Floppy, thin, short, pointy, long-hanging or alert—dog’s ears come in many shapes and sizes. No matter what they look like, your dog’s ears should always be clean and pink, as these are the signs of a healthy dog.
Unfortunately, your dog’s ears might start to give off a nasty smell every once in a while. This odor can be alarming after you catch a whiff during some daytime snuggles or lift an ear while bathing your pup. Such a strong smell coming from the ears might be concerning, but ear odors are pretty common in dogs and are usually signs of easily-treatable conditions.
Here are three of the most common reasons your dog’s ears are giving off such an unpleasant odor.
- Ear infections: The most likely cause of nasty ear odors in dogs is an ear infection. Yeast infections are among the most common, followed by bacterial infections. Both of these are caused by overgrowth of bacteria or yeast that normally live on the surface of your dog’s body. Most ear infections occur in both ears at the same time.
Ear infections often produce other symptoms aside from a bad-smelling ear. Redness, itchiness, discharge and wax are all signs, as is your dog shaking its head or pawing at its ears in discomfort.
You’ll need to take your dog into the vet to have it diagnosed and have the vet identify the specific type of bacteria or yeast causing the infection. This will dictate the course of treatment to get rid of the overgrowth—and the nasty smell.
- Ear mites: Ear mites are tiny parasites that like to live in your dog’s ears and feed on earwax and secreted oils. These mites are very frustrating for your dog and can cause inflammation, severe itching and even infection. Like with infections, dogs with ear mites will consistently shake their heads or paw at their ears.
Ear mites will produce a discharge that looks similar to coffee grounds—dark, waxy and crumbly. This is often accompanied by a strong odor. If you check your dog’s ears and see this secretion, ear mites are almost certainly the problem.
If not treated properly, ear mites can actually cause some serious consequences for your dog’s ears. Excessive head shaking and scratching can lead to ruptured blood vessels in the ears, making them even more inflamed. The brown or black discharge ear mites produce can also fill the inner ear, leading to blockages that interfere with hearing.
- Poor grooming: Your dog’s ears are largely self-cleaning, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ever require your attention during grooming sessions. Ear wax, dead skin cells and moisture accumulate in your dog’s ears over time, potentially causing an offensive odor. A few particular dog breeds might have smellier ears than others thanks to their shape that makes expelling ear wax more difficult.
Fortunately, if your dog’s ears smell bad but you aren’t seeing additional symptoms, then the problem is crystal-clear: your pooch’s ears are just dirty and need to be cleaned a little more. All you’ll need to do is put a few drops of ear cleaning solution into your pup’s ear and massage it, wiping away dirt and debris with a tissue or cotton ball—never a cotton swab!
Make ear checks and cleaning part of your dog’s routine
The best way to help your pooch avoid ear problems that cause strange smells is to check the ears at least once a week and clean them as part of your dog’s regular grooming schedule.
All you need to do is take a quick peek under the ear flaps. Check that your dog’s ears are the right color—usually a light pink—and that they don’t look red or have brown discharge. Ear wax should be present and light yellow in color—not gray or black.
Whenever you bathe your pet, use a recommended natural ear cleaner and massage your dog’s ears gently to loosen up any gunk inside, wiping it away with a tissue. Doing this regularly helps prevent odors and keeps your dog’s ears clear of debris so it can hear clearly and remain comfortable. Proper cleaning techniques can also help prevent your pooch from getting ear mites.
If your dog’s ears look or smell strange, take it into the vet for examination. It’s much better to catch infections or ear mites early and to rule out any possibility of more serious health problems.