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.

🚨If you see a tick on your dog’s body, it’s important to remove the entire tick. Ticks can pass several different diseases if not removed early.

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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9 reasons why your dog's ears are red, according to a vet - betterpet (1)

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?

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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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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What causes dogs ears to turn red? ›

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 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.

Do dogs ears get red with allergies? ›

Allergies caused by environmental allergens (such as dust mites, pollens, or molds) or food are common in dogs and frequently cause redness and itchiness of the ears. Allergies often lead to ear canal infections, which can extend to the pinna (outer ear).

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.

How do you cure a red ear? ›

Red ear syndrome

Symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter treatments, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or an ice pack, or prescription treatment like gabapentin (Neurontin) or propranolol (Inderal). Buy now: Shop for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and ice packs.

What can I give my dog for red itchy ears? ›

A few dog-friendly home treatments:
  • Calendula lotion.
  • Apple cider vinegar (diluted)
  • Hydrocortisone ointment.
  • Mullein oil.
  • Antihistamines.
22 Dec 2020

Can I give my dog Benadryl for red ears? ›

Yes, you can! Bug bite reactions and environmental allergies are two of the most common reasons to give Benadryl to dogs. Benadryl can also be helpful for anxiety about events such as thunderstorms or fireworks, for motion sickness, or as part of treatment for mast cell tumors.

What foods give dogs ear infections? ›

Some dogs need a grain-free diet to prevent ear infections. Some dogs need to avoid chicken or beef, potatoes, lamb, or rice, and so on. If you start with great food as soon as you can, your dog's risk of ear infections will be less.

Should I worry about red ear? ›

Red ears are common, and they are not usually a cause for concern because you can get them if you are embarrassed or have a sunburn. However, if you have red ears plus other concerning symptoms, talk to your doctor and find out what's causing your red ears.

What triggers red ear syndrome? ›

Episodes can occur spontaneously or be triggered, most frequently by rubbing or touching the ear, heat or cold, chewing, brushing of the hair, neck movements or exertion.

What does a red inflamed ear mean? ›

Otitis externa is a condition that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) of the external ear canal, which is the tube between the outer ear and eardrum. Otitis externa is often referred to as "swimmer's ear" because repeated exposure to water can make the ear canal more vulnerable to inflammation.

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? ›

Apple cider vinegar works by killing both yeast and bacteria. Use a mixture of 50% organic apple cider vinegar and 50% water, soak a cotton ball and clean your dog's ears.

Can I put Neosporin on my dogs red ear? ›

If the backs of your dog's ears are irritated and missing hair, you can gently apply some over the counter triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin®.

› the-red-itchy-ear-wh... ›

But while the term “allergy” is used quite often, this underlying cause of ear infections and skin infections in dogs is really quite a bit more complicated tha...
This is the medical term for ear inflammation involving the ear flap and ear canal, but not the inner or middle ear. People call it an ear infection, but allerg...
Learn how to recognize & treat your dog's ears if infected. Avoid these common mistakes & actually prevent infections.

What do allergies look like in dogs ears? ›

Red, Stinky Ears

Allergens such as pollen not only affect the skin but also cause inflammation in dog ears. This can lead to red, irritated ears that may become infected. This will lead to smelly, stinky ears that are obviously red and inflamed.


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