If your dog's ears stink, you may be wondering what you can do to reduce the unpleasant smell. While it's true that dogs are not what humans would consider to be the prettiest smelling animals around in their natural state, they surely though deserve being given the benefit of doubt before labeling them as stinky beings.
Sure, it's true that dogs love to get into things they shouldn’t and that many dogs carry a distinctive doggy odor, but if you’ve ever taken a whiff of your dogs' ears while they’re snuggling up to you, and you have without a doubt noticed a certain funky smell, trust your nose and ask your vet whether your dog's ears are OK.
Turns out, stinky ears in dogs may stem from an underlying medical problem. Your vet is specifically trained to recognize when there's a problem, and when he has a doubt, diagnostic testing can provide an accurate answer.
If your dog's ears are stinky, don’t worry, often the route of the stinky situation can be fixed. The following are several potential causes for stinky ears in dogs and what can be done about it.
1) Bacterial Ear Infection
Normally, dogs have healthy bacteria that live and grow on their skin, hair, and yes, even in their ears, but sometimes more bad bacteria than good may infiltrate in the ears and start creating problems.
Bacteria are particularly fond of the ear environment because the ear provides a warm and moist place that does not allow very much circulation of air, therefore many bacteria thrive here.
Common types of bacteria found in a dog's ears include cocci (most commonly Staphylococcus intermedius and beta-hemolytic streptococci) and E. coli, Pseudomonas spp; Proteus spp, Klebsiella spp and Corynebacterium spp.
Ear infections in dogs may pop up both on the outer part of the ear canal and potentially in the middle or inner ear as well. Symptoms include a foul odor inside the dog’s ear, yellow, brown or bloody discharge from the ear, redness, swelling, head tilt and scratching at the ear with associated localized hair loss.
Your veterinarian can take a sample of ear discharge (if present) to see if the infection is caused by bacteria and can then prescribe the proper medication for it.
Most of the time it is a topical antibiotic/steroid combination, but sometimes oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
Very important is to clean a dog's ears with a good ear cleaning solution before application. Your vet may do this for you. If you fail to clean the dog's ears first, the medication won't be able to penetrate the waxy layer on the ear and the bacteria will be protected from the medication continuing to thrive. It's therefore important to decrease the ear debris and gunk as much as possible before the application of a topical ear medication.
It is also important to understand that, in many cases, an ear infection is only a symptom and the underlying cause needs to be addressed so as to tackle the root of the problem.
2) Yeast Ear Infection
In this case, Malassezia is a common cause of yeast ear infections in dogs. This yeast is naturally found on the skin surfaces of many animals including dogs and has a rep for being a prime opportunist, taking advantage of vulnerable ears affected by underlying causes known to lead to ear canal inflammation.
Dogs affected yeast ear infections are known to develop symptoms very similar to bacterial ear infections including smelly ears (often described as a yeasty smell, sort of like sourdough), inflamed, hot and painful ears with ear discharge, head shaking and tilting, hair loss around the ear and scratching.
Upon looking at the dog's ears, the vet will likely examine the ear discharge under the microscope so to investigate the underlying cause.
Next, the vet may suggest a full cleaning of the dog’s ear canal followed by the use of the most appropriate medications. In particular, the vet may recommend using topical or oral ketoconazole or miconazole sometimes combined with an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory drug.
3) Mites "Might" Be the Problem
If your pup is scratching vigorously at their ears and shaking their head, and all of this is accompanied by a dark brown to black discharge, they likely have ear mites. These little buggers are tiny (no bigger than a pinhead) and breed quickly.
They are more often found in puppies and younger dogs but can show up in older dogs too and don’t mind jumping species (they can’t be transmitted to humans). They tend to stick around the ear and are not fans of light.
So, if you want to be sure they’re the culprit, swap your pup’s ear gently with a cotton swab (remember not too deep) and shine a light on the contents. You’ll notice little white things wriggling under the beam. If that's the case, you’ve got mites.
