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6 Reasons Why Your Dog’s Ears Smell (and How to Clean Them)

Dog ears smell and how to clean stinky dog ears

While not-so-pleasant smells from dogs can be quite common, stinking dog ears are on a whole new level. Not only can smelly ears indicate poor hygiene, but they can also mean serious health issues.

Many factors can cause a dog’s ear to smell. Poor grooming habits, ear mites, allergic reactions, earwax buildup, and ear infections are among the most common reasons behind strong ear odors.

If you are worried about a particular dog ear smell from your furry friend, this article has everything you need to know about the causes, treatments, and prevention of smelly ears in dogs. Keep reading to find out more!

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell?

Veterinarian checking dog with smelly ears

Knowing the reason why your dog’s ears smell is the first step towards treating it and preventing it from happening in the future.

As mentioned earlier, there are several reasons behind stinky ears in a pet. Take a look at the section below for a more in-depth explanation of these causes.

1. Ear Infections

Canine ear infections are common ailments for dogs. These conditions are more prevalent among dog breeds with floppy ear flaps because of excess moisture that gets trapped in their ear canal.

As such, breeds like the Basset Hound, Beagle, Dachshund, and Cocker Spaniel may be prone to ear infections. 

This is also one of the alleged reasons why some ear-cropping is prevalent in dog breeds like the Schnauzer, Boxer, Pitbull, and Miniature Pinscher, among others. 

There are two main types of ear infections that cause foul ear odor. These are bacterial infections and yeast infections.

Bacterial Infections

A bacterial ear infection is the more severe of the two types. These infections are usually caused by the presence of one or more types of harmful bacteria, such as Staphylococcus spp., Pseudomonas, and Proteus.

There are three subtypes of bacterial infections, depending on the location of the infection. Otitis interna, otitis media, and otitis externa pertain to the infection of the inner, middle, and outer ear, respectively.

Aside from strange odors that often smell foul, like garbage or rotting meat, the most common symptoms of bacterial ear infections are ear swelling, redness, and white or yellow blood-tinged discharge.

Yeast Infections

On the other hand, yeast ear infections are caused by the presence of certain types of yeast, such as Candida or Malassezia. This type of infection may smell somewhat sweet and musty, like bread or beer.

Dogs with yeast infections will also have red, irritated, or swollen ears accompanied by dark red to brown discharge.

Whether caused by bacteria or yeast, infected dogs will be prone to shaking its head and scratching or rubbing their ears. Some may also shy away or avoid having their ears touched entirely.

Repeated cases of ear infections may indicate an underlying medical issue such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

Therefore, if your dog shows any of the symptoms above, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.

2. Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny parasites commonly found in dogs and cats alike. These mites are known as Otodectes cynotis.

Because these organisms are so small, they can hardly be seen by the naked eye. As a result, it is hard to detect the presence of these mites in a dog’s ears.

An ear mite infestation usually manifests as a buildup in the ear that looks very similar to coffee grounds. This is what causes the foul smell coming from the dog’s ears, which usually smells similar to garbage.

Aside from the buildup and odor, other symptoms to look out for are head shaking, scratching or rubbing ears, and redness of the outer portion of the ear.

It is important to treat ear mites as soon as possible, as it is highly contagious. This means they can easily spread from dog to dog. It may also be the cause of other issues, such as previously mentioned ear infections.

3. Ear Wax Buildup

Ear wax is essential in keeping your pet’s ear safe from dangerous bacteria and other pathogens. However, when ear wax builds up in a dog’s ear canal, it can emit a mildly unpleasant smell.

Excess wax buildup is primarily caused by poor hygiene, but it can also be a genetic predisposition. 

For instance, dog breeds with very long ear canals, like the Basset Hound, are more prone to excessive wax buildup. The same goes for Poodles and Poodle mixes because of the hair growth inside their ear canals. 

4. Allergic Reactions

Allergies are another factor that can result in smelly ears, especially if they are the underlying cause of an ear infection.

Food allergies are the usual culprit behind allergic reactions, but they can also be due to environmental materials like pollen or irritants. Dogs can also have allergic reactions to certain types of drugs and medicine.

