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Red Rash in Your Dog’s Ear: What Is It & What To Do

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vet inspecting a dog's ear

This article was updated on August 26th, 2023

Red and itchy ears are a common reason for vet visits. In fact, it would be a rare day for me not to see at least a couple of patients with potential skin and ear infections in our vet practice. Ear infections may seem minor issues, but can be extremely frustrating for both dogs and pet parents alike. The culprit is often an underlying allergy. Let’s explore common causes of red ears in dogs, what you can try at home, and how your vet can help. 

Why are my dog’s ears suddenly red?

There are multiple reasons why you may see a red rash in your dog’s ears. High on the list is an ear infection or allergy. A red rash in your dog’s ear is often accompanied by other signs such as scratching at the ears and head shaking. If the redness or the red rash is located only on the external flap of the ear (pinna) and not extending into the ear canal, it may also be due to contact dermatitis, ear hematoma, insect bite, mites, or vasculitis. 

How do I know if a red rash in my dog’s ear is a problem?

If your dog’s ears only appear red or warm to the touch temporarily, it may simply be due to increased blood flow from stress, physical activity, or excitement. A visit to your vet may be in order if the redness persists or if it is accompanied by other signs such as:

Other things to watch for if you see a red rash in your dog’s ears

Red itchy ears are most commonly associated with an ear infection. Other common symptoms of ear infection include: 

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching or rubbing at the ear(s)
  • Excess debris (black, brown, purulent)  inside the ear(s)
  • Foul odor from the ear(s)
  • Red, swollen, ear canal(s)
  • Scabbing or crusting around the ear(s) 
  • Painful ear(s) when touched
  • Tilting head to the side or holding ear(s) in an abnormal way 
  • Swelling of the pinna (ear hematoma) 

If you see any of the above signs, it may be time for your dog to see your veterinarian.

Top causes of red rash in a dog’s ears

There are many possible causes of a red rash in a dog’s ears. The most common causes are discussed below. The best way to determine an issue with your dog’s ears will be to schedule an exam with your vet. 

1. Ear infection

ear infection in a dog

As discussed, ear infections are the most common cause of red ears in dogs. Ear infections require a veterinary visit to diagnose and treat. Most simple ear infections are caused by bacteria and/or yeast, and will resolve within two weeks of treatment with topical products containing antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-inflammatories. However, ear infections are frequently caused by an underlying allergy. If your dog continues to get ear infections despite appropriate treatment, this is something that should be further evaluated. Learn more about ear infections or best home remedies for ear infections in dogs.

redness inside the ear due to a yeast infection
Red rash inside a dog’s ear due to a yeast infection

2. Allergies

close up of redness in dog ear due to allergies

While allergies in people usually cause red eyes and sneezing, dogs with allergies present with itchy skin and recurrent skin and ear infections (can appear as red bumps, scabs, or pimples on the skin or ear). 

There are several things dogs can be allergic to. Allergies can be extremely frustrating for both dogs and pet parents, as even dogs with well-managed allergies may still experience flare-ups of symptoms. Treatment for allergies involves medications such as oral and topical antibiotics to treat any skin and ear infections, and medications and lifestyle changes targeted to your dog’s specific type of allergy. The cost range varies extensively depending on the treatment recommendations, severity of allergies, and size of your dog. View more pictures of dog skin allergies and rashes with our veterinarian team’s advice.

3. Flea Allergies

Dog scratching himself behind his ear

While fleas will cause itching in any dog, some dogs actually have an allergic reaction to the saliva from a flea bite. In these dogs, a single flea bite can cause symptoms such as itchy skin, hair loss, flea scabs, and skin infection.

dog skin after flea bites
Red rash as a result of flea bites

Treatment involves managing any current infections and pruritus, making sure that all pets in the household are on year-round flea prevention, and treating the home environment for fleas. Learn more about fleas in dog ears from our veterinarians.

4. Food Allergies

Dogs with food allergies are generally allergic to the protein source in their diet. Even if your dog has been eating the same diet for years, they can still develop a food allergy. Symptoms may include gastrointestinal signs (such as vomiting and diarrhea) in addition to itchy skin. Food allergies are diagnosed via diet trial. This involves feeding your dog a novel protein or hypoallergenic diet for three months and watching for signs of improvement. During this time, your dog may not eat any other treats or flavored medications. 

