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11 Alarming Reasons Why Dogs Scratch Their Ears + 5 Tips

Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Ears

A dog scratching their ears once in a while might only be soothing a random itch.

But if this behavior gets aggressive.

And they also seem bothered…

There might be something else to it.

What could it be?

Continue reading to discover:

  • 11 alarming reasons that make dogs scratch their ears.
  • Why do they also shake their heads and lick their paws.
  • What are the different steps in cleaning a canine’s ears.
  • 5 helpful tips on how to break your dog’s ear scratching habit. 
  • And many more…

Why do dogs scratch their ears?

Dogs scratch their ears because of ear mites or infections. As well as insect bites or wax build-up. But, allergies are also possible. And these may lead to skin problems too. Like alopecia and contact dermatitis. There could also be ticks or foreign bodies inside the ears. And sometimes, tumors. 

11 reasons why dogs scratch their ears (a lot)

#1: Ear mites

If your pooch constantly scratches their ears, inspect the area first.

Do you see anything? Like a dark brown or black discharge?

If so, they might be suffering from otoacariasis, a.k.a. ear mite infestation.

This is one of the most common reasons why dogs get itchy ears. But take note, the irritation isn’t caused by mite bites.

What happens is, these tiny spider-like pests feed on canines’ oil, surface debris, and wax. And this leads to extreme itchiness and swelling.

Also, they usually live their whole life in their host’s ear canals. But they might also travel outside.

(Quick info: Their eggs will mature within 3 weeks. And the adult ear mites can live up to 2 months.)

“Where do canines get these?”

PetMD says that ear mites can spread from one infected dog (or animal) to another.

So, your pooch may have gotten this by direct contact. Or by sleeping in a contaminated object (e.g., bedding, carpet).

How can I tell if my dog has ear mites?

Aside from too much scratching and producing a dark ear wax, infested dogs will also:

  • Have swollen ears.
  • Shake their head a lot.
  • Have tiny bumps around ears and neck.

Interesting fact: Can humans get ear mites from dogs? Based on a report, it’s an extremely rare case. However, it’s still possible. Doctors say that these parasites could be transferred to us. Especially if we share beds with an infected dog (or pet). 

#2: Allergies

Pruritus or itchy skin in dogs can also be due to an allergic reaction.

And this is the common cause of otitis externa too.

“What is it?”

It’s the swelling of the external ear canal. And allergy was reported in 75% of its cases in dogs.

“What may have caused this?”

There are many possible triggers for allergies.

First, allergens can be inhaled from the environment. Say, pollens, molds, or dust mites. And these cause atopy or airborne allergy.

Second, dogs might also be allergic to certain food. And vets say that protein is the usual culprit for this.

Lastly, flea bites may result in itchy ears as well.

According to experts, these wingless insects’ saliva can irritate a dog’s skin. Which makes canines scratch (and even lick) the affected area.

Due to the itchiness, other Fidos may also wake up in the middle of the night. While some hump in thin air.

Note: VCA Hospitals says that all dogs can have otitis externa. But breeds with big floppy ears are more prone to it. Like Old English Sheepdogs, Miniature Poodles, and Cocker Spaniels.  

Check out also: Why does my dog act like something is biting her?

#3: Bacterial infection

Do you notice a foul odor coming from your dog’s ears?

If this is your case, it’s highly likely that they have an infection. And usually, this targets their inner ear canal.

“How do dogs’ ears become infected?”

The most common root cause of this is excessive bacteria.

So, how does this happen?

Canines have a little amount of bacteria in their pinna or outer ear. As well as in the other parts of their skin.

This is also the same with ours.

Because we have a skin microbiome or a group of bacteria and fungus that live on the surface of our skin. Which helps in defending our bodies from harmful organisms.

However, these bacteria can also multiply due to:

  • Debris build-up.
  • Damaged eardrum.
  • Excessive moisture (from swimming or bathing).

But wait, there’s more.

If a dog has a recurring ear infection, it could also be a result of:

  • Allergies.
  • Ear mites.
  • Ear cleaners.
  • Irritation due to too much cleaning.

What are its other signs?

Dogs might shake their heads due to discomfort.

This may come with constant pawing at their infected ears. And there would be redness in their inner ear flap as well.

 But vets say that they can also:

  • Walk wobbly.
  • Be reluctant to chew.
  • Have difficulty opening their mouth.
  • Develop a head tilt (leaning to the side of the affected ear).

Warning: Based on experts, ear infections could also lead to aural hematoma. This is a painful condition that needs surgery.

It happens when a blood vessel is ruptured. Which is due to intense scratching and head shaking. Then the blood will build up under their skin. Resulting in a huge lump.

You may also wonder: Why do dogs lick other dogs’ ears?

