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Why Does My Dog Have Ear Scabs and What Can I Do?

Author:

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Crusts and sores on the outer ear flaps are common, but they can also be an indication of more serious problems. Dogs with long, floppy ears are more prone to ear infections and trauma.

Find out how to recognize and treat some conditions that lead to ear problems so that your dog will feel better.

dog-scabs-on-ears

Some Causes of Scabs and Crusts on Your Dog's Ear Flaps

  • Fly Strike
  • Other parasites (like mange, ear mites)
  • Allergies (that cause otitis, ear inflammation)
  • Trauma (Bites from other dogs, lacerations)
  • Frostbite
  • Trauma secondary to aural hematoma, ear fissures, or ear margin seborrhea
  • Autoimmune disorder

Conditions, Symptoms, and Treatment

If you can determine what is causing your dog to have crusty ears, there is a lot to do at home. It is best, however, to make sure you get the right diagnosis from a vet, especially if the condition is persistent.

Poorly cropped ears will probably develop fly strike.

Poorly cropped ears will probably develop fly strike.

Fly Bite Dermatitis

Fly Strike, or fly bite dermatitis, usually affects dogs like Siberian Huskies, German Shepherds, Akitas, and other breeds with erect ears. The dog will have sores and dried blood on the tips of the ears.

Treatment

It should be treated with a compound like Flys-Off that will keep the flies off of animals. (Flys-Off is a good repellent I use to keep the flys from biting the edges of my dogs´ ears.) Before applying any ointments, clean the ears with soapy water and betadine from your first aid kit, then dab dry with a cotton ball.

Fly strike can be treated at home the same way as it would be treated by your vet. Severe cases might also be treated with a topical antibiotic.

Ear Mites Can Be Treated at Home

If you recognize the black wax and see ear mites, the ear canals can be cleaned and the mites can be treated with olive oil at home.

If ear mites are found in a veterinary examination, the ears will be cleaned and then they will be treated with a topical insecticide.

Always Consider Mange

Mange is identified through skin scrapings at the vet. It can be treated with a local cream, an insecticide bath, or one of several types of oral medications.

Its symptoms include itching, crustiness, hair loss, and rash.

Allergies Can Cause Ear Margin Problems Too

If the dog's crusty ear margins are caused by an allergy, the inner ears are usually red, and they might itch a lot, similar to that seen in some types of mange.

Before any allergies can be treated at home, you need to find out what you are dealing with. Inhalant allergies can be treated naturally, and food allergies can be treated with an elimination diet.

At the vet, inhalant allergies might be treated with antihistamines, steroids, or immunosuppressants to relieve the itching. The vet also might recommend allergy injections.

If food allergies are a problem, the dog will first be treated for the inflamed ears, and then best dealt with by finding out what he is allergic to and removing those allergens from the diet.

Trauma May Develop Into Fly Strike

If your dog has trauma to the ear flap because of fighting, and it is so minor so that she does not need to go to the vet and have it sutured, you will need to keep it clean and keep the flies off. Most vets recommend applying a triple antibiotic ointment to keep the wound moist and to prevent infection.

If you see the vet, they will clean the outer ears if the dog has been traumatized and might suture a torn ear flap. Some dogs will be put on antibiotics for skin infection.

If your dog has been outside in extreme conditions and you suspect frostbite, he should be examined. Surgery (to remove the tissue before it becomes gangrenous) may save his life.

Floppy Ears Can Develop Fissures

Ear fissures are cracks in a floppy ear that itch very badly and are usually caused by itching or shaking of the head due to an underlying condition.

Sometimes it will be enough to clean the ear and treat the infection. If the ear gets worse, the fissure might need to be sutured at the vet.

Marginal Seborrhea: If Your Doxy Has Waxy Ears

Marginal seborrhea is a skin disease caused by a buildup of skin oil on the hair at the edges of the ear flaps. It is most commonly seen in Dachshunds. It is not dangerous but does not go away even with treatment.

