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What are the Causes of Dog Ear Odor?

Ear infections in dogs are relatively common and rank among the top causes of dog ear odor. However, there are different types of infections that warrant different treatments.

Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear, and otitis media is an infection of the middle ear.

Inner-ear infections are also possible, though they are not as common as middle and outer ear infections.

Canine ear infections are relatively easy to treat, though if left untreated the infections can travel further into the ear, causing loss of hearing or other more serious health issues.

Let’s take a look at the causes of dog ear odor and the different types of infections and what can be done for them.

What are the Causes of Dog Ear Odor?

Ear Mites

Ear mites are highly contagious and easily passed between dogs and other household pets.

These tiny parasites also can cause secondary infections in the ear, such as yeast infections or bacterial infections.

When ear mites are present, the ear canals also may have a build-up of debris, which is similar in appearance to coffee grounds.

The dog may excessively scratch his ear or shake his head in an attempt to dislodge the mites.

Fortunately, ear mites can be treated with formulated ear drops, which are available through a veterinarian or as over-the-counter medication from pet supply stores and at some major chain retailers.

Bacterial Infections

Pseudomonas, strep, and staph bacteria all have the potential to cause a middle-ear infection in canines.

Dogs that are suffering from a middle-ear infection may have symptoms similar to those of ear mites.

This includes shaking the head or itching and pawing at the affected ear.

Middle-ear infections also may cause pain in the infected ear.

In severe cases, the dog may suffer from temporary facial paralysis, which is a result of inflammation of the facial nerve located near the middle ear.

Dogs that display any of these symptoms should be brought to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The veterinarian will clean the affected ear and inform the owner on how to properly clean the ear in the future, if necessary.

Treatment can involve oral antibiotics or ear drops, depending on the severity of the infection.

Closeup inside a dog's ear

Fungal Infections

Yeast is the most common fungal infection affecting the ears of the dog.

Malassezia, or yeast, can cause an infection in the inner, middle, and outer ear, so it is necessary that treatment be sought immediately if a yeast infection is suspected.

A majority of dog ear infections produce the same symptoms, though dogs with yeast infections may also have an unusual or foul odor coming from the ear.

The ear may also become thickened or scaly in appearance.

Like with any canine ear infection, veterinary care is required for diagnosis, proper cleaning of the ears, and, obtaining the proper anti-fungal medication.

Ear infections in dogs can be a nasty, reoccurring problem if not treated.

Ear infections need medical attention due to the three types of infection: outer, middle, and inner.

Middle and inner ear infections are more serious—if an outer infection is not treated, a middle or inner infection may follow.

Ear infection signs include heavy yellow or brown ear debris, head shaking, redness, swelling, and a foul smell.

Antibiotics, ointments, and drops are prescribed because treatment depends on the infection’s cause.

The veterinarian should sample the ear canal to identify the cause of the infection and treat it accurately.

Basset Hound

Ear Cleaning

Cleaning the dog’s ears routinely is the easiest preventative action against ear infections.

Once a week is best practice and after any time the dog is in water.

Ear cleaner, which can be purchased at the veterinarian’s office or pet store, is acidic and kills bacteria and removes debris.

Dogs that particularly need their ears cleaned more often are breeds known to suffer from ear infections.

Dogs with floppy ears, such as Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, or dogs with hairy inner ear flaps, such as Poodles and Schnauzers are prone to ear infections.

Water dogs such as Labrador and Golden Retrievers also are at risk.

You can clean the ear by soaking a cotton ball in the ear cleaner and placing it in the dog’s ear for a minute.

The ear cleaner will soften debris, making it easier to clean with the cotton ball.

Massage each ear so the cleaner is sure to go down the ear canal.

Cleaning a dog's ear


Dogs with allergies commonly suffer from ear infections.

Unfortunately, no cure exists for allergies, and the only option is to identify the allergen.

For food allergies, trials lasting approximately three months will identify the allergy.

Dog food companies now offer food and treats made with ingredients such as venison, sweet potato, white fish, and duck.

The theory is that if dogs eat foods that are not in their current diet, the allergy symptoms will decrease. Once an old food is introduced and the allergy symptoms occur, the allergy has been identified.

For environmental allergies, dogs must be tested by a veterinarian specialist.

Other Prevention Tips

Now that you know the causes of dog ear odor, let’s talk about ways you can prevent infections and odor.

Besides cleaning the ears of the dogs regularly and after water activities, Vitamin C will help boost your dog’s immune system.

Fish oil also helps the skin and is especially effective in dogs with allergies.

Fish oil comes in liquid or gel pill formula and can be added to a dog’s water or food.

Manuka honey cream or oil aids skin conditions and also can help with outer ear infections.

However, if symptoms worsen or do not improve, a trip to the veterinarian is necessary.

Dog ear odor and infections only get worse if not treated in a timely matter.


Sunday 18th of December 2022

we like to check her ears a lot

Debbie P

Wednesday 26th of October 2022

Thanks for the great info.

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