5. Environmental Allergies 

Pollen, dust, grass, etc. can trigger allergies in a some dogs. Environmental allergies, known as atopy, also cause itchy skin and skin infections, but may have a seasonal pattern. If you wish to know what your dog is allergic to or treat them with specific allergy injections, a blood and/or skin test can be performed. Other ways to control symptoms of environmental allergies include wiping paws after being outside, and use of certain medications to help manage symptoms and decrease flare-ups. 

6. Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis causes a red, bumpy, itchy rash, where something irritating has come into contact with your dog’s skin. This may be due to application of ointments, contact with bedding cleaned with a certain detergent, or if your dog gets into another type of irritating substance. You will need to identify and stop using the irritant in order for this condition to resolve. If severe, your vet may prescribe additional medications. 

7. Parasites

red ears due to parasites

A firm, raised, red area on your dog’s ear may be due to an insect bite. Ticks attached to the ear can cause irritation as well. Certain types of dog mites, such as demodex and scabies, can also cause changes to your dog’s skin. Scabies especially, is extremely itchy, and many affected dogs will start scratching with their back leg when their ear margins are rubbed together (known as the pinnal-pedal response). Ear mites can cause an itchy ear with a characteristic coffee-ground appearing debris. See what dog mites look like.

8. Ear hematoma

hematoma symptoms on dog's ear

An ear hematoma occurs when blood vessels within the ear flap burst, leading to water-balloon-type swelling that is filled with blood. Often ear hematomas occur due to trauma from head shaking or scratching at the ears secondary to an ear infection. Treatment often involves surgery to drain the swelling, as well as treating the underlying ear infection. Some ear hematomas will resolve without surgery, although may lead to thickened scar tissue that affects the appearance of the ear. Depending on the recommended course of treatment, costs may range anywhere from $300 to $2500. Learn more about home remedies for ear hematomas.

9. Vasculitis or seborrhea 

While less common, inflammation of the blood vessels along the margin of the ears can cause scaling, crusting, and loss of tissue leading to an uneven ear margin. Vasculitis is typically diagnosed with a biopsy, and may be due to several underlying factors, including a reaction to vaccines or allergies. Ear margin seborrhea can also have a similar appearance, cause yellow or grey scales, and is most often seen in dachshunds. Here is a link to a picture showing seborrhea affecting a dog’s ear.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

10. Other

Check out our article on other possible causes of redness such as scabs on the ears

Home treatments to try

Red itchy ears are most often due to an ear infection, which requires veterinary treatment. However, there are a few things you can try at home to help manage a mild ear infection or while waiting for your veterinary appointment.

1. Clean your dog’s ears

If an ear infection is mild or in the early stages, an ear cleaning may help clear the infection. There are many ear cleaners available, which can be purchased from your vet, a pet store, or online. It is always best to ask your vet for advice when choosing an ear cleaner in case they have a specific recommendation in mind, however, these dog ear cleaning solutions are also good choices. Ears may be cleaned daily for one week and then weekly as needed, or as directed by your vet. See below for detailed instructions on how to clean your dog’s ears. You may also use the ear cleaner on a cotton ball to wipe the inside of the pinna. 

WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]

2. Prevent additional damage

You can help prevent your dog from further scratching and injuring their ears by putting them in a cone and keeping their nails trimmed. 

3. Do NOT put anything else in your dog’s ear 

Never put anything into your dog’s ear that has not been recommended or approved by your veterinarian. Not only do these products fail to treat ear infections, they can actually cause your dog additional pain and irritation, and lead to significant and permanent damage if your dog has a ruptured eardrum. 

When to call the veterinarian about a red rash in your dog’s ear

If your dog’s mild ear infection is not improving with cleaning at home you should schedule an appointment with your vet. Other indicators to see a vet include: 

  • Your dog is painful
  • You see blood or pus in their ear
  • They are having trouble with their balance
  • They have developed an ear hematoma (swelling of the ear flap) 
  • You see pimples on the ear flap 

How a vet can help with a red rash inside a dog’s ears

Vet diagnosis

Physical exam

When you bring your dog to the vet for a red or itchy ear, they will begin by performing a thorough physical exam. As skin and ear infections often occur together, your vet will look for any signs of itchy or infected skin. 

Otoscopic exam

They will next use an otoscope to examine your dog’s ear canal and tympanic membrane (ear drum). They will also be able to check for the presence of any foreign bodies (like fox tails or other plant materials) or masses in the ears. Making sure the eardrum is intact and not ruptured is important in determining the best way to safely treat the infection. 