You can treat mites with an over the counter pyrethrin-based solution, but given that these little suckers tend to bring unwanted bacteria, including yeast to the party, it’s probably safer to go to your vet and get a prescription medication.
You’ll need to apply it for at least three weeks until all of the mites have died, and any eggs left behind have hatched.
Your vet may also provide you with an anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal or antibiotic to treat the additional problems that may crop up. You want to be sure that even if you only notice mites on one of your fur babies, that you treat all of them as mites are highly contagious among the fur-covered community.
Several Underlying Causes
As mentioned, ear infections in dogs are often just a sign of something else going on. In such cases, it's important to take care of the primary issues known for leading to opportunistic bacteria and/or yeast infections (yes, dogs can have both at the same time) and pesky parasites to establish into the ear causing stinky ears in dogs. The following are several potential underlying causes of ear infections in dogs.
1) Presence of Allergies
It may seem odd, but ear issues are often treated as skin disorders, and therefore, an itchy, foul-smelling ear infection may stem from an underlying allergy. The allergic reaction may derive from food allergies as well as irritating outdoor allergens (like pollens) or indoor products you may use to clean your house.
Interestingly, allergies are very common in dogs, and in the veterinary world are known to be a major cause of ear and skin infections.
2) Presence of a Foreign Body
Dogs who like to play outside and who have longer fur that may cover part of their ear canal, are at higher risk for picking up little oddities that sneak their way inside the ear. Running through tall grasses, for example, can lead to foxtails or other grass seeds clinging to that fur around the ear and then tipping inside.
You can avoid this by checking your pup when they come in from playing outside and also by keeping the fur around their ears trimmed down so there’s less for the sticky little things to latch onto.
3) Ear Wax Production
Some dogs may be prone to produce more ear wax and this can cause a mildly unpleasant odor. If this is the only culprit, your dog shouldn't show signs of trouble as seen in dogs suffering from ear infections. You should be able to easily remedy this problem by using a good ear cleaner. Since dog ears are delicate, only clean your dog's ears after following your veterinarian's guidelines and directions.
Consider though that when the ear wax production becomes excessive, the ear becomes moist and inflamed causing yeast and bacteria to multiple while overwhelming the dog's immune system. All of this predisposes the dog to an ear infection, points out board-certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. Michele Rosenbaum.
4) Hormonal Issue
If your dog's hormones get out of whack, that may be a culprit for that funky ear smell. Dogs are known to suffer from two main endocrine disorders, hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism.
Hypothyroidism leads to lower than normal thyroid levels which can impact the dog's body in many ways. On top of predisposing dogs to ear infections, low thyroid levels in dogs can cause dogs to gain weight, suffer from hair loss and dull skin, act lethargic and feel cold.
Hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing's disease, takes place when a dog's adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. On top of becoming predisposed to infections (including ear infections), affected dogs may exhibit the following symptoms: hair loss, an enlarged abdomen, increased drinking and urination and increased appetite.
5) Presence of a Growth
Dogs may also get ear infections and associated odor when they develop growths in their ears. A polyp, for example, can predispose a dog's ear to infections. Fortunately, polyps are benign growths.
Although not very common, dogs may also get tumors in their ears. Sometimes these growths may keep oozing and bleeding producing a bad smell. Some tumors may produce dead skin which can smell very strongly and may attract maggots.
Having the mass aspirated by the vet using a fine needle (fine-needle aspiration) may provide a good idea of what the growth is and the best surgical and medical approach to this (if any).
Most infections involve bacteria or yeast that normally live in your dog’s ear. They have their own niche or ecosystem that under normal circumstances, allows them to survive in the ear canal and the dog’s body (immunity) keeps them in check. When there is damage to this normal environment or ecosystem, such as allergic disease, tumors, or foreign bodies, these bugs can then overgrow and create an infection.
— Brett Wasik, DVM, DACVIM
How to Stop Dog Ear Odors
As seen, dogs may develop stinky ears due to several medical conditions. While you want to leave your pup’s ears in as natural a condition as possible, (after all they survived without us for centuries), you do have to have them checked and treated by your veterinarian. It goes without saying that in order to tackle your dog's ear odor, you will need to address the underlying problem.
