Hello, my name is***** and I have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian. I am so sorry to hear about your pups's itchy ears.
Ear infections and itchy ears are often related to allergies, either food allergies or inhaled allergies.
Food allergy is very possible with him as food allergic dogs often have very itchy ears, and food allergies are seen most frequently in young dogs. Dogs can develop allergies to any protein or carbohydrate so even if he is only fed one thing that can be what he is allergic to. Dogs with food allergies tend to lick and scratch their paws, face and ears the most, but any of the "allergy reactive areas" can be affected, and sometimes the only symptom can be repeated ear infections or itchy ears. You could try a true hypoallergenic diet like Hills z/d or Purina Veterinary Diets HA. No treats, flavored medication or bones while on the diet and it must be used for a least 12 to 16 weeks to see the full effects. Most clients do report some improvement in 4 to 6 weeks.
Over the counter foods may be labeled hypoallergenic but they are unlikely to truly be so.
The trouble with "limited ingredient", "hypoallergenic" or "low allergy" pet store brands is that the same machinery is used on multiple lots of food without sterilization cleaning in between. So for example even if a food says it has salmon and rice if the previous batch had beef and corn then you will get traces of those ingredients in your bag of food. Not a big deal if your dog isn't allergic to those ingredients but a waste of money thinking that the food was hypoallergenic, and not good for your dog if those happen to be allergens for your dog.
The veterinary brand true hypoallergenic foods are more expensive because it isn't cheap to thoroughly remove all traces of a previous food mixture from the machines used to process food or to hydrolyze the proteins in the food. And the only ingredients in that food, even at a trace level, are what is listed on the bag.
Even though some pet food companies may try to convince you otherwise there are no magic hypoallergenic food ingredients. A food allergy reaction is based upon the dog's body recognizing an allergen, so they must have been exposed to it before. Prescription foods are hydrolyzed, or broken down so the body cannot recognize the allergen, or use very unusual ingredients that the dog cannot have been exposed to in the past. They cannot develop an allergy to something they have never been exposed to.
If his ears seem to worsen seasonally then his allergies can be inhaled (like grass pollen, dust mites or molds) and you can use a combination of antihistamines and high doses of omega-3 fatty acids to help prevent symptoms of those types of allergic reactions (they also help with the symptoms of flea allergy). In combination fatty acids and antihistamines work synergistically, much better than either one alone.
You can try:
1)Benadryl (diphenhydramine only don't use the combination products with acetaminophen or decongestants as they can be toxic) at 1mg to 2mg per pound of body weight or one 25mg capsule per 15-25 pounds of body weight orally every 8 hours.
OR 2)Claritin (loratidine) at 5mg per 25 pound dog once or twice daily.
OR 3)Hydroxyzine at 1mg per pound of body weight orally every 8 hours.
OR 4) Chlorpheniramine at 4mg to 8mg per dog once or twice daily.
OR 5) Zyrtec (Cetirizine hydrochloride) at 1/2 mg per pound of body weight orally every 24 hours. That would be one 10mg tablet per 20 pounds of body weight. Make sure it is NOT the formulation with a decongestant (such as Zyrtec-D) because dogs cannot tolerate decongestants.
Some dogs do better on one antihistamine rather than another.
You'll have to see which one works. Give the one that you pick a week trial and if it isn't working try another. Be aware
that antihistamines can cause sleepiness or hyperactivity in some dogs. These side effects do wear off with repeated use.
Omega-3 fatty acids are fish oil products. 3V by DVM or Derm Caps ES are good brand name products. Use the high end of the dosing schedule for your pup's weight, meaning if he is between doses use the higher dose. I recommend a dose based upon the EPA portion (eicosapentanoic acid) of the supplement as if we do that the rest of the supplement will be properly balanced. Give him 20mg of EPA per pound of body weight per day. For example an 80 pound dog could take 1600mg of EPA per day.
I also recommend using a gentle ear cleaner twice a week at least asa prevention. This removes excess wax and keeps the ear pH at levels that discourage infections. It also allows you to know what a normal ear looks like and catch ear infections very early. Sometimes with an early infection simply cleaning the ear daily is enough to stop it in its tracks. Ideally keep the hair plucked out of her ears to keep wax from getting caught and allow air to circulate in the ear.
If there is a significant amount of waxy debris in his ears cleaning daily is indicated.
If that isn't enough sometimes I will use a topical ear anti-inflammatory such as Synotic 2 to 3 times as week to prevent inflammation and the resulting ear infection.
Please feel free to respond with further questions.