Factors That Contribute to Smelly Dog Ears
There are several factors that could contribute to smelly dog ears. It is necessary to consider these factors to rule them out or in on the final assessment conclusion needed to determine the appropriate course of action and/or treatment.
- Dirty Ears
- Injury to the Ear
- Inflammation of the Ear
- Excess Wax Buildup in the Ear
- Foreign Object Inside the Ear
- Ear Infection
- Ear Mites
- Allergies that can lead to infection
How to Clean a Dog’s Ears
As pet owners, we know that keeping our dogs’ ears clean is an important part of their care. But cleaning those ears can challenging if our dogs aren’t conditioned to accept ear cleaning, or we don’t feel comfortable doing it.
Some dogs naturally have healthy, clean ears and may almost never need to have their ears cleaned, while other dogs require regular ear cleaning to prevent the buildup of dirt that can lead to ear infections. Dog breeds with long hanging ears, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, are among those with the highest risk of getting ear infections, but all breeds can develop them.
Checking the health of your dog’s ears is something you should be doing on a regular basis. Your dog might enjoy having his ears rubbed when they are healthy, but if he pulls away from you they may be sore. So you can begin to assess their condition by gently massaging your dog’s ears.
How to Tell When a Dog’s Ears Need Cleaning
Before you break out the dog ear cleaner, check to make sure your dog actually needs ear cleaning. Over-cleaning your dog’s ears can lead to infection and irritation, so familiarize yourself with what a healthy, clean ear looks like (pink, odorless, and not dirty or inflamed) and smells like (not yeasty or stinky), and clean it only when you notice a change.
Some dogs require infrequent ear cleanings, while others, such as those predisposed to ear infections or dogs who spend a lot of time in the water, may need them often. The Merck Veterinary Manual recommends that the ear canals be kept dry and well ventilated by using topical astringents in dogs that swim frequently and by preventing water from entering the ear canals during bathing.
If you notice a mild odor or see that your dog is shaking his head more than usual, it is probably time for a cleaning. And if your dog’s ear looks red and inflamed, smells yeasty, or he appears to be in pain, contact your veterinarian. These symptoms could indicate an ear infection, fleas, or ear mites, or allergies, and require medical attention. Cleaning an infected ear often causes more harm than good.
You only need a few supplies to successfully clean your dog’s ears: a cotton ball or gauze, dog ear-cleaning solution, and a towel. Avoid using cotton-tipped swabs (Q-tips) or anything with a pointed tip. These tools can shove dirt and debris deeper into your dog’s ears, causing infections, and can even lead to trauma to the inner structures of the ear itself.
A note to the wise: Ear cleaning, while simple, can get messy. You may want to clean your dog’s ears in a bathroom or a room that is easy to clean in case your dog shakes his head vigorously during the process.
Dog Ear-Cleaning Solutions
The internet is full of homemade ear-cleaning solutions for dogs. However, veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solutions are the safest choice. Some homemade ear-cleaning solutions contain harmful or irritating ingredients. Others simply don’t do a good job.
Most veterinary offices carry ear cleaner for dogs. You can also ask your veterinarian what product they recommend for your dog, as some solutions may be more beneficial for your pup’s specific needs than others.
How to Clean Dog Ears in 3 Easy Steps
- Assemble your supplies and your dog. Try to clean your dog’s ears when he is calm, as this will help make the process easier. Don’t be afraid to use treats to sweeten the deal.
- Squeeze a veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solution to fill your dog’s ear canal and massage gently at the base of the ear for about 30 seconds. You will hear a squishing sound as the product dislodges debris and buildup. Don’t let the tip of the applicator touch your dog’s ear, as this can introduce bacteria.
- Let your dog shake his head. This is where the towel comes in — you can use it to protect yourself from spray and wipe down his face. Once your dog has finished shaking, take the cotton ball or gauze and gently wipe out the ear canal, going no deeper than the depth of one knuckle. If your dog appears to be in pain during the cleaning process, stop and consult your veterinarian.
Should You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Dog Ears?
No. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide on your pup. This common household product can actually cause irritation to healthy skin cells. Ears contain very sensitive tissue, and extended use of hydrogen peroxide could eventually lead to damage of the ear itself. Stick to veterinarian-approved cleaners.
