What Does It Mean When a Dog's Ears Are Red?

Dogs with erect, upright or pricked ears often look more alert.
i small dog, big ears image by Lars Christensen from Fotolia.com

There's something special about petting a dog's soft, warm, pink ear leather. But if your furry one has red ears, he is not likely to let you near those ears no matter how hard you try. Red ears are inflamed; the inflammation could be caused by one of several common conditions.

Food Allergies

If your pet is constantly rubbing or scratching the insides of his ears, and they appear red and irritated, yeast may be the culprit. Most often, the yeast you see or smell is a sign of allergies due to rice, barley, wheat, corn or any of the grains in commercial pet food, according to Dr. Jeanette Thomason of The Whole Dog website. Diets that are grain-free can help minimize symptoms, and you can add a spoonful of natural probiotic yogurt with active cultures to your pet’s food to help control the yeast. A warm compress applied to the dog’s ear several times can also reduce redness, pain, irritation and inflammation.

Debris or Moisture

Long-eared dogs, especially dogs used in field sports or those that are short-legged and closer to the ground, can attract foxtails or other burrs to their ears. If left, a foxtail can travel deep into the ear canal and be difficult to treat. Dog ears with a lot of hair in the ear canal can trap moisture. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises you to place cotton balls in your dog's ears before bathing to prevent moisture-related irritation or infection.


Dogs with glandular disorders -- including hypothyroidism, which causes your dog's thyroid gland to fail to produce enough thyroid hormone -- can have chronic, recurring ear infections. These ear infections can also be one of the first visible symptoms of this glandular disorder. Thyroid medication, which your dog will take for the rest of your dog's life, can keep symptoms in check.

Ear Mites

Allergies to fleas and mites can cause itchy, unhealthy skin and a rusty, red-brown ear discharge, which causes the dog to scratch at his ear canal and inner ear flap. Mites are generally a problem for young puppies, but older dogs can contract them through physical contact with infected animals. Mite infections are treated with ear drops for five to six weeks, according to veterinary dermatologist Dr. Jennifer L. Matousek of the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in Urbana.


If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, contact your veterinarian immediately. Delaying treatment can cause complications including deafness. If your dog has an outer ear infection, it can spread to become a middle ear or inner ear infection, according to the Vet Info website. Inspect your dog's ears once a week to catch ear-related problems quickly.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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