My Dog Keeps Shaking Head and Scratching Ear

The dog shows obvious discomfort by shaking its head or by holding the head to one side and rubbing the ear along the ground. The dog continually scratches the inflamed ear, thereby increasing the inflammation. The ear feels hot, the lining is reddened and the animal may show some signs of deafness.

Ear mites

Puppies may develop an irritating form of ear infection caused by ear mites – small insects that inhabit the ear canal and produce an intense irritation. The puppy vigorously scratches and shakes its head producing more damage to the lining of the ear.

The ear canal becomes filled with a reddish exudate which can be difficult to remove unless the animal is anesthetized. Whole litters of puppies are affected and the infection can persist into later life. Older dogs can develop ear mites, usually after playing with an infected puppy.

Treatment of ear mites is simple once the ear canal has been cleaned. Oily drops contain an insecticide quickly control the mites. Apparent failures occur when the ear canal is so filled with the waxy exudate that medication is unable to penetrate deeply inside the ear canal.

Dog keeps shaking head
Dog shaking head is a sign of ear infection.

Staph Infection in the Ear

An acute ear infection involving the external tissues of the ear commonly occurs in the summer months. The dog may suddenly begin to shake its head and scratch an ear. Usually the affected ear is held lower than normal.

Examination inside the ear flap reveals an intense reddening of the tissues often accompanied by a foul-smelling thin exudate. The tissues quickly become painful and the dog resents any handling. This condition is usually caused by a Staphylococci bacterial infection.

Prompt veterinary attention is necessary in acute ear conditions as it is vital to begin the correct treatment before too much damage is done to the sensitive ear tissues. As the condition commonly occurs in the summer months, the possibility of a grass seed lodging in the ear canal must be eliminated.

Treatment is aimed at reducing the intense irritation with the use of anti-inflammatory ointments combined with an appropriate antibiotic. Sedation of the animal is usually advisable in the early stages of treatment to avoid the dog rubbing the ear. Antibiotics are also administered by mouth to prevent the bacterial infection spreading to surrounding tissues.

Canker in Dogs

The most common ear condition encountered in veterinary practice is the chronic infection of the external ear in dogs with long pendulous ear flaps. This condition, commonly called “Canker”, is not a simple disease entity in itself and therefore does not have a simple solution.

It is an aggravating and often painful condition in which the lining of the ear becomes inflamed as a result of blows, accumulation of wax, dirt and other foreign substances, ear mites, dry eczema, soapy water or general neglect of the ears.

Any treatment must be very gentle, and patiently applied. Cleanliness should be of the first consideration. All scabs, discharges and matted hair should be removed without delay. This is not by any means easy, as quite often a considerable amount of bathing with a warm solution of borax is necessary before the sticky mass softens and comes away.

If the canker is very bad, it is better to consult a veterinary surgeon, as touching the ear often causes intense pain and resentment, and the owner may do more harm than good in attempting to probe it.

Dogs with floppy ears are prone to ear infections
Dogs with floppy ears are prone to ear infections which make dogs want to shake their heads.

Hair, and Grass Seed in Dog’s Ear

Other factors such as the presence of plugs of hair in the ear canal or small foreign bodies such as burrs or grass seeds may abrade the lining of the ear canal and encourage the invasion of the organisms already present within the ear.

Treatment is usually sought when the dog begins to shake or tub its ear frequently or spends long periods scratching its ears. Examination of the ears with an otoscope reveals a mess of dark, waxy deposit covering the entire surface of the external canal.

When this is removed, the skin lining of the canal is reddened and swollen, and if the condition has been present a long time, it may be so thickened that the canal is almost obliterated.

The ears must be thoroughly, but very gently, cleaned. Accumulations of matted hair must be removed and the hair plucked from the tissues surrounding the external ear to avoid future penetration into the canal.

It is usually necessary to do this under anesthesia. An ointment is then instilled into the depths of the ear and repeated applications are carried out once daily until all signs of irritation are eliminated.

Vigorous cleaning of the ear canals with cotton buds should be discouraged as this serves only to irritate the already damaged tissues and encourage further infection.

Prompt attention to ear infections early in the dog’s life should lessen the possibility of the development of chronic ear diseases.

Fleas, and Flies on Dog’s Ears

Fleas continue to be a major problem with some dogs. The warm mild weather of autumn encourages a speedy buildup of fleas around the favorite haunts of the family pet.

To control this infestation of the environment it is important to vacuum or sweep up any loose hair, as the flakes of shed skin associated with the hair provide the immature stages of the flea with nourishment while it completes its life cycle.

Most insecticidal sprays suitable for household use are safe to spray around the bedding and sleeping quarters of the dog. Pay particular attention to cracks or crevices in the woodwork or brickwork which shelter the flea eggs and immature fleas.

Dogs should be either washed or powdered with a reliable and safe insecticide.

Biting flies that attack the tips of the ears of dogs are active at the moment. These large blood-sucking flies remain a problem until the cold weather arrives. They are particularly worrying for dogs with large, erect ears, such as German shepherds or cattle dogs.

A thick black scab builds up on the tips of the ears, under which the skin can be quite raw. The scab should be removed with gentle bathing in water to which a little bicarbonate of soda has been added.

Your veterinarian can provide you with a soothing ointment to heal the inflamed tissues, and a fly-repellent cream to be applied each morning.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks, I took my dog to the vet yesterday because she started shaking her head and scratching her left ear. But the vet did not find anything wrong. He suggested that it might be a flea. I would like to know about behavioral problems because she shakes her head when I’m around.

    1. External parasites are the dog’s worst enemies during the hot weather. Fleas, flies and mosquitoes all cause intense irritation, unless the dog has been “dressed” with a suitable repellent.

      Apart from keeping kennels and surroundings free from droppings, scraps of food and the like, all of which attract pests, the kennels and dogs should be treated at frequent intervals.

      Fleas, attacking the ears of certain breeds, notably Kelpies, Airedales, Irish Terriers, Alsatians and Collies, are a real menace to the health and well-being of the dog.

      The early onslaughts leave a nasty sore, which is aggravated by the dog rubbing his ears on the ground to dislodge his tormentors.

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