Dogs flap their ears. Sometimes it’s a little entertaining; it’s undoubtedly intriguing. But is it a possible cause for concern? Should you be worried if you notice your dog doing this, and is there anything you need to do about it? Well, here’s everything you’re going to want to know.
So, why do dogs flap their ears? Dogs usually flap their ears because of ear problems. Allergies, sensitivities, or even a stuck foreign object can all be the cause. Although, dogs may also flap their ears because of deeper internal health problems.
Chances are, if your dog is flapping its ears, something is up.
It could be something in their environment that they are being exposed to, a product you may be using, among others.
So, you’re going to need to try and think about the cause.
When does your dog flap their ears? How long for? Is it accompanied by other symptoms such as scratching, etc.?
These are the kind of questions to ask to try to identify the root of the issue.
Otherwise, a vet can help you find what’s causing the problem.
And you’re going to want to know and help relieve any discomfort.
So with this in mind, let’s delve deeper into the potential reasons and appropriate responses for each!
What Does It Mean When A Dog Keeps Flapping Its Ears?
Your dog could be flapping his ears because of an allergy, an object stuck in his ear, or internal issues.
Ears Flapping Because of Allergies
Often your dog will flap his ears because of an allergy, with a food allergy being the most common culprit.
As with humans, food allergies are the most prevalent type of allergies, so it’s worth checking your dog’s diet.
If left untreated, allergies can lead to ear flapping as well as chronic ear infections, hair loss, or excessive chewing or scratching.
Your dog’s skin can become mutilated or severely inflamed as a result.
Ears Flapping Because Of A Foreign Object
Sometimes your dog may get something stuck in his ear, in which case he’ll often flap his ears to try and dislodge it.
Dogs can often get bits of grass or hay stuck in their ears. Some things like grass awns can even burrow into your dog’s skin and damage his ears.
It’s easy enough for your dog to pick up all kinds of debris when he’s off running through the woods or through fields.
Twigs, bits of leaves, stems, burrs, etc., are all easily picked up by a busy dog!
Unfortunately, if left unattended, ear debris can cause an ear infection which can bring pain and other prolonged problems, not to mention a potentially large vet bill.
Flies or ticks can also bite your dog’s sensitive ears and can cause sores or wounds.
Your dog will naturally flap his ears to try to get rid of the intruders. If left untreated, flies, ticks, or other insects can cause severe damage to your dog’s ears.
Ears Flapping Because Of Internal Health Problems
Other times, dogs can inhale or touch something that causes internal health issues at a later date.
Ear vasculitis can be one reason your dog is flapping his ears: a skin disease caused by inflammation. In such instances the blood vessels of a dog’s ear flaps become inflamed.
Most Susceptible Dog Breeds
Certain dog breeds tend to be more prone to ear vasculitis than others, although any dog can get inflamed ear flaps.
Dogs with ears that point straight up tend to be less susceptible to ear problems (though they can still happen.)
Ear vasculitis is most common in:
- German Shepherds
Causes of Ear Vasculitis
There are several things that can cause ear vasculitis, such as:
- A bad reaction to a vaccine
- An illness caused by ticks
- Fly bites
- Immune system diseases
- Other environmental factors (chemicals in the home or other pollutants)
See below for how to treat ear vasculitis.
What To Do If Your Dog Keeps Flapping Its Ears
There are several things you can do if your dog keeps flapping his ears, depending on what you suspect the cause might be. If you notice your dog flapping his ears excessively or shaking his head, examine his ears to check if you can see anything wrong.
If You Suspect an Ear Infection (or Ear Vasculitis)
If you think your dog’s ears may be infected, get your dog to the vet for a course of antibiotics.
Because ear vasculitis and other infections are caused by bacteria, the right antibiotics can do the job.
If there are other factors involved, such as diet or environment, your vet may suggest lifestyle changes.
It could be your dog needs to change his diet, or you need to get him different bedding.
The problem might lie in where you take your walks, in which case you may have to change your route or investigate other places to exercise your dog.
If You Suspect A Foreign Object
If you think your dog may have something stuck in his ear like an insect or a grass awn, the first thing to do is examine his ears.
Pay careful attention to see if you can spot any sores, blockages, or debris that shouldn’t be there.
Sometimes a simple ear flush can be enough to remove the debris without causing too much pain or discomfort to your dog.
Ear flushes are highly effective provided there are no blockages – your vet will help you with this.
Note: Do not try and carry out an ear flush on your own. Your dog’s ears are highly sensitive and delicate, so ear flushing – or any deep investigation into your dog’s ears – is best carried out by your vet.
How To Potentially Spot Or Avoid Problems Leading To Flapping Ears
You can do a range of things to prevent or spot problems that cause your dog to flap his ears excessively.
Check Your Dog’s Ears Regularly
Each time your dog has spent time rolling or running around outside, check his ears.
Ear infections are very common in dogs and are the most common cause of constant ear flapping.
