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Dermatology Dilemmas—Why Does My Dog Have Itchy Skin and Ear Infections?

Updated: Feb 13

Dermatology problems in dogs, particularly those related to the ears and skin, are more common than many pet owners realise. From troublesome ear infections to irritating skin allergies, understanding these issues is essential for the well-being of our four-legged friends. By gaining a deeper understanding of these conditions, you'll be better equipped to ensure your beloved pet enjoys a healthy and comfortable life.


Allergies in dogs are a common cause of skin problems, and they can manifest in various forms. Understanding the different types of allergies is crucial for both identifying the source of the problem and managing it effectively:

  1. Food Allergies. Food allergies occur when a dog's immune system reacts negatively to certain ingredients in their diet. Common culprits include proteins like beef, chicken and grains such as wheat or corn. Symptoms of food allergies may include itching, hives, digestive upset, and chronic ear infections.

  2. Environmental Allergies. Environmental allergies, often referred to as atopic dermatitis, are triggered by environmental factors such as pollen, dust mites or mould. Dogs suffering from environmental allergies may exhibit symptoms like itching, redness, inflamed skin and sometimes ear infections. These allergies tend to be seasonal and can worsen during certain times of the year.

  3. Contact Allergies. Contact allergies occur when a dog's skin reacts to substances it comes into contact with. This can include irritants like certain plants, chemicals, or even materials in their bedding or toys. Signs of contact allergies may include localised redness, rash or hives at the point of contact.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognising the signs of skin allergies in dogs is crucial to provide timely relief and improve their quality of life.

The specific symptoms can vary depending on the type of allergy but often include:

  • Persistent Itching

  • Redness and Inflammation

  • Hair Loss

  • Skin Lesions and Sores

  • Ear Infections

  • Digestive Problems

Understanding these signs and symptoms is essential for identifying and addressing the underlying allergy. Timely intervention can help relieve your dog's discomfort and improve their overall well-being.

Hot Spots (Pyotraumatic Dermatitis)

Hot spots, also known as pyotraumatic dermatitis, are painful, inflamed skin lesions that can develop suddenly in dogs. These spots typically start small but can rapidly grow in size. Hot spots are caused by a self-perpetuating cycle of scratching, licking or chewing in response to an underlying irritation. The initial irritation can stem from various sources, including allergies, insect bites or even an unnoticed minor injury.

Hot spots occur when a dog's excessive scratching or chewing breaks the skin, creating an ideal environment for bacterial infection. The moisture, warmth and darkness of these wounds provide a breeding ground for bacteria, exacerbating the problem. As the infection progresses, it leads to further discomfort, prompting your dog to intensify its efforts to soothe the area, creating a vicious cycle.

Recognising the Signs

Recognising hot spots early is crucial for effective management.

Common signs of hot spots include:

  • Redness and inflammation

  • Hair loss

  • Intense itching

  • Oozing or pus

  • Foul odour

Recognising these signs early and seeking prompt veterinary care is essential to prevent hot spots from worsening. Treatment typically involves cleaning the affected area, applying topical medications and addressing the underlying cause, such as allergies or insect bites, to prevent recurrence. Additionally, our vets may recommend an Elizabethan collar to prevent further self-trauma while the hot spot heals.


Otitis Externa

Otitis externa, also known as ear canal inflammation, is a common ear issue in dogs. It refers to the inflammation or infection of the external ear canal.

This condition can be triggered by various factors, including:

  • Bacterial Infection. The warm, moist environment of the ear canal creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

  • Yeast Infection. Yeast overgrowth, typically Malassezia, can cause inflammation and itching in the ear canal. This often occurs in conjunction with other factors, such as allergies.

  • Allergies. Dogs with food or environmental allergies may be more prone to ear infections. Allergic reactions can lead to ear canal inflammation, making it more susceptible to infections.

  • Foreign Objects or Irritants. Foreign objects such as grass seeds or earwax buildup can also contribute to otitis externa.

  • Anatomy. Some breeds with floppy ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, are more predisposed to ear problems due to reduced air circulation in their ear canals.

Symptoms and Signs

Recognising the symptoms and signs of otitis externa is vital for early intervention.

Common indicators include:

  • Ear scratching

  • Head shaking

  • Foul odour

  • Redness and swelling

  • Discharge, including pus, wax or a brown, coffee ground-like substance.

  • Pain or sensitivity

Timely veterinary evaluation and treatment are essential to prevent complications, and treatment may include cleaning the ear, administering antibiotics or antifungal medications, and addressing any underlying causes, such as allergies.

Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny parasitic mites that infest the ear canals of dogs. These mites are highly contagious and are one of the most common causes of ear problems in canines. They are typically transmitted through direct contact with an infected animal. Once inside the ear canal, ear mites feed on earwax and tissue debris, leading to inflammation and irritation.

Symptoms and Detection

The presence of ear mites can cause a variety of distressing symptoms, including:

  • Intense itching

  • Dark, crumbly debris

  • Inflammation

  • Frequent ear infections

Detecting ear mites typically requires a veterinarian's expertise. We may use an otoscope to examine the ear canal and confirm the presence of mites. In some cases, a sample of ear debris may be examined under a microscope to identify mites.

Treatment and Prevention

The good news is that ear mite infestations can be effectively treated and prevented. Common treatment approaches include medication, ear cleaning and the regular use of flea and tick control products.

Preventing future infestations also involves ensuring that your dog does not come into contact with animals known to have ear mites. Preventing ear mites in a multi-pet household or in environments with known infestations requires regular check-ups and prompt treatment of affected animals.

In conclusion, maintaining your dog's ear and skin health is essential for their physical comfort, emotional well-being and overall quality of life. However, it's equally important to consult a veterinarian for professional guidance. Our expertise, accurate diagnosis, tailored treatment and preventative advice can make a significant difference in ensuring your dog's health and happiness.

For more information or to book a veterinary consultation, please contact our friendly team on (07) 3288 1822.


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