You can keep the edges of the ears clean with soap and water, and if your dog has dry and cracked ears, you can apply a moisturizer.

You can also try bathing in benzoyl peroxide or a sulfur-tar shampoo.

  • Soak the edge of the ear in warm water with a compress before shampooing and put cotton balls in the ear canal to keep water from dripping inside.
  • Repeat every 24 - 48 hours until all greasy stuff has been removed, and use a moisturizer to keep the ears soft and flexible.

Aural Hematomas Need to Be Treated

An aural hematoma (blood pocket in the ear) will be drained, and in some cases the ear must be tacked down to prevent it from filling back up with blood.

The vet will also try to determine the cause of the hematoma and might put your dog on antibiotics or anti-fungal medications if the ears canals are infected.

Allergies can cause inflammation, and when dogs scratch the ears become traumatized.

Allergies can cause inflammation, and when dogs scratch the ears become traumatized.

How to Deal With Ear Margin Problems

How the vet helps will depend on the cause of the sores.

  • Fly strike can be treated at home the same way as it would be treated by your vet. Severe cases might also be treated with a topical antibiotic.
  • If ear mites are found on the examination, the ears will be cleaned and then they will be treated with a topical insecticide.
  • Mange, which is identified through skin scrapings, will be treated with a local cream, an insecticide bath, or one of several types of oral medications.
  • Inhalant allergies might be treated with antihistamines and steroids to relieve the itching, and the vet also might recommend allergy injections.
  • If food allergies are a problem, the dog will first be treated for the inflamed ears, and then best dealt with by finding out what he is allergic to.
  • The vet will clean the outer ears if the dog has been traumatized and might suture a torn ear flap. Some dogs will be put on antibiotics for skin infection.
  • If your dog has been outside in extreme conditions and you suspect frostbite, he should be examined. Surgery (to remove the tissue before it becomes gangrenous) may save his life.
  • An aural hematoma (blood pocket in the ear) will be drained, and in some cases the ear must be tacked down to prevent it from filling back up with blood. The vet will also try to determine the cause of the hematoma and might put your dog on antibiotics or anti-fungal medications if the ears canals are infected.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I put vaseline on my dog's scabbed ears?

Answer: Although vaseline might moisturize your puppy's scabbed ears and make her feel a little better, it is much more important that you find out what is wrong and treat that problem correctly so that the problem does not come back.

If you cannot take her to your regular vet and find out what is wrong at least use coconut oil instead of Vaseline. The oil will moisturize the edges of the ears, and it also has some antibiotic and antifungal effects.

Question: My dog is 10 months old and his ear is crusty and being eaten at the tip. What is the problem?

Answer: if you will refer to the article, there is a list of causes of crusty ear scabs.

Fly strike is the most common. If you want to find out if your dog has mange or allergies you will need to take him to your regular vet for further testing.

Question: How long should I wait until I can pick off the scabs on my dog’s ears?

Answer: You should never pick scabs off of your dog's ears. If the scabs are a bother, they can be moisturized and will fall off quicker as the tissue heals underneath. If you pick them off, however, your dog is going to have delayed healing and will develop scar tissue under the area where you have picked. He can also develop cauliflower ear from this.

Question: My puppy is ten weeks old, and she has short floppy ears. She has a sore that she keeps scratching and she whines as well. It's scabbed up, and I was told it was from feeding her kibbles and bits. I don't have money to take her to take her to the vet, and I'm trying to find out what I can put on it for relief. Is petroleum jelly okay?

Answer: Feeding kibbles and bits will not cause ear scabs unless the dog is allergic to something in the food. If that is the case, you need to put her on an elimination diet and find out what is causing the problem. If you cannot take her to your vet, you can research this on the internet and start her on a special diet to see if this is the problem.

If you take your puppy in to be vaccinated, ask about the ears.