Ear cytology

Taking a sample of debris from your dog’s ear for examination under the microscope can help your vet diagnose an ear infection, as well as determine if it is caused by yeast, bacteria, or a combination of both. This allows them to pick the best medication to help treat the infection. 


In severe or complex cases, your vet may recommend additional testing, such as a culture to grow the specific type of bacteria causing an infection and determine which antibiotics it will respond to. 

Allergy workup 

If your dog has had recurrent or chronic ear infections, your vet will likely discuss underlying allergies and what can be done to manage them to help prevent more infections in the future. 


If your vet is concerned about other possible causes of a red ear or rash in the ear besides ear infection and allergies, they may recommend additional testing. 

Common treatments

The type of medications used to treat ear issues will vary based on the causative agent of your dog’s ear infection (bacteria, yeast, or both), the severity of the infection, your dog’s tolerance for having their ears handled, and owner preference. 

Treatment usually involves a combination of topical antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-inflammatory medications. Your vet may send home ear cleaner and ointment/drops for you to apply once or twice a day at home, or they may instill a longer-acting medication into your dog’s ears at the vet clinic. In some cases, oral medications will be needed as well. If your dog’s eardrum has ruptured some topical medications may not be safe. 

In general, you can expect the following treatments at a vet appointment for an ear infection or red itchy ear: 

Ear cleaning 

Cleaning out the wax and debris from the ear is important so that topical medications can get deeper into the ear and treat the infection effectively. 

Prescribing or applying appropriate medication

As discussed above, this will be based on exam, ear cytology, and owner preference. 

Demonstration of how to clean ears and apply medication at home 

Demonstration of how to clean and apply medication to your dog’s ears at home if indicated.

Management of underlying allergies or other medical conditions 

Recurrent ear infections are often a symptom of underlying allergies, which can also cause itchy skin and skin infections. If your dog has had multiple ear infections in the past, discuss options for managing allergies with your vet. Depending on what your dog is allergic to, this may include year-round flea prevention, feeding a hypoallergenic diet, and/or using medications such as Cytopoint and Apoquel to help decrease allergy symptoms and frequency of infection. Over-the-counter options such as Benadryl and omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in mild cases.  

Estimated costs 

The cost to diagnose and treat an ear infection can vary depending on where you live and how bad your dog’s ears are. Typical costs range from $200 to $700. Your vet can give you an estimate with a breakdown of the cost of treatment before they start treating your dog’s ears.

Are certain dogs more likely to have ear issues or a red rash in their ears?

Breeds with floppy ears or excessive hair in the ear canal may be especially prone to ear infections. Lifestyle, for example frequent swimming, may also play a part. However, the main cause of ear infections in dogs is an underlying allergy. 

Should I care for or clean my dog’s ears regularly?

It is best to discuss this with your vet, as their recommendations will likely vary from dog to dog. Some dogs never need to have their ears cleaned. Others, especially dogs who suffer from chronic and recurrent ear infections, may need their ears cleaned on a weekly basis to help prevent flare-ups. 

How to clean your dog’s ears

When you clean your dog’s ears, make sure you have ear cleaner, someone to help, and cotton balls. Then follow the steps below! Be sure to check out our recommendations on best ear cleaning solutions. If you have questions, your veterinary team will be happy to demonstrate how to clean your dog’s ears. 

  1. Lift your dog’s ear flap and fiil the ear canal with ear cleaner
  2. Gently massage the base of your dog’s ear for approximately 30 seconds to loosen debris. You should hear a squishy sound as your massage. 
  3. Stand back and let your dog shake out the extra liquid
  4. Use cotton balls or gauze squares to wipe away debris (never use Q-tips)
  5. Praise and reward your dog
  6. Take a break if needed, then repeat on the other ear
  7. If your dog’s ears start to bleed, stop cleaning and make an appointment with your vet


  • Dr. Liza Cahn, Veterinarian

    Dr. Liza Cahn is a veterinarian who graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013 with a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). Dr. Cahn has five years of experience working as a veterinarian in small animal practice in Washington and California. She loved working with dogs and cats and educating owners on all aspects of veterinary medicine, especially animal behavior and dermatology. She has since transitioned to remote work to be able to spend more time at home with her husband, two young kids, and two cats, and is thrilled to be able to combine her love for veterinary medicine and passion for writing. Dr. Cahn has an active veterinary license in Washington State.

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