Remember to check your dog after he’s been swimming.
Many ear infections come about because of moisture that’s been trapped in your dog’s ears after he’s been for a swim.
Moisture can even stay trapped in your dog’s ears through grooming or bathing.
The microorganisms will grow, forming bacteria or yeast, leading to an ear infection.
Know The Symptoms of Ear Infections
In addition to excessive ear flapping, some other signs of ear infections are:
- An abnormal odor coming from your dog’s ears
- Redness around the ears
Most of the time, ear flapping isn’t anything to be concerned about.
However, it’s a good idea to bear in mind the possible occasions where ear flapping is a sign of a more serious problem.
Clean Your Dog’s Ears On A Regular Basis
If you are taking regular care of your dog’s ears, your dog has a better chance of avoiding infections (provided he’s not allergic to anything, see above.)
It’s worth knowing the anatomy of your dog’s ears to clean them safely when grooming him.
Once You’ve Cleaned His Ears
Once you’ve cleaned your dog’s ears, he may shake his head a lot, but that doesn’t mean you’ve caused any harm.
His ears will feel different to him, so it’s natural for him to give his head a good shake.
Other dogs will rub their heads on your furniture or on the floor, which is no cause for concern provided you’ve cleaned their ears carefully.
How Often To Clean Your Dog’s Ears
How often you’ll want to clean your dog’s ears depends on how much he comes into contact with debris or moisture.
Most of the time, once a week or once every two weeks is sufficient.
If your dog has an ear infection, you will most likely need to step up the cleaning routine to three times a week.
Your vet will advise you on the best course of action to take.
Make Sure Your Dog Gets Out In The Sunshine
Sunlight is essential for dogs to help keep their skin healthy and help avoid moisture retention, thereby helping to prevent yeast or bacteria from developing.
Other Things To Bear In Mind
Remember to always use pet-formulated products for your dog. Use a high-quality, dedicated ear cleaner for dogs.
Here is a brilliant product to get and use from Amazon:
- GENTLE EAR DROPS – Our cat & dog ear wash provides a gentle clean with a cocoa butter scent by removing wax, debris, odor and itching.
- EASY-TO-USE – Fill their ear canal with the dog & cat ear cleaner and gently massage into ears. Wipe clean with a cotton ball.
- FEEL-GOOD INGREDIENTS – Alcohol-free dog ear wash cleaner is derived from natural ingredients such as cocoa butter & oats to soothe & moisturize dry, itchy skin.
- VET RECOMMENDED – Our no-sting pet ear cleaner has been tested and reviewed by a veterinarian to help maintain otic hygiene. Safe for pets 12 weeks and older.
- TROPICLEAN – For a tropical experience, pair this with our ear cleaning wipes and medicated itch relief pet shampoo.
Don’t use human shampoo, vinegar, olive oil, or other substances to clean your dog’s ears.
And leave the cotton swabs for other household uses: cotton swabs only push wax or debris further inside your dog’s ear.
If debris gets pushed too far inside, it can damage your dog’s eardrums and cause permanent harm, so you are going to want to get them removed ASAP.
The Danger Of Ear Cropping And Flapping Ears
Some people sadly resort to ear cropping their dogs for cosmetic reasons. Sadly, some also think they are lessening the risk of ear infections by cutting the ears so that they don’t flop.
But here’s the thing.
Ear cropping is not essential and is mutilation.
Not only that, it is painful and potentially dangerous for dogs: rather than prevent ear infections, cropping can cause them.
Some dogs have lost their hearing because of cropping.
Even though ear infections can be more prevalent in dogs with drooping ears, not all dogs with drooping ears get ear infections.
There are other factors that contribute more commonly to ear infections, such as:
- The ear’s ability to remove bacteria
- The width of the dog’s ear canal
Removing a dog’s ears (or just the flaps) to avoid infection is not only ineffective but dangerous, unnecessary, and cruel.
Ear cropping also presents problems for dogs communicating – they can’t fold their ears back if the flaps are gone!
Fortunately, ear cropping is illegal in many countries, including the UK. Sadly, though, the practice continues in the US – particularly at dog shows.
So, this is not something you should consider to alleviate or try and help your dog. It doesn’t.
While it’s common for dogs to flap their ears, it usually means that something is not quite right.
They are irritated in some way.
So finding the root of the problem and taking the appropriate step to rectify it is going to be the best course of action here.
Getting the advice and support of a vet is the right place to start.
Here are some of my other dog behavioral guides you may be interested in:
- My Dogs Acts Like He Sees Something [What Does This Mean?]
- Why Do Dogs Drool When Excited? [And How To Calm Them]
- Why Do Dogs Dig Holes And Lay In Them? [Should You Allow It?]
- Why Do Dogs Bite Each Other When They Play? [Is This Okay?]
- Why Do Dogs Wake Up So Easily? [What Can It Mean, Exactly?]
- Why Do Dogs Fall Asleep So Fast? [Are All Dogs The Same?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.