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Dog with red irritated ear

The essentials

  • Red dog ears require attention — Dogs’ ears aren’t normally red, and the 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.

Redness inside a dog’s ear can be a sign of various underlying issues, from ear infections to allergies, ear mites, parasites, and more. As a dog owner, it’s important to be aware of the potential causes of redness and understand how to identify symptoms early on.

In this article, we’ll provide you with an overview of the most common reasons why your dog’s ears are red, along with tips on how to examine your pet’s ears closely and seek appropriate veterinary care when needed.

Why are my dog’s ears red?

If the insides of your pet’s ears look red or irritated, it’s time to investigate further. While red ears aren’t always a sign of something serious, they can point to underlying health issues. Here’s a list of ten 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, especially those with large or floppy ears, are more prone to ear infections than others. These breeds include:

If your dog has an ear infection, they might experience itchiness and swelling, exhibit signs of pain or discomfort like head tilt, shake their head, rub at their ears, or have a foul odor coming from their ears. If you suspect an infection, take your dog to the vet 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 ear infection.

2. Sunburn

Sunburn can occur in dogs just as it does in humans. A dog’s ear tissue is thin and delicate, making it susceptible to sunburn that can cause redness, inflammation, swelling, and pain. Certain breeds with light-colored fur or thin hair are particularly susceptible to sunburn on their ears, including dalmatians, pit bulls, boxers, and whippets.

To prevent sunburn, limit your dog’s exposure to direct sunlight during the hottest parts of the day, apply pet-friendly sunscreen to the ears and other exposed areas, or consider using protective headwear like a doggy visor or hat. If you notice any signs of sunburn on your dog’s ears, take them to a vet for proper treatment to avoid potential complications.

3. Dirty ears

Dogs’ ears easily get dirty due to the L-shape of their ear canals. 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 they don’t get irritated or infected.

4. Ear mites

Ear mites are especially 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.

Anything that triggers inflammation or produces moisture can cause the naturally-existing bacteria and yeast in the ear to rapidly reproduce, becoming an ear infection.

Dr. Erica Irish, DVM

5. Allergies

Dogs with environmental , seasonal, or food allergies often suffer from chronic ear infections. Allergies can cause a dog’s skin to be inflamed, creating the perfect environment for 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 your pet is indeed suffering from allergies, and what type. There’s no simple test for finding allergies, but food elimination trials and specialized allergy tests can be used to help identify the cause. From there, your vet can prescribe medications to ease your dog’s symptoms and prevent their red ears.

6. Fleas and ticks

Dogs can get these when outdoors, especially in wooded areas. Fleas and ticks are small disease-carrying bugs that 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.

🚨 At the first sight of a tick on your dog, it’s crucial to remove the entire parasite. Failure to do so promptly can lead to tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease , anaplasmosis , and Rocky Mountain spotted fever .

7. 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 entering their ears. Along with redness, dogs may experience bleeding or pain. Groom your dog often and assess them for hair mats to prevent foxtails or grass awns from attaching to your dog.

8. Aural hematomas

Aural hematomas (ear hematomas) occur when blood accumulates between the layers of a dog’s ear flap and are usually the result of a dog having an ear infection or irritation. This condition causes a dog’s ear flap to be swollen and fluid-filled like a water balloon. Ear hematomas can form due to constant head shaking. 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.

9. Ear masses

There are both benign and cancerous ear masses in canines. An ear polyp is a benign mass. They may grow and break open if cancerous, causing bleeding, infection, and redness. Polyps and cancerous masses can 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 for a diagnosis.

10. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when a dog’s thyroid gland 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.

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 well-being.

Examine your dog’s ears closely

When it comes to pet care, examining your dog’s ears is an essential task. Regular inspection of your furry friend’s ears can help prevent redness and other issues. However, if you notice symptoms such as head shaking, it’s crucial to take your pup to the veterinarian. Here’s what to look for when inspecting your dog’s ears:

  • Red hue. Examine your dog’s ears for any unusual red or pink coloring that shouldn’t be there.
  • Dirt. Look for signs of debris or a brown residue in your dog’s ear and ear canal.
  • Smell. Healthy dog ears shouldn’t have a bad smell, but foul odors can indicate a problem or underlying condition.
  • Objects. Check for parasites or foreign objects in your dog’s ears.

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 ear 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, foreign bodies, 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 bacterial or yeast infection in a dog’s ear?

If your dog has a bacterial or yeast infection, a veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic and an antifungal medication to kill these based on testing done on the ear.

What to do if your dog’s ears are red?

If your dog’s ears are red, it’s important to determine the cause. Some causes, such as dirty ears, might be treatable at home with ear cleaning. It’s still a good idea to schedule an examination with a vet to rule out more serious issues, like an ear infection, ear mites, or an aural hematoma.

Why are my dog’s ears hot and red?

There are a variety of reasons that your dog’s ears could be hot or red. From issues like ear mites or dirt to something more serious like an ear infection, a variety of problems can develop and require a vet visit.