Have you noticed a sour or unpleasant smell coming from your dog's ears? Do you frequently notice them shaking their head vigorously or scratching at their ears?
These are actually quite common problems in dogs with floppy ears and other dogs who have a lot of fur in their ears or around the base of their ears. A very mild smell around your dog's ears may not mean anything, but most of the time stinky dog ears mean your dog is suffering from some kind of ear infection.
Looking for the infection
The first thing you want to do is make sure that you're not actually smelling a sour mouth issue. Many dog breeds tend to stay wet around the mouth and this can cause the fur around it to smell. Sour mouth smell may also mean that your dog is actually suffering from dental issues instead of an ear infection.
If you're sure what you're smelling is your dog's ears, it's time to check around their ears for the following signs of infection:
- Swelling inside the ears or around the base of the ears
- Frequent scratching or rubbing of the head
- Fluid discharge from the ears
- Redness or swelling of the ear flap or canal
- Shaking of the head and/or tilting it to one side
- Sensitivity around the ears
- Behaviour changes like increased irritability or depression
If your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms as well as the odor or if the odor is severe, they probably have some type of ear infection.
What causes ear infections in dogs?
There are several common problems which can cause ear infections in dogs:
Allergies – Dogs with allergies often suffer from ear infections as a direct result of their allergies. Like people, dogs can be allergic to anything they come in contact with, including things in their food and things they inhale. If your dog is suffering from frequent ear infections they should be tested for allergies.
Bacteria – Bacteria and yeast infections are particularly common in dogs with floppy ears and they can cause severe damage.
Parasites – Ear mites are less common in dogs than in cats and they often don't cause the dog any real harm. That said, some dogs are especially sensitive to them and have severe reactions.
Foreign bodies – You know all those little things that you brush out of your dog's fur after a long time playing in the park? Those can also get into your dog's ears and cause itchiness, resulting in an injured and eventually infected ear.
Hormonal abnormalities – These aren't particularly common but dogs can have deficiencies or excesses of hormones which cause skin and ear problems.
Trauma – A dog's scratching can actually be the cause of their infection, as dogs tend to play in dirt and mud so their wounds have plenty of opportunity to become infected.
Ear environment – Extremely furry and floppy eared dogs like cocker spaniels are more likely to have ear problems because excess moisture builds up in their ears. The dark, moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for a whole range of infections.
How can you treat your dog's ear infections?
If your dog has an ear infection it is absolutely essential that you take them to the vet at the earliest opportunity. Your vet will prescribe an anti-fungal or anti-bacterial treatment along with frequent ear washing.
How can you prevent more stinky dog ear infections?
The best way to prevent your dog from getting more infections—and from having stinky ears—is to keep their ears clean. It's normal and healthy for your dog to have a thin layer of wax coating their ears but excess wax and debris from playing outdoors need to be removed.
Cleaning your dog's ears is a two step process which starts with removing any excess fur around the ears. Your vet can show you how to do this after they treat the infection.
Once you've cleaned up the excess fur you want to wash out their ears with a special dog-friendly ear cleanser such as our Natural Dog Ear Cleaner, which can be found here. This will get rid of the smell of your dog's ears.
How often should you clean your dog's ears?
You should be cleaning your dog's ears properly at least once a week to prevent stinky dog ears and nasty infections. If you frequently take your dog to swim or their breed frequently has ear issues you want to do it two or three times a week—your vet can tell you how many times is appropriate each week based on your dog's breed and exposure to potential contaminants.
You can tell that your dog's ears need to be cleaned when they have more than a thin layer of wax in their ears. If you see any debris from wooded areas in their ears you will need to remove those but you don't necessarily need to do a full clean of the ears unless there's a lot of debris.
If your dog's ears stink you need to take them to the vet and treat any infection they might have, then begin a weekly care routine to make sure their ears don't get infected again.