There are several reasons dogs rub their ears on the carpet. It could be a minor itch that needed to be scratched, or it may be an ear infection that requires treatment. If this is an ongoing issue, there’s a good chance your dog has an ear infection and needs to be seen by a veterinarian.
It can be confusing to watch your dog rub his face all over your clean carpet. Is he playing, in pain, or something else? Should you be scolding him or taking him to the vet? In general, this behavior is a sign of discomfort.
Dogs don’t tolerate irritations very well and can become obsessed with trying to “fix” whatever is wrong. Face rubbing can indicate a slight discomfort or a more significant health issue. It’s best to start by checking for minor problems and cleaning your dog’s face and ears before progressing to larger health concerns.
What You'll Learn
Fortunately, there are some very simple causes for ear rubbing that are easy to fix and can provide your dog with significant relief.
Itch and Scratch
Sometimes the carpet is just the easiest and most convenient scratching post for an itch. If your dog only rubs on the carpet occasionally, he is probably just addressing a minor irritation. However, if he continues to do so frequently or doesn’t want to stop, he might not be getting his hygiene needs met.
If your dog ate or went outside recently, start by checking his face and muzzle for a messy bit of food or a ticklish piece of grass.
Even the smallest irritant can drive your pup nuts—imagine trying to clean your face with no hands!
See if your dog has rheum, commonly known as “eye gunk” or “eye boogers,” in the corners of his eyes. Wash your hands and use a clean cloth to gently clean away the rheum without poking your dog’s eye.
Breeds with significant facial folds, like pugs, can’t effectively clean their own faces. The folds will collect oil and dirt and become increasingly uncomfortable.
This is a common reason for dogs with facial folds to rub their heads on the carpet. Rather than waiting for your dog to display discomfort, clean his facial folds regularly. Gently use a warm washcloth or wipe and take special care with the deep folds. Follow this with a dry cloth to remove any remaining moisture.
If your dog’s rubbing behavior is accompanied by unusual amounts of sneezing and scratching, he might be suffering from allergies. This is especially likely if his rubbing increases at specific times of the day or year.
Take stock of your dog’s environment and try to assess any recent changes. Has a new season just begun? Have you moved to a new region? Has your dog’s food recently changed? While it can be tempting to write allergies off as nothing important, it is essential to pinpoint food allergies.
It is not uncommon for dogs to be allergic to a combination of grains, milk, egg, soy, fish, and various types of meat. All those ingredients show up in dog food, which can make your dog’s skin itch. Fortunately, your vet can recommend many special dog foods that quickly help you accommodate to your dog’s needs.
Seasonal allergies can be addressed with Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine sold for humans. Benadryl is safe for dogs at a dose of 1 mg per pound of bodyweight every 8 hours.
However, as with any new medication, speak to your vet about dosage and interactions with any other medications your dog takes.
There is a small chance that your dog has an issue with his teeth or nose, so check those areas first. If you have eliminated all the above reasons for face rubbing, it might mean that your dog has an infection or infestation in his ears. You will probably see your dog pawing or scratching at his ears and shaking his head in addition to rubbing the carpet.
If your dog likes to swim frequently, this can cause moisture buildup and ear infections. Dogs with floppy ears are especially susceptible to ear problems because moisture gets trapped inside.
Gently take a peek in your dog’s ears. If you train your dog by handling his ears often when he is healthy, it will really help in situations like this.
A dog’s ear is usually pale inside, with uniform color and no swelling. You might see a tiny amount of earwax in a healthy ear, but not much.
Use both your eyes and nose to assess the ear. An unhealthy ear has a strong yeast smell that signals an infection. You might see redness, swelling, lesions, discharge, or large amounts of wax.
You probably won’t be able to see if your dog has ear mites, as they are almost microscopic, but they are often accompanied by redness, black, dry discharge, and an odd smell.
A simple infection can often be mistaken for ear mites, but you should get either checked out by a vet right away. Mites can spread to other pets and household furniture, so you don’t want to take risks.
Ears are incredibly sensitive and an important part of your dog’s anatomy. Dogs do not tolerate ear discomfort very well. Besides the risk of infection damaging their hearing, dogs have a risk of hurting themselves trying to “dig out” the discomfort. If your dog’s carpet rubbing clearly points to an ear issue, don’t delay in getting them to a vet.
Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears
A lot of distressing ear issues can be avoided by cleaning your dog’s ears regularly. Don’t clean them too frequently; a vet can recommend the best schedule for your dog. But an occasional cleaning can help your dog stay comfortable with his ears being handled while also supporting his health.
If your dog cannot stay calm while you touch his ears, don’t force the issue. The vet can safely and efficiently perform the process for you.
Gather some cotton wool pads (Q-Tip cotton buds are not safe for dog ears), a dog-specific ear cleaning solution, a towel, and a helper to administer treats. Take advantage of this opportunity to examine the whole ear and make sure it is healthy, then gently wipe the outer part of the ear with the damp cotton wool.
Use the cleaner bottle to dispense the cleaner into your dog’s ear and massage the base of the ear to push the cleaner down into the ear canal.
When you release the dog’s head, wipe away the remaining cleaner that runs out of the ear. Shower your dog with treats during this process; getting liquid down their ears can be scary for them!
If your dog needs medicinal ear drops for an infection or other issue, clean his ears before administering the medication. The cleaner will clear the way for the medicine to penetrate deeply. If you do it the other way around, the cleanser will wash the medicine away.
Your dog can grow used to this process if you handle his ears regularly. While most dogs need to be held still for ear cleaning, try to make it a positive experience and not wrestle with or frighten your dog.
Dogs usually rub their faces to relieve some kind of irritation, whether minor or significant. They cannot communicate their discomfort or pinpoint the source of pain, so they rely on their humans to help. Try to keep an eye on your dog’s ears and face, cleaning them regularly to avoid infection and buildup of moisture. If your dog is showing allergy symptoms, ask your vet to help you assess the source of the allergies and make a plan to relieve the discomfort.
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