Does Your Dog Have Itchy Ears?

It’s normal for dogs to scratch their ears. But if it’s excessive and accompanied by a shaking head, there may be something wrong. Here’s what to do...

Unfortunately, our dogs can’t talk and tell us when something’s wrong. Instead, we have to observe their behaviour and try and decipher whether something’s wrong or not, and how serious it may be.

One such behaviour is scratching their ears, which can show that something’s causing them discomfort. This could be anything from a mild itch to a more serious ear infection. Here are some insights to help you work out whether your pooch is scratching their ear to get rid of a tickle, or whether they’re signalling that something’s wrong.

Ear mites

Ear mites are microscopic infectious organisms that look like tiny white dots, although it’s unlikely you can see them with the naked eye. A sign that these creatures may be what’s causing your dog’s ears to itch is if you notice your pet scratching their ears a lot, or vigorously shaking their head. Depending on how bad the infection is, you may also notice your dog’s ears are red and inflamed, they smell unusual, or they have a black discharge.

While you can buy treatments for ear mites online, we still recommend taking your dog to your vet if you suspect ear mites. This is to make sure that it’s not something else, especially as ear mites are reasonably rare in New Zealand.

Yeast or bacterial infection

A more common reason your dog’s ears may be itchy is a bacterial or yeast infection. These occur naturally in the moist, warm environment inside your dog’s ears. But if the infection gets out of control it can cause your dog pain and discomfort. Bacterial or yeast infections multiply if the weather is hotter and more humid than normal and they tend to be more common in dogs with floppy ears.

If your dog has an infection that’s worrying them, we advise taking them to your vet for a check-up and treatment. However, there are ways you can help reduce infections in the future. First, regularly check and clean your dog’s ears to help prevent the build-up of dust and wax. And secondly, if your dog likes to go for a swim, make sure you thoroughly dry their ears afterwards.

Foreign bodies

Another reason your dog might be experiencing itchy ears is if there’s something in there that shouldn’t be. A foreign body can easily enter their ear while they’re playing or lying outside, so it’s best to take them to the vet where the object can be safely extracted.


Itchy ears can also be a sign that your dog is allergic to something in its environment. This could be anything from chemicals in your cleaning products to food, pollen, or grass. If you suspect this may be the cause of their itchy ears, check their tummy and feet, which may also be red and be itchy – pointing to an allergic reaction. Another sign of allergy is if your dog is scratching and licking to try and ease the itching elsewhere on their body.

If an allergy is the cause of the discomfort, take your pet to your vet for treatment. Then try and identify the cause of the allergy, so you can avoid exposing your pet to it in the future.

No matter the cause, if you notice your dog excessively scratching at their ears or shaking their head it’s best to take them to the vet for a check-up. Even if you think you know the underlying cause and how to treat it, an expert opinion will give your dog the best chance of a full recovery and help prevent a re-occurrence.