#4: Yeast infection

Dog Scratches Their Ears Due To Yeast Infection

Fungi like yeast can also be the reason for ear infections in dogs.

Same with bacteria, these are naturally found in the skin.

But, it’ll grow in number due to excessive oils or moisture.


Vets say that this may happen if your dog loves to swim every day. Or if they take a bath way too often. Which causes water to accumulate inside their ears.

This might be a result of a weakened immune system as well. Especially if this condition keeps on coming back.

Specialists point out that this is because the body isn’t able to fight the infection.

“Are there breeds who are at risk of getting this?”

Sadly, yes.

According to the same doctors above, this condition is also believed to be inherited. And it’s mainly observed in:

  • Terriers.
  • Chihuahuas.
  • Dachshunds.
  • Lhasa  Apsos.
  • Basset Hounds.

Other signs to watch out for in their ears are:

  • Thickened skin.
  • Flakes or scales.
  • Hyperpigmentation.
  • Strong ‘yeasty’ odor (like corn chips).

There could also be a black discharge in their ears. This can be confusing since it’s also an indicator for ear mites.

Note: Yeast infection can’t be transferred to other animals or humans.

#5: Contact dermatitis

When did your dog start to have itchy ears?

Is it after you applied something or walked outside?

If it’s the first one, topical ointment or soaps are likely the reason for it.

This could also happen if you’re treating a dog with an ear infection. And the ointment caused an allergic reaction.

But if it’s the latter, there are irritants in the environment too.

Say, fertilizers, pollen from grass, or road salts. And these can be transferred to their ears through their paws.

This condition is called contact dermatitis. And it’s usually found in the concave part of the outer ear.


It’s because it has little fur – making it more prone to irritation.

“What are its other symptoms?”

Merck Vets that you’ll also notice these in a dog’s ears:

  • Sores.
  • Rashes.
  • Swelling.

Don’t forget to check out: Why do dogs like their ears rubbed?

#6: Alopecia

Do you see any bald spots in your dog’s ears?

If so, they might have alopecia or hair loss. And this makes the affected area itchy.

This is why your pooch scratches their ears a lot.

“Why does this happen?”

According to experts, alopecia may run in the blood. Because there are certain breeds who are more prone to it, like:

  • Whippets.
  • Greyhounds.
  • Dachshunds.

Apart from the outer ear, the bald spots are usually found in the:

  • Chest.
  • Thighs.
  • Tummy.
  • Lower neck.

Other possible causes for this condition are:

  • Ringworms.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Cushing’s disease.
  • Allergy (most common).

Note: Signs might start to appear after dogs turn 1 year old. And these may worsen as they age.

#7: Ticks

A dog who shakes their head and rubs their ears constantly might also be trying to get rid of something.

If this is your Fido’s case, they may be infested with ticks.

Yup. Those blood-sucking bugs could also irritate a canine’s ears. And the discomfort can be caused by their attachment to the dog’s skin.

Vets share that the possible culprit for this is ‘brown dog ticks.’

Based on them, these are reddish-brown in color. 

And their usual hangout place is around a dog’s ears. But, they could also be found between a canine’s toes.

“How do dogs get these?”

Ticks hop on their hosts by ‘questing.’

So what they do is, they’ll stay on the tips of plants. Waiting for a dog or other animal to come closer to the shrub they’re in.

Then when the time’s perfect, they’ll climb to the host right away.

#8: Foreign bodies

“I don’t notice any rashes or foul smell in my dog’s ears.

What could be the reason for their scratching?”

Apart from ticks, dogs might also be removing a tiny piece of matter inside their ear.

The foreign body can be deep in their ear canal. So you can’t see it clearly.

And this is why they’re pawing at it and shaking their head intensely.

“What may have caused this?”

The most common reason for this is grass seeds. But other possible causes are:

  • Twigs.
  • Foxtails.
  • Weed spurs.
  • Grass awns.
  • Grass blades.

Note: Foreign bodies stuck inside a dog’s ears might also cause an infection. So if you see any and it’s possible for you to take them out safely, do so. But if it’s not, bring them to the clinic and let your vet handle this.

You might also be interested in: 19 Reasons Why Your Dog Winks (Back) At You With One Eye

#9: Insect bites

If this happens all of a sudden, the itch could also be due to an insect bite.

Dogs who are bitten in the ears by flies, mosquitoes, or bees will experience pain and swelling. And the irritation may also cause:

  • Redness.
  • Flakiness.
  • Round and hard bumps.

For further reading: Why does my dog suddenly scream (for no reason)?

#10: Ear polyps

In some cases, it could also be that there are abnormal growths in a dog’s ear canal a.k.a. ear polyps.

Experts say that this is likely the case if the infection is hard to treat. Or if it occurs over and over again.

“What are the reasons for this?”