The petroleum jelly will provide some moisture to the ear flaps and will make her feel a little better. It is not a cure. You need to find out what is wrong.

Question: My dog's skin on the outside of his ears, neck, and face gets a lot of crusty scabs. Can you give me any help or advice?

Answer: It sounds like your dog has an allergic problem so all you are doing with the meds are decreasing the symptoms, temporarily. The ear mite treatment is no good at all.

The first thing to do is put your dog on an elimination diet. This needs to be a novel protein, something your dog has never eaten before, for at least 6 weeks. This means no snacks from the table, no dog treats, etc. If you need to learn more you can Google "dog elimination diet for food allergies".

If you give him a very strict trial for food allergies and he is still having problems he may be suffering form inhalant or other allergies. If this is the case you need to make an appointment with your vet and try to figure out what is causing his chronic ear infections.

Question: Will vitamin E oil hurt my dog's itchy red ears?

Answer: As long as your dog's inner ears are not scratched up, the vitamin E should be just fine. However, before applying any substance, it is a good idea to apply it to only one spot, wait an hour or so, and then check to make sure that the condition is not worse instead of better. If everything is okay, and your dog is not showing any signs of irritation, you can apply the liquid to the entire ear.

Question: Does flystrike only occur in dogs with cropped ears?

Answer: I have seen this is dogs with dry ear margins. It is most common in dogs with cropped ears or dry skin.

Question: My dog has dried blood in her ears from scratching. How should I clean them?

Answer: If the scabs are just on the ear flaps, you can clean the dried blood off with dilute hydrogen peroxide. I usually recommend diluting vinegar to clean the ears, but not in this case. The product is acidic and will hurt. There are several good commercial products available to clean the ears. Ask at your vet's office or a pet store for an ear cleaner that has a neutral pH.

Question: I have a chocolate lab and he has a wound on his ear. Every time the wound scabs over he scratches it to open the wound again. Are there any home remedies to help it heal?

Answer: Without knowing the exact cause it is impossible to give you a definite cure, but to help a wound heal you can apply coconut oil or aloe vera to keep it moist. It helps if you can bandage it to keep the dog from scratching it open/rolling on the ground and irritating it, but if you cannot just try one of those two medications twice a day.

Question: Can I use hydrogen peroxide?

Answer: Hydrogen peroxide is not used much to clean wounds anymore because it has been proven to damage the cells and actually retard healing. If you want to clean the ear margins the best thing to do is use sterile saline, the kind pharmacies sell as an eyewash. If you need a disinfectant, chlorhexidine is much better than hydrogen peroxide.

Question: I have a 2-year-old Pit Bull, and I have noticed he is messing with the tips of both ears. He hasn't been in a fight, but I do have another dog (Maltese), so I’m wondering if she bites him, or he has some kind of infection?

Answer: You should have him checked out by your local vet since there is a chance that the ear tips are being affected by Demodex mange mites. The vet can scrape the ears and give you an answer. Even if it is not mange and only a problem with the Maltese, you need to keep the ear tips clean to prevent fly strike.

Question: My 9-yr. old boxer scratches his neck near his uncropped ears. The ears have gray crusty areas that I clean daily with an organic product, turning the cotton ball gray with bits of hair and specks of unmoving debris. He doesn't have mites. He goes deaf with prescribed antibacterial meds. Any suggestions?

Answer: How are you cleaning the ears? You can read my article about why a dogs ear infection keeps coming back ( https://pethelpful.com/dogs/recurrent-otitis-exter... ) and it will tell you how to clean the Boxer´s ears correctly and also give you some possible causes of a recurrent infection. As I mentioned in the article, chronic use of antibiotics or other meds that might be prescribed are not a good idea anyway.

© 2014 Dr Mark

Comments

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 27, 2020:

Karan--there is a section of the article on how to take care of hair loss on the ears of Doxys. You can follow that.