Similar to an ear infection, common symptoms of an allergic reaction include red ears that are warm to the touch, head shaking, scratching, ear discharge, and sores or scabs.

5. Trapped Water in Ears

If your dog has recently been bathed or gone swimming, water may get trapped in its earholes. Dogs with long ears are especially prone to this because the ear flap folds over the ear canal, trapping excess liquids.

On its own, trapped water will emit a bad smell until the water is discharged. However, if left untreated, this unwanted moisture can lead to an ear infection, which can cause an even fouler dog ear odor.

Your dog will likely try to get rid of the trapped water by shaking its head, which usually expels most of the liquid. However, this does not always work.

If there is still water trapped in your dog’s ears, even after a few days, it is best to try and clean your dog’s ears with an ear cleaning kit or, better yet, visit your local vet.

6. Lodged Foreign Object

Liquids are not the only thing that can get trapped in your pup’s ear. Most dogs love to play and roll around outdoors, which can, unfortunately, collect all kinds of materials, such as grass seeds, dirt, and leaves.

Aside from having dirty ears, a foreign body can get lodged in your pet’s ears and cut off the airflow in the ear canal, which increases the probability of a bacterial infection.

How to Get Rid of Your Dog’s Smelly Ears

Doctor examines a dog with stinky dog ears

There are different ways to eliminate and treat any foul odor coming from your dog’s ears. Just like any other medical issue, the first step is to determine the reason why your dog’s ears stink.

If it is simply a case of dirty or unkept ears, a thorough ear cleaning will be enough to get rid of any unwanted smells.

However, if your dog is showing symptoms of an ear infection, ear mite infestation, or allergic reaction, it is best to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

The vet will determine the cause of the pup’s ear smell with an instrument called an otoscope, allowing them to carefully examine your dog’s ears. They may also order a blood test to ensure the cause of the odor.

Foreign objects, ear wax buildup, and trapped water in the ear will usually be flushed out by the veterinarian. If there are no other signs of infection or damage, the odor is likely to subside after this treatment.

For ear infections, the vet may prescribe topical medications such as ear drops or systemic treatment of oral antibiotics. These medications relieve inflammation and itching while diminishing the harm of the infection.

Ear mite infestations will be treated with anti-parasitic medication such as ivermectin and selamectin.

Regardless of the chosen treatment for your dog’s stinky ears, the vet will either perform a thorough ear cleaning or advise you on how to properly clean your dog’s ears at home.

How to Properly Clean Your Dog’s Ears (Step-by-Step Guide)

Vet cleaning smelly dog ears

Although dogs do have a natural ear-cleaning mechanism, a rigorous cleaning regimen is necessary to eliminate or prevent ear issues that may cause unpleasant smells or general harm to the dog’s body.

Before cleaning, make sure to get a vet-approved ear cleaner to eliminate dirt, debris, and wax. Other items needed in the process are clean cotton balls or pet-friendly ear wipes.

As much as possible, avoid using a cotton swab or a Q-tip to clean the insides of your dog’s ear canals, as this may push dirt and ear debris inward.

Once you are equipped with everything you need, you may now proceed to the ear cleaning guided by the steps below:

  1. Hold and pull the ear flaps upwards gently but firmly. The ear canal should be fully exposed to thoroughly saturate the ear with the ear cleaner solution.
  2. Gently squeeze the ear cleaner into your dog’s ear. Make sure that there is enough solution to fill the ear.
  3. Softly massage the ear for at least thirty seconds. This distributes the ear-cleaning solution evenly and dislodges any dirt, debris, or buildup in the ear.
  4. Let go of your dog to allow it to shake its head. The back-and-forth motion will bring any debris to the outside of the ear, making it easier to clean.
  5. Use a cotton ball or a dog-friendly ear wipe to remove the dirt and debris from the ear. You will also need to wipe off any excess solution from your dog’s ears.

For more info, watch the video below for a guide to cleaning your pup’s ears and preventing stinking dog ears:

Cleaning A Dog's Ears - Veterinary Training

How to Prevent Ear Odors in Dogs

Close up of dogs ear that smell

Thorough pet care includes taking conscious steps to prevent smelly ears in dogs, which ultimately betters the health and welfare of your furry friend.