- Good ear health can go a long way to preventing a lot of funky smells and discomfort for your pooch. Get your pup trained early to having you routinely check your pups’ ears for foreign bodies that might have slipped in during playtime.
- If allergies are your dog's culprit the good news is that with the help of a board-certified veterinarian you can find out what allergy your dog is suffering from and take steps to reduce exposure. If a food allergy is suspected, a food trial can turn helpful in identifying the triggering food component so that your dog can fight annoying ear infections (and their associated smell) once and for all.
- Ear mites are highly contagious pests that feed off ear debris and can spread to your other fur babies in a flash. They aren’t fans of light and getting rid of them may feel like a losing battle as most medications prescribed by your vet only eliminate the adult mites. Keep at it until all of the eggs are gone. You don’t want them popping up again if you can help it.
- Bacteria can turn bad in a snap, especially given the right conditions. If you’ve recently been treating your pup for mites, this might have been the case that the good bacteria in your pup’s ears have gone wild and attracted some not so nice friends. Getting an anti-bacterial agent into your pup’s ear as quickly as possible is a good move. Consult with your vet.
- Don't let your dog's ear infections linger for long. Left untreated, excessive shaking of the head may lead to an annoying aural hematoma. Not to mention, your dog's ear canal will begin to narrow due to chronic inflammation and so much scar tissue may build up that the ear canal becomes completely closed off to the world causing hearing loss, a nasty deeper infection and the need for surgical intervention, explains board-certified veterinarian Dr. Brett Wasik.
- Follow the Ear Wax (Or the Smell) Darin Dell, DVM, DACVD. Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, Wheat Ridge CO
- Veterinary Information Network: What Do You Do When Ear Drops and Oral Antibiotics Don’t Work? February 24, 2017 (published)Brett Wasik, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)
- Veterinary Information Network Ear Infections (Yeast Otitis) in Dogs Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP
- Zoetis Petcare, The Connection Between Your Dog’s Ear Infections and Allergies By Dr. Michele Rosenbaum
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 14, 2020:
Hi Devika, it is great that your dog's ears are fine. Ear problems in dogs can be very frustrating to deal with for both dogs and dog owners. Cheers!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 14, 2020:
This is an excellent article, Adrienne. I have not had a problem with the ear problem. It does sound like infections are the most probably cause, yet it could be any number of things.
Mae Williams from USA on October 14, 2020:
Really informative for dog owners. Thanks.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 14, 2020:
Adrienne Farricelli thank you for an interesting insight to a dog's ear odor. I never had this problem with my dog's ear and you informed me with great interest. It is a useful guide!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 14, 2020:
Hi Heidi, I am glad to hear that allergy shots are working for your Golden. Allergies make people and animals so miserable! So far, short of strict avoidance or medications that only aim to mask the symptoms, allergy shots remain the truly natural way to to change the immune system’s response to allergens. Despite the long-term commitment, it is worthy in the long run.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 14, 2020:
Hi Peggy, long ears seem to indeed have more problems. Spaniels are notorious for having ear issues. However, then we have German shepherds who are predisposed to many ear problems too.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 13, 2020:
In our experience, long-eared dogs seem to have more of a problem simply because they have less air-flow than short-haired dogs. As always, your tips on what to look for and how to treat dogs are good ones.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 13, 2020:
Been there, done that when it comes to ear issues! Goldens are really prone to them with their floppy ears. And my current golden boy is especially plagued with them because of his allergies. Less so since we've got him on allergy immunotherapy. But still he has episodes. (That reminds me I have to clean his ears this week. Thanks.) My cattle dog girl with ears that stick out most of the time doesn't have it at all.
Yes, this can be a troublesome issue for many dogs and their owners. Thanks for raising awareness!
