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It’s hard enough to scratch an itch inside an ear with human fingers, much less an entire paw. It’s pretty amazing how far our pets are able to stick their paws down into their ears, but typically, that’s not a good thing.
When a dog or cat has itchy ears, there can be a variety of reasons. Here are some causes to look for when a pet just can’t stop itching their ears.
It’s easy to connect digitally with a Fuzzy vet, and it’s a great place to start when needing advice.
Sending a photo can be a helpful first step and they can walk through potential causes and next steps.
Often times it can just be an itch. Similar to humans, when we scratch an itch—that’s the end of it. Other times, things like insect bites or topical irritants can stimulate itching that is persistent and lasts longer. Generally these causes do not require veterinary intervention.
Allergies are also a frequent cause for a dog or cat to have itchy ears. This can lead to uncomfortable ear infections. Occasionally, there can also be foxtails and other foreign objects stuck down inside of ear canals, causing the appearance of itchiness that is often irritation and discomfort.
Apoquel is a medication used to treat itching in dogs associated with allergies, whether they are related to food, environment or fleas. Other treatments may also be recommended in addition to this medication to address the underlying cause or secondary issues such as infection that may have developed secondary to the itching.
It typically gets working within about four hours, so it provides fast relief for uncomfortable itching. It is considered a generally safe medication with few side effects, although a thorough review of the pet's history is important before deciding if this medication is right for them. For mild cases of itch (say, 1-4 on a 10 scale), antihistamines may be tried first to address the itch. However, when itching is more moderate to severe, medications such as Apoquel are much more effective and are preferred if the patient is a good candidate for their use. Fuzzy vets can help pet parents decide what type of treatment might be the most appropriate for their dog's itchy ears.
If a pet has a single ear-scratching episode, there’s not a real need for alarm. However, if it begins to be a persistent issue, flip over the ear and have a look down inside.
If there is a small red bump, it’s likely a bug bite. In the event it starts growing, or a pet seems really irritated, it’s best to have it seen by a veterinarian.
If just the outer area of the ear (not the deeper area) is a little red, they are likely suffering from an allergy that can be remedied with an antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), or a medicated ear cleaning treatment.
If pet parents take a look or open the ear and notice there is a large amount of debris, or the deep part of the ear is red, it is likely an ear infection that needs to be examined by a vet.
Pet parents can also take a sniff of the pets’ ears. It’s a good idea to do this when they are not having any ear issues for comparison purposes. Often ear infections can have a sour or yeasty odor to them. If pet parents smell them and notice a smell, it is likely they have an infection and need medication.
If while inspecting the ear (see section above), a pet parent identifies something unusual, it’s a good idea to talk with a veterinarian.
Before applying any remedies or medication into the ear canal at home, it’s important to consult a veterinarian. Most medications need the eardrum to be intact for safest use, and objects like foxtails down in the ear canal can be the root cause of infection.
These kind of infections cannot be cleared up without first removing the foreign material. Many pets that get foxtails or other foreign objects stuck in their ears will shake their heads, scratch at the affected ear, and rub the ear on the ground or furniture. If a pet demonstrates any of these signs, it is highly recommended to schedule an exam at a veterinary hospital.
As with any health concern, the sooner the issue can be addressed, the better. It is less likely for ear infections or perforated eardrums to be an issue if the removal of foreign debris is immediate.
Sometimes a sedative is needed in order to perform a thorough ear exam. If the pet is wiggly, painful or acts aggressively, they will likely need to be sedated for a full, thorough ear exam. In some cases with very mellow pets, foxtails can be removed without a sedative and with special forceps instead.