Karan on August 26, 2020:

Hi , I have a 2 year old Dachshund . The tip of his ears has lost hair and scabs have developed . What can I do .

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 13, 2020:

Mlynns, your dog may have inhalant allergies, which will need treatment, but if you are just trying to deal with the scabs until taking her to the vet you can treat them with coconut oil. Yes, you can clean the ears with vinegar and water but if your dog has been scratching the ears so much it is going to hurt, a lot, any you may end up being bitten.

Deal with the scabs first.

Mlynns95 on July 12, 2020:

My dog has started scratching her ears until they bleed, im not sure why but I’ve been trying to keep her from scratching and I have been wiping the blood off her ears with a wet napkin and trying to keep them clean. I can’t afford to travel fo take her to a vet so im hoping i can get help from here that will work until I can take her into a vet. Is there any home remedies that I could do to help her? I don’t think it’s from any fold allergies because she’s been eating the same dog food for a while now, the only thing different that in our routine is that she’s been outside longer and going for longer walks, she was recently around some bigger dogs but only for a short time(so short of time that they barely smelled eachother and walked away) She had one woodtick in her ear could that be the cause of her itching her ears? She has short floppy ears but I’m not sure how to keep her from scratching them until i can find a remedy for her until I am able to travel to a vet. How do I clean them so they dont get infected, I’ve seen multiple posts about using a peroxide and water mixture or apple cider vinegar and water mixture but was unsure about doing it because she has scabs on her ears and I don’t want to hurt her. Or is there a home remedy or something I can do to stop her from scratching her ears so the scabs will heal? I don’t think her ears are infected she just won’t leave them alone long enough for the scabs to heal. Please help me with some tips I could try until I can travel to a vet.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 09, 2020:

Serena, itching around the eyes are usually due to allergies. If the eyes themselves are itching, it is much more serious. Your dog needs to see a local vet.

Serena on July 09, 2020:

My dog eyes is itching him what can i do for it

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 22, 2020:

OSJ--if the ear margins are just dry, coconut oil works well.

OSJ on May 18, 2020:

My 1 year old pug has fleas and red ears, that he scratches nonstop. They have scabbed up and are very very dry. But they just have a couple of dry scabs that are looking yellow. Then on the tips, my fur baby has dandruff. Please help as he is in pain and I am too! Thank you

Adriana on April 25, 2020:

My dog is pit bull. We have already found out that the issue is allergies. Is there anything you can recommend for this?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 14, 2020:

Steven, if the other areas have gotten better, the ear tips will too but it will take a little more time since the blood flow is less. They always take longer to heal. You can try a moisturizer on the ear tips and that might speed up healing a little more.

Steven install on March 09, 2020:

14 month old boxer bitch

Has developed scabs on both tips of her ears with the hair around them fallen out

Has moved along the edge of her ears also

Also developed a number of dry scab’s on the top of her head and a dry patch at the top of each front leg

Thought it was a food allergy, so changed her food, head scabs seem to be getting better and the dry patches on her legs

Tips of her ears no change

Any help would be appreciated

Lauren on January 03, 2020:

My dog has what looks like aural hematomas in both ears. About the size of a dime on each tip. They both get a scab, which makes the vet say it’s not an aural hematoma. It’s weird bc it’s on both ears. His ears are clean on the inside

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 13, 2019:

Angelica, you can use coconut oil as a great moisturizer on the ear tips. For more help here is an article on home care: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/remedy-for-dog-with-dr...

Angelica on November 12, 2019:

Hi my dog is a chewinie and has dry skin at the end of his ears I would like to know what i can do at home to fix the problem ? Thank you

Sheryl L Kordek on October 02, 2019:

My shephard is strictly an outdoor dog! This has been severly bad with flies we haved fly spray for him that is usually for horses it worked for awhile but not now what can we do!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 02, 2019:

Jessica, I am unable to tell you if the dog has an infection or allergies without an examination. The best thing you can do is take your dog to your regular vet so that his ear can be examined and swabbed.

