environmental Irritants

Even if your dog isn’t allergic to them, environmental irritants like smoke or pollen can still cause ear irritation.

If you find these kinds of irritants are causing your dog distress, the best solution is to try and remove them from your dog’s environment or otherwise limit their exposure to them.

Regular ear cleaning to remove the irritants can also help. You might choose to do this as part of their daily care routine. Or perhaps you may only need to clean them after any irritant exposure.

3. Fleas and Other Parasites

Everybody knows how itchy fleas can be for our furry friends, but don’t forget about the other biting insects, such as mosquitos, biting flies, and ticks.

If your dog is not on flea and tick prevention, this may be the first best step to controlling itchiness.

4. Ear Infections

Sometimes a more minor issue (like a dirty ear) develops into something more serious - an ear infection.

Some signs of ear infection include:

  • Red, inflamed ear

  • Pus or discharge

  • Odor

  • Head shaking

  • Head tilting to one side

  • Severe scratching (that may even cause scratch marks or wounds)

  • Vocalizing or crying

  • Swelling in the ear flap

If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, contact your veterinarian. They will be able to assess how severe it is and recommend a treatment plan to clear up the infection.

5. Injuries

While major ear injuries should always be seen by a veterinarian, pet parents might decide to treat minor cuts or scrapes on their dog’s ears at home. However, even minor injuries can cause major itching. And with itching comes scratching… and possibly even more injuries.

To prevent minor scrapes from becoming something more, try using an Elizabethan collar or “cone” to prevent scratching. And, of course, if the itching or scratching gets too severe, contact your veterinarian.

But are things like ear infections and itching from irritants inevitable? Not necessarily - and here’s how you can help.

How to Clean and Soothe Your Dog’s Itchy Ears

If your dog’s itchy ears are caused by a buildup of dirt, debris, or wax, regular cleaning will help keep the itch away and soothe any irritation. It also can help prevent excess wax and dirt from getting trapped and possibly leading to an ear infection.

How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

One of the easiest ways to clean a dog’s outer ears is with ear wipes made especially for the job. Angels’ Eyes Gentle Ear Cleansing Wipes are great for this. No worrying whether you have enough cleanser or if your cloth is gentle enough for the job - you’re always good to go.

Use the wipes to get as far down as your finger can go into the ear canal - the risk of damage to the inner ear canal is minimal, and you want to ensure you are cleaning enough dirt and wax out that the whole ear canal has exposure to air - the main culprits of ear infections, bacteria and yeast - do not survive well when dried out.

The Angels’ Eyes Gentle Ear Cleansing Wipes are great at providing a self-drying cleaner that will decrease the likelihood of microbial growth within the ear. If your dog is painful when your finger is in their canal, it may be a sign of early infection, and worth a trip to your veterinarian to make sure they get treatment as soon as possible.

Use the cleansing wipe to gently wipe away any excess wax, dirt, or debris that you can see in the outer ear. It may take more than one wipe to get everything.

Gentleness is key, as aggressive cleaning can itself cause irritation or damage.

Also, if your dog has a history of outer ear infections, finish your cleaning session with Angels’ Eyes Zinc-Otic Ear Relief Treatment . Its zinc and boric acid combo helps fight yeast and bacterial growth to keep infections from recurring, while its other ingredients nourish and replenish the delicate tissue in the ear.

If your dog is prone to or has an active infection, she should be evaluated by a veterinarian. 

How to Ease Your Dog into Ear Cleaning

It is often recommended to clean your dog’s ears no less than once a week. This helps prevent excess wax and dirt from building up to troublesome levels. A light cleaning every day can make this task even easier.

Often, your dog’s traits or ear history will determine your cleaning needs.

If you notice your dog itching their ears, it may be time for an extra cleaning. Dogs that have been playing outside, at the beach, or in the woods may need additional cleaning as well. You’ll want to clean and then dry their ears if your dog has been swimming. A quick cleaning after a bath also helps keep the moisture out and the ear canal clean.

Also, if your dog has a history of ear infections or if your dog’s breed makes them more prone to ear infections, your vet may recommend daily cleaning.

If you’re unsure if you’re cleaning your dog’s ears too little or too often, consult your veterinarian.

How Often to Clean Your Dog’s Ears

Many dogs are uncomfortable with someone touching their ears, which can make cleaning difficult. Thankfully, there are things you can do to make the process easier.

  • Start Cleaning When They’re Young

While not everyone adopts their dog when they’re a puppy, those that do are at an advantage here. By getting your dog used to having their ears touched when they’re young, you will make it far easier for yourself during future cleaning.

  • Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Acclimating your dog to ear cleaning is a gradual process. Think of it as a 5K instead of a 100-yard dash. Don’t worry if you can’t clean anything on the first day. Just start with a gentle touch or ear rub. As soon as your dog reacts negatively, stop for the day. Then praise them and give them a treat. The next day, try to go a little further. Again, don’t worry if it takes a few days to get beyond a little ear rub or touch. Time and patience are your friends.

  • Try Distraction

Once you think you’re ready to go for the full cleaning, consider adding some distractions to the mix. A lick-mat with some peanut butter or cheese on it may provide a pleasant distraction for your pup while you gently clean their ears. If you have a second person available in your home, they can help keep your dog calm with praise, gentle pets, and treats while you work.

  • Maintain a Fear-Free Cleaning Session

You don’t want your dog to have a negative association with ear cleaning. Even if you think you’ve made good progress and are ready to move to the next step in the process, be ready to stop whenever you sense your dog getting upset or anxious.

Additional Ways to Prevent Itchy Ears

The cause of your dog’s itchy ears will determine if you need to do anything in addition to cleaning.

For example, if your dogs’ itchy ears are caused by allergens, regular cleaning will help remove those allergens. However, you also can help by avoiding allergen exposure, if possible. In severe cases, medication to help treat allergies may be needed - if regular cleaning does not prevent constant itching, it may be worth a chat with your veterinarian to find an appropriate allergy medicine for your pup.

If your dog has long hair by his ears that’s contributing to his itchy issues, your groomer may trim it back regularly.

If your dog’s itchy ears are caused by excessive build-up of wax, dirt, or moisture, gentle cleaning daily or every-other-day, followed by Angels’ Eyes Zinc-Otic Ear Relief Treatment may help prevent infections from taking hold.

For dogs with parasites, your vet may recommend a treatment plan to eliminate them. But parasites aren’t the only ear-itch-causes that should have your dog visiting the vet.

When to See a Veterinarian About Your Dog’s Itchy Ears

Always see your veterinarian if you suspect your dog’s itchy ears are caused by an ear infection, parasites like fleas, ticks, biting flies, or mosquitos, an ear injury, or a foreign body lodged in their ear.

While regularly cleaning your dog’s ears can help prevent ear infections, once an infection has taken hold it can’t be treated at home.

Parasites that cause itchy ears, like ticks or fleas, also will benefit from a veterinarian’s care to resolve.

Ear injuries or lodged foreign bodies should be seen by a vet for treatment and to determine if antibiotics or other medications are necessary. Do not remove foreign bodies on your own as you risk damaging your dog’s delicate inner ear.

woman cleaning brown dog

The Final Woof

It can be distressing to see our dogs suffering from itchy, irritated ears, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With regular cleaning using a gentle cleanser just for dogs like Angels' Eyes Gentle Ear Cleansing Wipes , you can soothe and clean your dog’s itchy ears. And, especially when used in conjunction with yeast and bacteria-fighting drops like Angels’ Eyes Zinc-Otic Ear Relief Treatment you can even prevent more serious conditions like ear infections.

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