Got a Dog With Smelly Ears? Here’s How to Fix It
By: Chewy Editorial Published: March 14, 2017
BeWell / Wellness / Got a Dog With Smelly Ears? Here’s How to Fix It
Got a Dog With Smelly Ears? Here’s How to Fix It
Let’s face it: the life of a pup parent can get a bit smelly from time to time. From picking up poop and scooping out (less-than-fragrant) food cans to trying to determine what in the world your dog just rolled in, the job of a pet owner should sometimes include a set of nose plugs!
But when the odor comes from his ears, it’s a different matter. Smelly dog ears are caused by bacteria and yeast that has fermented inside the canal, says Jeffery Levy, DVM, a veterinarian in New York City. “A dog’s ear is covered by an ear flap called the pinna, which creates a dark, moist space for (smelly) growth,” he explains.
Well, no one wants to deal with a full-on ear infection, or the smell that comes with it. So it’s important to know how to clean dog ears and maintain dog ear care to prevent odor from developing in the first place.
Note his behavior. Ear odor is just one indication that your pup may have developed a problem. Whether they’re short and pointy or big and floppy, be sure to check your pup’s ears often and be aware of any unusual dog behavior. Is your pet paying more attention than usual to his ears? “An infected ear can become a source of torment for a dog, which can lead to scratching and even bleeding inside the ear flap or the gradual closure of the ear canal,” explains Levy. “Other signs include scratching, head shaking and rubbing the ears along the floor.” If an infection is left untreated, surgery may be required.
Get an exam. Be in touch with your veterinarian if you discover that your dog’s ears are smelly. Smelly ears could lead to otitis, which is an infection. Most ear infections are caused by inflammation from allergies. It’s this inflammation that allows the overgrowth of yeast or bacteria—and the resulting smell, notes Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, a veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Speak with your pet’s doctor, as testing is often required to first identify the infectious organism and then to choose the appropriate medication.
Try an at-home solution: A product like Halo Cloud 9 Herbal Ear Wash is great for removing cat and dog ear wax. We also like TruDog Clear Me Ear Cleaner, a gentle ear cleaner with aloe vera. Or consider the aptly named FURminator Ear Cleaner for canines and felines alike, which is free of parabens, colors and dyes. But don’t be tempted to stick a cotton swab into your pup’s ear. “Using this kind of item could injure the delicate internal structures of the ear,” warns Hohenhaus.
Flush away debris. Your vet can also prescribe a special pet ear-cleaning solution, which is Levy’s preferred method of cleaning dog ear wax. “Flush the ear with the wash according to the directions, and then massage the outside, following the path of the ear canal downwards to dislodge debris and dog ear wax,” he says. Virbac Epi-Otic Advanced Ear Cleaner can be used to clean sensitive doggy ears and has a pleasant citrus scent. Or pick up Vet’s Best Ear Relief Wash for your pooch. Be prepared for your dog to shake his head during this process. Some vets suggest wrapping a cotton ball around your finger to make sure that you don’t penetrate too deeply, adds Levy.
Clean off dirt and keep the ears dry. If your dog likes to roll in grass and leaves, do your best to brush away dirt and debris after each walk or play session. Another way to prevent odor (and more serious consequences) is to avoid getting additional moisture in your dog’s ears. “Swimming, of course, can lead to excess water in the canal, so some pet owners put cotton balls in their dog’s ears before going for a dip,” notes Levy.
Be sure to watch for the signs of an ear problem and check out any unusual behaviors or odors. If you think your pet is in distress, visit the vet for an evaluation, as medication may be necessary to relieve his discomfort.
This is one of the most common causes of stinky dogs. All our canine companions have two small scent sacs on their bottom they are a type of marking gland which is why dogs smell rear ends when meeting. If they become impacted, it can cause pain for the dog and an extremely smelly secretion is released and remains on the fur. Another sign your dog has problems with his anal glands is dragging his bottom on the ground, or “scooting.” Make an appointment with your veterinarian to help with this issue.
- Start dental hygiene early to prevent problems. This can include annual dental cleanings, brushing your dog’s teeth at home and even certain dog chews can help reduce dental buildup.
