9 reasons why your dog's ears are red, according to a vet - betterpet (2023)

The essentials

  • Red dog ears need attention — Underlying causes of red ears can be dangerous for a dog’s health.
  • An ear infection is the most common cause of red ears — Ear infections are usually caused by bacteria, yeast, or allergies.
  • Dogs need their ears cleaned often — Use vet-approved products to clean your dog’s ears and prevent infection.

If the insides of your dog’s ears look red or irritated, you need to take a close look. While red ears aren’t always a sign of something serious, they can point to underlying health issues in dogs. Here’s a list of nine potential causes for your pup’s red ears.

1. Ear infections

Ear infections are one of the most common causes of red ears in dogs. They create inflammation of the inner ear flap, around the ear canal, and/or down in the ear canal. Ear infections are usually caused by bacteria or yeast. Some dog breeds are more prone to ear infections, especially those with large or floppy ears. These breeds include:

  • Golden retrievers
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Poodles
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Basset hounds
  • Beagles

If your dog has an ear infection, along with red ears they might experience itchiness, swelling, exhibit signs of pain, shake their head, rub at their ears, or have a foul odor coming from their ears. Take your dog to the vet if you suspect an infection because they’ll need prescribed treatment.

👉 Besides redness, if you see scabs, crusting, pus, or brown material in a dog’s ears it’s likely an infection.

2. Dirty ears

Dogs’ ears easily get dirty due to the L-shape of their ear canal. Doggie ears can become dirty when there’s a buildup of wax and debris, which can ultimately cause a dog’s inner ears to turn red. It’s very important to clean your dog’s ears often so that they don’t get irritated or infected.

3. Ear mites

Ear mites are common in puppies and cause severe itchiness. They look like tiny white specks that are hard to see with the naked eye. Ear mites are spread through direct contact and are very contagious to other animals. To diagnose, the vet will swab a sample of your dog’s ear wax to put under a microscope. Treatment varies depending on the course of action your pup’s vet thinks is best.

👉 Cats are more prone to ear mites than dogs. In fact, cats and dogs can spread ear mites between each other. If you have one pet in the house with ear mites, all your pets should get checked.

4. Allergies

Dogs with seasonal, environmental, and food allergies often suffer from chronic ear infections. Allergies break down a dog’s skin barrier, leading to overproduction of yeast and bacteria — leading to red, infected ears. If you notice your dog scratching or licking their paws excessively at certain times of the year, they’re probably suffering from some type of allergy.

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Your dog’s veterinarian can help determine if Fido is indeed suffering from allergies, and what type. They’ll run tests and prescribe medications to ease your dog’s symptoms and prevent their red ears.

5. Parasites

Dogs get parasites when outdoors, especially in wooded areas. Parasites are small disease-carrying bugs, such as fleas and ticks. They attach to a dog’s body and bite them. The ears are one of the most common areas on a dog’s body where ticks attach. Ticks burrow themselves inside a dog’s skin, causing a small bump, blood, and redness around the area.

6. Foreign object

When foreign objects, like foxtails or grass awns, lodge themselves in a dog’s ear they cause irritation and redness. Grass awns attach to a dog’s skin, often piercing it. If they go unnoticed, they can cause dangerous infections to pass through a dog’s body.

Dogs who engage in sport or field performances are more prone to such foreign objects. Along with redness, dogs may experience bleeding or limping. Groom your dog often and assess them for hair mats to prevent foxtails or grass awns from attaching to your dog.

👉 Grass awns are typically found in the Western United States. If you live in these areas, you should be sure to remove weeds from areas where your dog plays.

7. Aural Hematomas

Aural hematomas (ear hematomas) are little sacs of blood that form within a dog’s ear flap. They cause a dog’s ear flap to be swollen and fluid-filled like a water balloon. Ear hematomas form due to constant head shaking — dogs do this when their ears hurt or feel irritated. There are many blood vessels in a dog’s ear flap. Head shaking can cause one of these blood vessels to rupture, creating a hematoma.

8. Ear masses

There are both benign and cancerous ear masses. A polyp is a benign mass. If cancerous, they may grow and break open, causing bleeding, infection, and redness. Polyps and cancerous masses can both grow in an ear canal and lead to recurring ear infections as they trap moisture down in the canals.

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🚨If you suspect your dog has a polyp or tumor you should get your dog to the vet right away.

9. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when a dog’s thyroid is underactive, causing their metabolic rates to slow. Hypothyroidism can cause dogs to have recurring ear infections. In fact, hypothyroidism causes dogs to be susceptible to infection in general.

If you notice your dog has red ears, it’s best to take them to the vet. That’s because most of the causes of red ears need more than home treatment to heal.