Tumors can develop either from the glands that create ear wax. Or cells in the ear canal’s lining.

Based on vets, there could be a combination of reasons for this. Such as genetics or environmental factors.

A study also shows that polyps usually grow in the middle part of a dog’s ears. And the affected canines have an irritation in their outer ears.

While another research reveals that benign tumors are mostly found in middle-aged dogs. And canines above 11 years old are more prone to malignant or cancerous growths.

“What are the early signs of ear polyps in dogs?”

First, you’ll notice white, purple, or pink masses in their ear canals.

Then, there would also be swelling and itchiness. This is why dogs who have this will paw at their ears frequently.


If the growth is malignant (I hope this isn’t the case), it may grow bigger and burst. Which results in bleeding and recurring infection.

But whether the polyp is safe or cancerous, the only way to treat it is by surgery.

Warning: If this isn’t taken care of immediately, the tumor can hinder a dog’s hearing. As well as their balance. Not to mention the amount of pain it brings to them. So if you suspect your dog of having this, consult a vet asap.

#11: Excess wax build-up

“Why does my dog scratch their ear and sniff it?”

Sometimes, it might also be that your Fido’s ears need some cleaning.

There could be a build-up of debris or wax inside. Or their ears aren’t fully dried after a swim or a shower.

For this, it’s best to cater to their needs right away. 

Because this simple accumulation of water or dirt can lead to more serious problems. Like allergies, infections, or tumors. 

What can I do for my dog’s itchy ears? 5 tips

#1: Eliminate parasites

To keep your dog from scratching their ear, you must find its cause first.

Inspect your dog’s ears for a dark wax caused by ear mites. As well as their fur for ticks or flea dirt (tiny black specks).

For ear mites

Like I said earlier, the signs for this are similar to yeast infection. So, your vet may need to check your dog’s ears first.

Then, he or she will give topical medications that suit your Fido’s condition.

One of these is fluralaner (Bravecto™) which was found to be 99.8% effective after 28 days of treatment. As well as sarolaner (Simparica™) with a 99.4% efficacy rate after 90 days.

But, these medications should be used with caution if your dog has a seizure history. 

Note: Make sure that your dog’s ear canal is clean before applying medication. I’ll discuss this shortly. So stay tuned. 🙂

For ticks

If you spot a tick on your dog, fine-tipped tweezers will help. As well as a tick removal tool.

But while taking it out, avoid squeezing its body or leaving its head.

This is to prevent the tick’s blood from being absorbed by your dog – causing illnesses.

For this, you have to:

  1. Wear gloves first.
  2. Using tweezers, grab the tick close to your dog’s skin. (Less chances of leaving its head behind). If it’s a tick removal tool, twist it according to the instructions.
  3. Then, pull it slowly with a stable pressure.
  4. Do this until the tick releases.
  5. Put the bug in a container filled with isopropyl alcohol. (Don’t burn it!)
  6. Disinfect the bite area with an antiseptic.
  7. Then, wash your hands and tools too with alcohol.

Note: To prevent ticks, your vet might recommend oral or spot-on medications. But, cleaning your place regularly will do a lot. As well as trimming grasses in your lawn. 

For fleas

These can be removed using vet-prescribed flea shampoo. But other possible treatments (or preventions) are:

  • Pills.
  • Flea collars.
  • Topical medications.

If you don’t opt for medications, there are also effective remedies you can do at home.

Note: Aside from bathing your dog, you also need to wash their bed and place. As well as your carpets, flooring, curtains, and rugs. This is because fleas could be anywhere.

#2: Clean their ears

To be clear, this shouldn’t be done as often as you want.

This is because a dog’s ears are sensitive (same as ours). And over-cleaning them might result in injuries or infections.

But, if your vet advised you to do this at home, do so. And to help you with the process, here’s a step-by-step guide:

How to position your dog

  1. Put them in a sitting position.
  2. For small dogs, ‘sandwich’ their back end using your legs.
  3. For large breeds, place them in the corner of a room. With one of their sides leaning to a wall.

How to clean their ears

  1. Hold and raise one of their ear flaps. Do this to show and straighten their ear canal.
  2. Now, using your other hand, pour a vet-prescribed cleaner in their ear. (Most doctors may recommend Virbac Epiotic.)
  3. Fill their ear canal until it overflows. (Don’t be afraid as it’ll drain later on.)
  4. Then, massage the bottom part of their ear. Because this is where the rest of their ear canal is located.
  5. While rubbing, hold their ear flap still. And do these things for 30 seconds.
  6. Over time, you may hear ‘crunchy’ sounds. This is a sign that dirt inside is breaking down.
  7. After this, use cotton to remove all the debris in their ear canal. As well as in their outer ear.
  8. Then, let your pooch shake their head. So that the remaining dirt or fluid will go out of their canal.
  9. But after some jiggles, check your dog’s ears again. 
  10. Wipe any debris you see.
  11. Remove as much solution as you can using cotton and your fingers.