How to Clean Dog Ears: A Summary
Now that you know how to clean dog ears, here are the basics one more time:
- Know what a healthy, clean ear looks and smells like.
- Check your dog’s ears regularly after bathtime.
- Cleaning ears too often can cause excessive irritation
- Use a veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solution for dogs.
- Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has an ear infection.
Taking care of your dog’s ears helps prevent infections. Regular ear examinations will also catch any other problems, such as ear mites, before they get worse, and will desensitize your dog to ear handling.
Possible Causes for Smelly Ears in Dogs
A dog’s ears can smell for many reasons. Some are harmless while, others will require a veterinary exam. Consider the following causes for smelly ears in dogs to help identify whether an appointment is necessary:
- Dirty Ears: Even slightly dirty ears can cause serious odors in some breeds. Dogs with long or narrow ears or excess ear hair, or those that frequently swim or bathe, will have a harder time expelling ear wax, causing their ears to smell. While not pleasant, dirty ears are harmless and will usually clean themselves within a few days.
- Ear Mites: While more commonly seen in kittens, ear mites are found in some puppies as well. These critters are extremely difficult to spot and will require a thorough veterinary exam to formally diagnose.
- Ear Infections: All dogs naturally produce yeast and bacteria in their ears. However, when conditions are moist and warm, yeast and bacteria can grow out of control and cause severe inflammation in your dog’s ears. Food allergies can also cause your dog’s ears to become infected, so be sure to alert your vet to any recent changes in diet as this can be a contributing factor.
- Ceruminous Otitis: The medical term for ear wax is “cerumen,” and ceruminous otitis simply means there is excess wax present in the ear without any signs of infection. Some dogs are more susceptible to developing this, and the cause can also be linked to food or seasonal allergies.
- Foreign Objects: While uncommon, your dog’s ears may actually have something lodged inside them. From insects and grass seeds to small toys and coins, not only are these tiny objects uncomfortable for your pooch, but they can cause serious odors due to increased wax production.
It’s important to look out for any additional signs and symptoms that could point to other issues your pup may be experiencing.
An ear infection (otitis externa) is one of the most frequently diagnosed medical conditions in pets—especially dogs with floppy ears. Signs of an ear infection can include scratching at the ears, head shaking, ears that are red and/or painful to the touch, an unpleasant smell or a dirty discharge inside the ear. Here are four facts about ear infections:
- Left untreated, otitis externa won’t get better by itself. It can lead to permanent changes such as narrowing of and scar tissue build-up in the ear canal. This can predispose Fido or Fluffy to repeated infections and recurring pain. Other serious problems including hematomas (a solid swelling of clotted blood within the ear flap) or middle ear infections can also occur.
- Not all ear infections are alike. Otitis externa can be caused by harmful bacteria, fungi or ear mites. Depending on the ear swab results, our doctors will prescribe medication that includes one or more ingredients including an antibiotic (to kill bacteria), antifungal(to kill fungi), acaricide (to kill ear mites) and an anti-inflammatory to reduce pain and inflammation. Since there are so many possible causes, using a medication prescribed for a previous ear infection may not be effective.
- Regular ear cleaning can be just as important as administering medication. Our veterinarians will often recommend you use a cleansing solution to remove excess wax and debris from the ear canal before medicating. Without proper cleaning, it’s sometimes impossible for the ear medication to penetrate the ear canal and do its job.
- Recheck exams are vital to resolving otitis externa. At the end of treatment, it’s very important that your four-legged friend return (often 7-10 days after the initial diagnosis) so one of our doctors can recheck the ears. Because many ear medications include an anti-inflammatory drug that reduces redness, swelling, and soreness, you may decide the infection has been resolved. Unfortunately, some cases may require a longer course of treatment for a complete cure and, without a recheck, you won’t know if the source of infection has been removed.
To prevent otitis external from returning, we recommend you follow all medication and/or cleansing solution instructions, make a recheck appointment, regularly check your pet’s ears, and use a cleansing solution once weekly to remove any debris. Repeated otitis externa may indicate further medical diagnostics to determine if there are one or more underlying causes including inhalant or food allergies, hypothyroidism, or Cushing’s Disease.
If you see any of the ear infection signs noted above, please call us at 630-598-0600 to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.