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Examine your dog’s ears closely

To prevent red ears, it’s important you regularly examine and inspect your doggie’s ears. If your dog’s ears look normal, but you notice symptoms like head shaking, it’s important to take your pup to the vet. Here’s what to look for when inspecting your dog’s ears:

  1. Does the color of the inside of your dog’s ears look abnormally red or pink?
  2. Do your dog’s ears look dirty? Is there brown residue in the ear canal?
  3. Do your dog’s ears have a foul odor?
  4. Do you see anything, like parasites or a foreign object, inside your dog’s ears?
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How often to clean your dog’s ears

Along with examining your dog’s ears often, you need to clean their ears regularly too. Some dogs with allergies need their ears cleaned once a week. Generally, you should clean your dog’s ears once every two weeks. You should also clean your pup’s ears after baths or swimming .

👉 Read our step-by-step guide on how to safely clean your doggie’s ears.

Our favorite vet-approved ear cleaner

9 reasons why your dog's ears are red, according to a vet - betterpet (2)

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Tried, true, and trusted

Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleanser

Veterinarians haven’t hesitated to recommend Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner to pet parents over the years. The gentle solution is ideal for daily use and pups who get chronic ear infections.

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Why ear care is so important

If your dog is struggling with itchy, red ears, it’s a good indicator that something’s wrong. Ear care and regular cleaning are extremely important to enhance your dog’s overall health. Whether your dog is prone to ear infections or not, good ear care can make a difference in your dog’s daily wellbeing.

Frequently asked questions

Can I treat my dog’s ear infection myself?

You shouldn’t address your dog’s ear infection yourself. If your dog’s red ears don’t seem better in a day, or if your dog seems in pain, you should take them to their vet. Your vet will examine your dog and determine if an infection is present and what type. They’ll be sure your dog gets the right medication.

👉 There is no over-the-counter ear medication that will treat an infection. A vet must prescribe medication to help your pup’s ears.

What does it mean if a dog’s ears are hot?

Dogs’ ears can be both red and hot to the touch when they have an infection. Other things that cause a dog’s ears to be hot are fever, mites, heatstroke, or injury.

Why is my dog’s ear so red and itchy?

Your dog’s ears can be both red and itchy pretty much whenever your dog’s ears become irritated. You can treat your dog’s itchy ears by taking your dog to the vet and uncovering the underlying reason for the itching.

What kills a yeast or bacterial infection in a dog’s ear?

If your dog has a yeast or bacterial infection, the vet will prescribe medication for treatment that you will need to apply into the dog’s ear canal.

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FAQs

What causes a dogs ears to be red? ›

An ear infection is the most common cause of red ears — Ear infections are usually caused by bacteria, yeast, or allergies. Dogs need their ears cleaned often — Use vet-approved products to clean your dog's ears and prevent infection.

What do I do if my dogs ear is red? ›

How are Dog Ear Infections Treated? Your veterinarian will thoroughly clean your dog's ears using a medicated ear cleanser. Your vet may also prescribe an ear cleanser and a topical medication for you to use at home. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.

Why is my dogs ear red and inflamed? ›

The most common disorder of the ear canal in dogs is called otitis externa. This condition occurs when the layer of cells that line the external ear canal becomes inflamed. Signs include headshaking, odor, redness of the skin, swelling, scratching, increased discharge, and scaly skin.

Why would a dog's ears be hot? ›

If your dog has hot ears, it can be due to a few different causes, such as elevated body temperature, ear infection, or allergies. Some of these causes can easily be treated at home, while other times you will need to see your vet for medication to help your dog's ears.

What foods cause dog ear infections? ›

Sugar feeds the yeast that is naturally present in the dog's body, so when a dog consumes too much sugar, yeast overgrowth occurs in the body and around the ear folds or in the canal, causing infection.

What does a dog ear infection look like? ›

Dog Ear Infection Symptoms

So you'll likely see your dog scratching at his ears or shaking his head. Other symptoms include red, irritated skin inside the ears and brown, yellow, or green discharge.

What are symptoms of ear mites in dogs? ›

Signs of ear mites in dogs include scratching around the ears, head and neck, skin irritation, head shaking, the presence of an ear discharge that is dark and waxy (resembling coffee grounds) and an unpleasant odour from the ears.

How can I treat a yeast infection in my dog's ear without going to the vet? ›

Dab a cotton ball with hydrogen peroxide and add drops of coconut oil for your dog's ears; it is an effective cleanser. Apple cider vinegar and equal parts water can be used to clean the ears against infection, but do not use this if the ear tissue is raw.

Why are the inside of my dogs ears red and hot? ›

Because of this fact, foreign objects such as bugs, grass, sticks, bacteria and more can get inside the ear and irritate it. If your dog has allergies, any flare ups can also cause the ears to become red and itchy. Bacterial infections and yeast infections are also common causes for red ears in dogs.

What do vets give for ear infections? ›

Antibiotics (such as amoxicillin-clavulanate, enrofloxacin, clindamycin, or cefpodoxime) will be used for a bacterial infection for 6-8 weeks minimum. If the infection is fungal in nature, an anti-fungal medication (most often itraconazole) will be prescribed.

