We’re reader-supported. When you click on our chosen products, we may receive a commission. Learn more.
canine health problems
Infected dog ear

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.

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.

🚨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.

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

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.