Ear cleaning isn’t an easy job to do. Some dogs may continue resisting after a drop of the solution.

So, you have to limit their movements using the instructions above. Then, reward your dog with their favorite treats after the successful session.

Pooches might dislike this at first. But once they realize that it relieves their itch, they’ll thank you for it! 🙂

Warning: Before doing this, ensure that your dog has no ruptured eardrum. This is because the cleaning may worsen their condition. So, halt if your dog seems in pain while cleaning.

Some of its signs are:

  • Stumbling.
  • Head tilting.
  • Loss of hearing.
  • Swollen and red ear canal.
  • Bloody or pus-like discharge.

#3: Seek help from an expert

Ear infections won’t heal on their own. Plus, your dog’s non stop scratching is a sign that they’re in discomfort.

So, they need immediate relief. And it’s best to consult your vet asap about this.

For allergies

Experts may give topical or oral medications to relieve the itchiness. And advise a bland diet. Which consists of unsalted boiled meat and carbs. Say, chicken and rice.

This is to help calm an irritated stomach if the allergy is due to food.

For infections

Vets might culture a dog’s ears first to verify the bacteria or fungi. Then, recommend the right treatment based on the results.

There are also remedies you can do at home. Especially if it’s a yeast infection that keeps on coming back.

To know how, watch this short video of Dr. Jones:

For contact dermatitis

If your dog is on topical treatment, call your vet about its side effects first. Do this before stopping so that you’ll be given a new, safer medication.

Also, switch or wash your dog with a mild hypoallergenic shampoo. This is to flush away any irritants from their skin and fur.

For alopecia

The main cause of hair loss should be determined and cured first. Whether it’s an allergy or hormonal imbalance.

Then, the spots will be treated with vet-prescribed:

  • Antibiotics.
  • Ointments.
  • Shampoos. 

#4: Treat insect bites

Now, if your dog has been bitten by an insect, vets say to do these things:

  1. Check their ears first. Look for a stinger.
  2. If you can remove it, do so. BUT, use a credit card instead of tweezers. As the latter can push more venom to your dog’s bloodstream.
  3. Apply cold compress in the affected area. This is to lessen swelling.
  4. Then put a thick paste of water and baking soda on it. This is to help relieve the pain.
  5. Lastly, offer fresh water to your dog. 

Warning: Call and bring your dog to the vet right away if they show some of these signs:

  • Seizures.
  • Vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Excessive drooling.

#5: Always keep their ears groomed and dry

Too much moisture and lack of grooming can lead to an ear infection.

So, if your dog’s about to develop this or is currently on treatment, keep these things in mind:

  • Plug their ears with cotton before a bath. This is to keep water out of their ears.
  • Wash their head using a cloth instead of pouring water. So that there will be less chances of water accumulation.
  • Trim the fur on their ears regularly. Only do this if necessary. Because moist and hairy areas might be a good dwelling place for bacteria. As well as parasites.
  • Clean their ears as often as needed. If your dog has an infection, vets can advise you when to do this. But, for dogs who love swimming and have floppy ears, it’s usually done every week. 

Note: If only one ear is affected, still clean both. Also, wash and dry their paws and nearby areas as well. This is because infections can spread to other parts of their body.

#BONUS: Consider anti ear scratching methods

You might be familiar with Elizabethan collars for dogs. Or ‘cone of shame’ as most people call it. 

Although its nickname sounds awful…

This ‘lamp shade’ looking item is made to prevent our dogs from hurting themselves. And also, to avoid wounds or infections from getting worse.

So while recovering, you may consider putting one on your dog.

As well as DIY baby socks to cover your Fido’s paws. Which will prevent them from scratching their ears.

Common situations:

Dog keeps scratching ear and licking paw

Your dog keeps scratching their ear and licking paw due to an allergic reaction. Wetting of toes is a classic sign of allergies in dogs. As well as biting. And pollen is the common culprit for this. Dogs can get it from the grass outside. But sometimes, anxiety may also cause too much scratching.

Reading tip: Why do dogs lick their paws?

Dog scratching ear and shaking head at night

Your dog is scratching their ear and shaking their head at night due to ear mites. As well as ticks or foreign bodies. They’re doing this to remove the unwanted matter inside their ears. And to somehow relieve a bit of the itch and pain. But, this could also be a sign of an infection or ear polyps.

Dog scratching ears till bleeding

Your dog is scratching their ears till bleeding due to ear mites or foreign bodies. Those parasites can make their skin so itchy. Which causes them to rub hard and harm themselves. The sharp tips of grass seeds could pierce their ears too. While a ruptured hematoma (blood build-up) is also likely.