Why do my dog's ears get hot at night? ›

Your dog could have hot ears because something is bugging them, but not necessarily something that could cause a fever. Dogs can experience ear infections, allergies, and irritation inside their ears.

Why are my dogs ears hot and itchy? ›

The most common reason for dogs to excessively scratch their ears is because they're experiencing an ear infection. Ear infections can range in severity, and will be treated differently depending on what is causing the infection. The causes of ear infections could be: mites, parasites, foreign bodies, or yeast buildup.

Will a dog's ear infection go away on its own? ›

In most cases, a dog's ear infection will not go away on its own. What's worse, if you wait too long to treat the ear infection, it can become much more difficult to get under control. An untreated ear infection can lead to chronic issues, hearing loss, and sometimes the need for expensive surgery.

Can you treat a dog ear infection without vet? ›

Never put anything in your dog's ear without veterinary instruction. Your veterinary team can help you find the ideal treatment to treat the infection and give your dog much-needed relief. Itchy, uncomfortable ears can be caused by everything from ear infections to allergies and ear mites.

How do you know if a dog has ear mites? ›

Ear mites live in the ear canal and on the surrounding skin. Signs of ear mites in dogs include scratching around the ears, head and neck, skin irritation, head shaking, the presence of an ear discharge that is dark and waxy (resembling coffee grounds) and an unpleasant odour from the ears.

What does ear mites look like in dogs? ›

“Ear mites tend to cause dry, dark discharge, which may resemble coffee grounds,” explains Dr. Wilde. If you examine the discharge under a microscope or magnifying glass, you may see tiny white specks moving about in the debris. These are live ear mites.

What foods cause dog ear infections? ›

Sugar feeds the yeast that is naturally present in the dog's body, so when a dog consumes too much sugar, yeast overgrowth occurs in the body and around the ear folds or in the canal, causing infection.

What do vets give dogs for ear infections? ›

Antibiotics (such as amoxicillin-clavulanate, enrofloxacin, clindamycin, or cefpodoxime) will be used for a bacterial infection for 6-8 weeks minimum. If the infection is fungal in nature, an anti-fungal medication (most often itraconazole) will be prescribed.

Can I give my dog Benadryl for ear infection? ›

Unfortunately the only thing Benadryl is good for is allergic reactions and to cause drowsiness, it has no action that will help an infection. For ear infections your pet will require a topical pet formulated ear antibiotic that can only be purchased from your veterinarian.

What does dog ear infection look like? ›

The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs. In chronic cases the ears may appear crusty or thickened and the ear canals often become narrowed (stenotic) due to the chronic inflammation.

Does salt water help dogs ear infection? ›

Take 1/16th Epsom salt with one litre of warm water, then drench a clean towel in it and clean your dog's ears. Epsom salt is known to have anti-bacterial properties which will help in treating the infection.

Can I put hydrogen peroxide in my dog's ear? ›

No. Don't use hydrogen peroxide on your pup. This common household product can actually cause irritation to healthy skin cells. Ears contain very sensitive tissue, and extended use of hydrogen peroxide could eventually lead to damage of the ear itself.

How do you tell if your dog has ear mites or yeast infection? ›

Yeast infections in a dog's ears generally cause redness, a brown discharge, head shaking or rubbing, odor, and itching. Ear mite infections are extremely itchy and can cause many of the same symptoms. The discharge from the ear is usually dark and waxy or crusty.

What kills mites on dogs instantly? ›

An apple cider vinegar bath can help get rid of the mange mites. Mix ½ cup of apple cider vinegar with ½ cup of Borax and warm water. Be sure the Borax is fully dissolved before sponging the mixture on your dog's skin and coat.

Do ear mites live in bedding? ›

If your pet has ear mites, these mites can travel to your bedding and furniture and then attach themselves to you — a human host. Keep in mind you don't have to have an animal of your own to get ear mites.

How can I soothe my dog's itchy ears? ›

Most dog ear medicines eventually cure the cause behind pesky scratching. But during the healing stage, consider a safe over-the-counter or natural itch relief aid.
...
A few dog-friendly home treatments:
  1. Calendula lotion.
  2. Apple cider vinegar (diluted)
  3. Hydrocortisone ointment.
  4. Mullein oil.
  5. Antihistamines.
22 Dec 2020

Will Apple cider vinegar get rid of ear mites in dogs? ›

Apple cider vinegar is a great solution to problems with a dog's ear since it kills all bacteria. However, you shouldn't use vinegar if your dog's ear has become too sore as it can hurt. Mix the vinegar with water, it should be one-part water one-part vinegar. Put the mixture in a syringe or soak it into a cotton ball.

What kills ear mites? ›

“There are many topical, oral, and systemic agents,” Dr. Miller notes, “and most—such as ivermectin—are highly effective. Even one old-time remedy—baby oil—can do the job. A few drops put into an affected ear several times a day for a month or so will usually smother the mites.”

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