Checking your dog’s ears at least once a week is a good start. This will allow you to monitor the conditions of the ear environment of your dog.

Look out for any signs of discharge, swelling, redness, or blood. Unusual behavior like head shaking or tilting, excessive scratching, and poor balance might also be indicators of an issue that causes ear odor.

Regular cleanings with a vet-approved ear cleaner are the first line of defense to prevent odor. Generally speaking, these should be done at least once a month or whenever needed.

However, a regular cleaning schedule will differ depending on the dog. Breeds with long and floppy ears, long or narrow ear canals, or with hair that grows inside the ear canal may require more frequent cleanings.

In between ear check-ups and cleaning, always remember to keep your dog’s ears dry, especially after being exposed to water. A clean and dry ear environment will prevent the cultivation of an ear infection.

When to See a Vet

Labrador dog with stinking ear doing checkup in vet clinic

An unpleasant or strong odor from the ears is not always a cause for immediate concern, but dog owners should still be vigilant in caring for their dog’s ear health.

If there are no other symptoms of note, a simple ear cleaning might eliminate the smell — but if there is redness, swelling, itchiness, discharge, or strange behaviors, consult a veterinarian immediately.

The same goes for any foreign objects lodged in the ear canal. As much as possible, do not attempt to retrieve it using cotton swabs or Q-tips, as it may push the object further into the ear canal and cause further damage.

The vet will be able to diagnose and treat your dog’s ear problems more safely and accurately.

Depending on the cause of the ear smells, they may administer ear drops, antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory drug, and the like.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dog with ears that smell bad

Are Smelly Dog Ears Normal?

A dog having stinky ears is not normal. Ideally, a dog’s ears should not smell like anything.

Unpleasant odors coming from a dog’s ears may be indicative of an ear problem, especially if it is accompanied by swelling, redness, and discharge.

Does Smelly Dog Ears Mean Infection?

Even if your dog has odorous ears, it does not always mean an infection. Several other factors can contribute to foul ear odor, like wax buildup, food allergies, trapped foreign objects, or simply poor grooming habits.

What Does a Dog Ear Infection Smell Like?

Generally speaking, ear infections can smell like a variety of things depending on the kind of infection.

Some ear infections may smell foul, similar to old trash or rotting meat. Others can also smell somewhat sweet or musty, like pungent cheese, baked bread, or brewed beer.

What Is the Brown Smelly Stuff in My Dog’s Ear?

A brown, odorous substance in your dog’s ears may be a symptom of an impending or ongoing ear problem. It may simply be a buildup of old ear wax or a symptom of a yeast infection.

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell Like Stinky Cheese?

If you smell pungent cheese from your dog’s ears, it may be a sign of a yeast infection. Yeast ear infections may smell musty or moldy, similar to bread, cheese, or beer.

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell Like Fish?

Fishy odors coming from your dog’s ears may be caused by yeast growth in the ear canals. To make sure, look out for other symptoms of yeast infection, like swelling, itchiness, and brown discharge.

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell Like Vinegar?

A sour, vinegary smell from your dog’s ears may indicate a yeast infection or an ear mite infestation. Both of these organisms will emit a foul, strong odor once it cultivates in your dog’s ears.

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell Like Fritos?

A corn chip smell from the ears of a dog may be a sign of a yeast infection. Yeast growth in the ear often emits musty odors such as cheese, bread, and sometimes even fish.

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell Bad and Itch?

Itchy ears accompanied by a stinky odor indicate an ear issue that may be anything from an ear infection, an ear mite infestation, an allergic reaction, or trapped debris or water in the ear canal.

Final Thoughts

If you ever find yourself asking, “why do my dog’s ears stink?” while bonding with your furry friend, take some time to check up on your dog’s ear health. It is a necessary part of pet care that may often be overlooked.

Ear odors can mean a variety of things, ranging from harmless debris to threatening ailments that need urgent medical attention. To prevent this, you must ensure regular cleaning and proper grooming habits for your dog.

So, have you experienced this in your furry friend before? How did you deal with it? Let us know your tips about handling stinky dog ears in the comments below!