Jessica Roddy on May 30, 2019:

My sheltie has been having problems with his left ear for a long time now. His ear is very red, dry, and crusty at the flab. He tends to shake his head a lot and move his back paw like dogs do when you scratch their tickle spot. He tries to rub his ear against things also. I’ve tried using ear drops, and little ear wipes but nothing has seemed to help him. Do you know what it is? Should i take him to the vet?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 09, 2018:

Shannon, if it is marginal seborrhea the best thing to do is remove the scabs, keep it clean with soap and water, and use a moisturizer--not something with antibiotis like neosporin.

Shannon on January 08, 2018:

William, I have a Min Pin as well and her ears are the same way. The vet has given me 2 tubes of dermalone (not sure if I spelled that right) and it hasn’t worked. I’ve tried neosporin and that hasn’t helped. So I called the vet again and he’s prescribing her a different medication. Have you figured out what to do for yours? If so I would love to know so that I can get ears healed.

Thanks!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 06, 2018:

William, it is impossible to say without seeing it but it sounds like marginal seborrhea. See the section in the article above for treatment.

William Gran on January 05, 2018:

I have a 2 year old mini pin floppy ears get dry skin build up on mainly one ear it's like little cracks on dry skin shows signs of bleeding n you can tell it's sore I over looking at things above n wondering if I should keep trying to clean it with hydrogen peroxide an moisturizing cream over night seems it helps an in day hydrocortisone cream what should I do different

Ashley Signor on September 30, 2017:

My dog gets a huge build of odd dry skin on her head and nose then her ears the skin peels off and if you don't peel it off it turns black what is this and what should I do to treat?

Andrea on September 19, 2017:

My 2 year old Chi developed yellow crust on the inner flap of his ears near the edge. I have been treating with Neosporin and cleaning them daily. They will get better then the scabs seem worse. This morning I noticed he had similar crusty spots on top of his head in back of his ears. Anyone experienced this?? His ears are perfectly clean. No wax no mites.

barbara on September 01, 2017:

hello french bulldog for sale

Thereasa Gargano on May 17, 2017:

I have an old english bulldog with one ear that looks like the picture showing fly strike. However, she has been to 2 vets and no one can diagnose her. she has been on antibiotics, calendula, neosporin, coconut oil, bag balm, eastern salve with curry, you name it she's been on it. Surely this is not a rare thing, but one vet wants to bob her ear, stating she is injuring it by shaking her head too violently, I just can't believe that, its only her one ear. I am at my wits end with this

Janis on April 20, 2017:

Hi, I have a little terrier. Named Tucker. He's having a new problem with his ear. I say it that way because he has marginal suborrhea which after numerous trips and many tests at the vets and they had no idea what the problem was. I figured it out after reading and more reading. As far as that goes he's in a remission time and is fine there.

Now, he was scratching and I figured the suborrhea had come back. But that's not it. I found little black bugs on the edges of the ears. They are visible to the eye but way to small to be ticks, I don't think they are stick fleas because they are rounder than those guys, I know mites and this is not them, the inner ear is clean and pretty pink. Plus there are not a lot of them, I thought they would be easy to get rid of. Not so. I've used actual mite medicine, coconut and olive oil, massaged and cleaned the edges with soap for three days now and those little dudes are stuck tight. Not burrowed in like a tick, but really hard to get off. I used a tooth brush and tweezers too. I think I'll be able to get rid of them, but I would like to know what the heck they are. For curiosity and future reference if they come back. Any help would be appreciated.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 28, 2017:

Yvonne, since you said "one of my Frenchies" I assume the other dog is fine, which makes mange and fly strike a lot less likely. I would consider inhalant allergies and autoimmune more likely.

