Atopic Dermatitis & Ear Problems In Dogs

It is not always easy to recognize when our dogs are in pain or feeling uncomfortable. We can try to be proactive about keeping our dogs healthy by doing a routine, at-home check to look for any signs of stress, pain, or injury. But since dogs can’t tell us when something hurts, we have to work to identify when they might be having a serious issue.

There are many skin conditions in dogs that can irritate the outer ear, known as the pinna. Some of the causes for ear dermatitis could be mange, allergies, fissures, or mites. They create intense itching and irritation in our pets, making them uncomfortable. The itching can also lead to scarring and broken skin, which can cause a deeper infection. 


Atopic dermatitis, also known as Atopy, can be genetic and is a skin disease typically associated with allergies. Certain dog breeds are more prone to developing this disease, including Golden Retrievers, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, and Shih Tzus. This disease is essentially caused by an allergic reaction from coming in contact with things like pollen, grasses, weeds, mold, dust, wool, and other irritants. 

However, even though it can be a lifelong condition, many dogs can live a healthy and happy life even with Atopy. Dogs can also develop recurring ear infections, and sometimes the redness and inflammation in the ears can result in a skin condition in other parts of their body. 

Atopic Dermatitis & Ear Problems In Dogs


Otitis Externa can be a chronic inflammation of the external ear canal for dogs, which can occur when the lining of the canal becomes swollen and produces large amounts of wax. 

Dogs, just like humans, can get this from swimming and not having their ears adequately and properly cleansed. There could also be other factors such as bacteria or bacteria and fungus or changes that frequently occur to the dog’s outer ear canal. If left untreated and conditions persist, your dog has the potential to get otitis interna, which is much deeper into the canal, or in some cases, could go deaf. 


According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, there are some other common causes of outer ear issues found in dogs. They state that typically insects and parasites such as mites, ticks, flies, fleas, or mosquitoes can cause inflammation of the outer ear by either biting or burrowing underneath the skin. Because these little critters are challenging to see, veterinarians might have to take scrapings of the ear before diagnosing.


The signs of ear problems can change depending on the actual cause, but almost every ear dermatitis will cause your dog to itch, and the area of the skin will be red. There may be no symptoms of ear issues presented by your dog in more rare cases, and the problem is discovered at a vet examination. 

According to Bond Vet Clinic Animal Hospital out of Garden City, NY, 90% of ear and dermatitis cases in dogs show these common symptoms and signs:

  • Scratching or chewing on ears
  • Redness and inflammation (commonly called a “hot spot”)
  • Hair loss around the infected area
  • Scabs, scrapes, bumps, or lumps on the skin
  • Bleeding or blistering
  • Persistent shaking of the head
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Scaly skin around ear edge

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it would be wise to pay attention and possibly call your vet right away to set up an examination. 


Dermatitis can be diagnosed through a thorough evaluation of your dog by a vet, assessing clinical signs, and eliminating other possible diseases, as well as going through a detailed history and complete physical. Atopy is a lifelong condition so this, unfortunately, is not curable once it is diagnosed unless it is due to a food allergy.

Prevention of other forms of dermatitis may include scheduling regular checkups, utilizing flea and tick medications as prescribed, and just keeping a close eye on your dog’s whereabouts. There is also an option to have your dog’s skin tested for allergies to determine the cause of the reaction on the ears. 

These types of tests can be very expensive, and it may be more beneficial for you to go with treatment from your vet rather than have the advanced testing done. The tests can also take much longer to perform before a diagnosis is finally reached.


The cause of dermatitis needs to be determined before proper treatment. For an accurate diagnosis, the dog would often be sedated if the vet is utilizing an otoscope to get a better view of the inner ear canal and collect skin scrapings for evaluation.

Once the diagnosis is identified, and your dog is diagnosed with atopy, your vet may give your pet allergy shots to decrease the itchiness. Antihistamines might also be prescribed to help with allergies. There may also be recommended immunomodulatory medications, which are pills or injections.

You can look for some over-the-counter shampoos or topical creams used to help repair the skin, supporting the other medications that a vet may prescribe. Your dog’s ears may require this type of topical treatment regularly, depending on the intensity of the disease. It would also help if you routinely bathe your dog with a hydrating shampoo to help reduce the risk of any further skin infections. Make sure your dog is also getting enough relaxation and sleep for the best recovery. 

Once treatments have become, you still need to have visits with your veterinarian every so often for checkups and make sure that the prescribed meds and skin repair treatments are doing their job. If dermatitis is left untreated, dogs can change their normal friendly behaviors to one that is too scared to be touched or even provoke aggressive reactions. 

Having a solid diagnosis with the steps to move forward will be the best solution to ear problems in your dog. It is most helpful that you continue to observe your dog, ensure that they are not excessively itching, and examine their bodies routinely to ensure that their skin does not seem inflamed, swollen, or red and irritated. 

If you ever have any questions or are unsure about what to look for, do not be afraid to ask your veterinarian so that your dog does not have to suffer from ear problems. Early detection and prevention of ear issues and other health problems are the best methods to ensure our dogs stay happy and healthy.

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