- Keep folds in the skin and ears clean and dry. Check your dog’s ears periodically and be sure to dry them after swims or baths.
- Feed a healthy diet. If you suspect your dog’s diet might be the culprit, try a diet with different ingredients. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations.
- Bathe your dog regularly! An obvious, yet often neglected solution!
If the stink persists, consult your veterinarian as some medical conditions can produce strange odors. Breath that smells fruity or sweet could indicate diabetes while kidney disease or bladder infection can result in breath that smells like urine. Enrolling in pet insurance in place before a situation arises can help to reduce the costs associated with dignosing and treating the underlying causes of a stinky dog. Good luck and happy sniffing!
About the AuthorJohn Devlin
Husband, father and avid dog lover. Currently the proud owner of George, a pedigree Golden Retriever that barely leaves my side. However cute this sounds, a little break from the dog hairs every now and then would be nice!
PetPartners, Inc. is located at 8051 Arco Corporate Drive, Suite 350, Raleigh, NC 27617.
Possible Health Problems That Make A Dog Stink
If you are sure that your dog’s bad odor is not caused by an external problem, then check your dog carefully to see if you can identify any physical problem that may be causing the odor.
Check your dog’s mouth, ears, skin, and rear end:
Does your dog stink because of his breath? Examine your dog’s mouth. Look for signs of infection, injury, or bleeding. Use a flashlight to see if anything is stuck between two teeth, or in the gums. Also take a good look at the dog’s teeth. Do they all look healthy? Are there any broken teeth? How about the gums? Can you see any abnormalities, such as a growth or an abscess?
Injuries and infections tend to be the main reasons for bad breath. Infections can be treated by antibiotics. Once the infection is gone, the bad breath will go away as well.
Dental problems such as gingivitis and periodontal disease can also cause bad breath. Sometimes bad breath is caused by something more serious such as oral cancer.
If you suspect your dog has some form of dental problem, be sure to take the dog to the vet for treatment, as dental problems not only cause pain to the dog, they can also affect other body organs, such as the heart and the kidneys.
Bad breath can also be caused by digestive problems such as indigestion and constipation. If your dog has gas and/or is constipated, it’s likely that he has bad breath as well!
Does your dog stink because of his ears? Examine first his external ears for wounds or lacerations. Infected wounds are a common source of foul ear odor.
If there is no external wound, use a flashlight to examine the inside of the ears.
Ear infections can cause discharge such as pus with quite offensive smell. Dog ear infections can be caused by allergies, ear mites, bacteria, fungi, and so on.
The best way to prevent ear infections caused by mites and bacteria is to check and clean your dog’s ears regularly.
Skin problems can also make a dog smelly.
Take a look at your dog’s skin and see if there are signs of injury and/or infection.
If there is a wound on the skin and it has become infected, the wound will give out a bad odor. Clean and dress the wound if it is not so serious.
Otherwise, leave it to your vet.
If there is no external wound, check the condition of the dog’s skin. Is it dry and flaky, or does it feel oily but still flakes and smells? If so, this could be the result of seborrhea.
Unless the smell is really offensive, seborrhea can be treated using special shampoos and the odor should disappear in a week or so.
Sometimes, a dog smells bad because of his rear end! Dogs with anal gland problems such as impacted anal glands give out a very distinctive, foul “fishy” odor. You may also see your dog scooting on the floor from time to time if he has an anal gland issue.
If your dog’s anal glands are impacted, you need to have the glands expressed – either by yourself or by a groomer or a vet.
Sometimes the odor may be due to gas (flatulence), which is mainly caused by digestive problems, such as indigestion, constipation, bloat, etc.
Other Health Problems
Dog odor can also be a sign of some form of more serious health problems, such as diabetes, kidney failure, and cancer.
As you can see, dog odor can be an indication that your dog has some form of underlying health problem. If you cannot identify the problem yourself and the odor persists, be sure to take the dog to your vet for a check-up.