Unfortunately, there is not going to be a way to figure this out without a scape (to rule out mange, even if it is unlikely) and a biopsy (to find out what type of inflammation your Frenchie is suffering from). If you did not have a vet available, and just wanted to keep this under control, I would recommend a moisturizer like bag balm and otomax only if it looked very red and infected. In the long term, however, finding out what is causing it is going to help your dog suffer less.

Yvonne on March 27, 2017:

I hope I can find an answer here! One of my Frenchies has ear scabs on both ears now for two years. I seemed to get it under control the first year by summer, then it came back that winter. Not sure how I got it under control, but I was using otimax., putting it on the ears, two days in a row, then scrapping the scabs off, bit by bit. It took days to get them cleared off, but this year that isn't working! My vet hasn't done a biopsy, or scraping yet, as I'm still showing him, hoping to find something less invasive to get rid of this. Help?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 26, 2017:

Katey, is she scratching? If she is not, and the ear problem happened quickly, it could also be an autoimmune problem. I would recommend taking her in for an exam, maybe a scrape, swab, and possibly a biopsy.

Mack on March 26, 2017:

My dog has like crusty ear tips and I don't know which one my dog has

Katey Flood on March 22, 2017:

I have a chihuahua/jack russel mix and he has tall erect ears. He had the scraps develop on the tip of the inner side of the ear and it seemed to develop practically over night. It gets a yellow crust but not like yeast. I've just been treating with neosporin but we don't know what it is. Could this be an allergy???

Nona Ray on December 16, 2016:

for those of you that have found a growth of scabs on the tip of your dog's ear that will not go away even after you clean it - I found a remedy - but make sure it's like this below

A major causative factor which may begin this chronic condition resembles a waxy or sometimes a dry white dandruff-like scaly condition at the ear tips. The ear tip may also appear somewhat thickened and this very likely is the result of what appears to be an overgrowth of cells at the follicle base. Examined under the microscope (or even magnifying glass) one sees this white dandruff-like scale forms around the hair at the follicle base. This is what is sometimes referred to as a “scurf,” and develops on other animals besides dogs. “Scurf” is just a slang term for what is likely an overproduction of skin cells and/or oil around the follicle, which leads to a sort of waxy, dry folliculitis. This folliculitis may sometimes result in further itching or irritation of the ear tip, followed by a secondary bacterial infection, which aggravates the original condition. More quickly than seems possible the ear tips become bloodied from constant scratching and head shaking, and the condition accelerates into a chronic trauma induced wound situation as any closed lesions are constantly opened anew.

The cure is clove oil-if you cannot find it.. then get this stuff for teeth aches called Red Cross - mainly sold in wall greens. My pups ears are great and the hair is now growing back! ;)

Sorry I don't have before pics.. I was looking for something on the web but those cases were WAY worse than my pups. I promise this stuff works!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 25, 2014:

We have a biting fly here, sort of like a small horse fly, and it does its share of damage. Dogs are usually loose and avoid the fly areas (by the swamps) so the most common problem I see is trauma, usually from fighting each other.

There should be a roll on to prevent that!

Bob Bamberg on March 25, 2014:

We don't have farms around here anymore...just a few horse farms or backyard hobby farms...but it seems the only time I see the crusty ear problems you write about involves "farm dogs." And it is usually fly strike. Although they may be well taken care of, farm dogs seem to live a "neglected" life compared to the pampered lives of family pets in this area. At my store, we sold a roll-on insecticide that could be used on horses and dogs around the eyes and on the ear tips. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 23, 2014:

Hi Diana thanks again for reading.

Ear mites are usually pretty easy to clear up, so I wonder if there is an underlying problem. Does she have a lot of that black thick wax when you start treatment? If it is a clear or foul smelling odor, it may be otitis secondary to allergies. If it is mites, cleaning them out is half the battle!

Good luck on that fight!!

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on March 23, 2014:

You have another interesting hub here. My older dog has had an ongoing battle with ear mites over the years. I may be trying the olive oil. Good information. Voted up.