Ear infections are common in dogs, with around 20% of all domestic canines having some sort of ear disease in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, many ear infections cause a foul smell that can be unappealing to the human nose. They can also cause pain and irritation for your dog. So, how can you get rid of that ear infection smell, and how can you prevent your dog from developing further infections in the future? Here is everything you are going to want to know.
So, how can you get rid of dog ear infection smell? The best way to get rid of a dog ear infection smell is to treat the underlying cause of the infection. A vet will be able to determine the cause and prescribe the appropriate treatment. To prevent further infections, keep your dog’s ears dry and clean, especially if they have long, droopy ears.
You’re going to want to ensure you are using an appropriate course of treatment with an ear infection; this is not something you really should be trying to address on your own.
This is where a vet comes in, as we shall soon continue to explore.
But first, it helps to understand why your dogs get ear infections in the first place – that way, we can look to prevent it all from happening again in the future, including that smell we all want to prevent.
Why Do Dogs Get Ear Infections?
Dogs are prone to getting ear infections because of the shape of their ears. Dogs have long ‘L-shaped’ ear canals that are more vertical than human ear canals. This means they are more likely to retain fluid which can cause ear infections.
Dogs with long floppy ears are even more likely to develop ear infections because they trap water more easily, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Floppy ears also tend to hold in more heat or have excessive amounts of hair that can encourage bacteria growth.
The dog breeds most prone to developing ear infections include:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Basset Hounds
- Golden Retrievers
- Chinese Shar Pei
Interestingly, according to a study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College, small dog breeds under 10kg are less likely to develop ear infections, but it could still happen!
Ear infections have multiple causes, but they are usually caused by bacteria or yeast infections.
Let’s run through the main causes in more detail:
Ear infections can be caused by a build-up of bacteria known as otitis externa.
This bacterium loves warm, moist conditions and is one of the most common types of ear infections seen in canines.
Symptoms include head shaking, excessive scratching of the ears, and signs of pain in and around the ears.
Also known as Malassezia, yeast infections are caused by a fungus called Malassezia pachydermatis.
This is a very common cause of skin disease in dogs which can also cause ear infections.
Yeast is naturally present on the skin, but its overgrowth can lead to skin issues such as redness or inflammation.
These tiny black parasites are more common in puppies.
They can easily be picked up from the garden or surrounding environment or another dog.
Ear mites live in the fur and feed on skin debris, which can irritate the skin around the ears.
Bear in mind that any treatment for ear mites needs to kill the adult parasites and also destroy the eggs, so it can take some time for the issue to fully clear up.
Allergies are fairly common in dogs, and they can cause ear infections if not kept under control.
Allergies cause the skin barrier to become reduced, which can lead to wax build-up in the ears.
This creates bacteria and yeast build-up, causing ear infections.
Some of the most common environmental allergies seen in dogs include mold, dander, and pollen.
Food allergies can also cause re-occurring ear infections if they are not treated.
These include hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, which cause the skin (including the ears) to become more fragile and prone to infection.
If your dog’s outer ears are repeatedly looking red, swollen, or irritated, then an endocrine issue could be to blame.
Symptoms to look out for include increased thirst, weight gain, lethargy, and poor coat condition.
If a foreign object enters the ears, such as grass or other plant material, then it can cause swelling and wax build-up.
Regularly check and clean your dog’s ears to prevent this from happening, especially after they have been running around outside.
Certain types of cancer can cause painful tumors to grow in the ears, causing infection.
The most common ear canal tumors are ceruminous gland adenomas which are benign, and adenocarcinomas (malignant).
Some studies suggest that chronic inflammation of the ear canal can also cause tumors to grow in the ear due to the abnormal growth of skin tissues.
Symptoms to watch out for include swelling in and around the ear, a foul odor, bloody or yellow discharge, and continuous scratching or rubbing of the ears.
Bear in mind that there are three types of ear infections that can manifest different symptoms. These are:
The inflammation of the ear canal.
This is the most common type of ear infection because this outer portion of the ear is more exposed to the environment.
The inflammation of the middle ear
The inflammation of the inner ear.
All three types of ear infections are likely to display the common signs such as inflammation, redness around the ear, head shaking, an unpleasant odor, and discharge.
However, middle and inner ear infections are more serious and can also cause vomiting, hearing loss, balance issues, a loss of appetite, and a prominent head tilt.
Note: It’s important to contact your vet as soon as you think your dog has developed an ear infection because they can cause significant pain, and they can become much harder to treat if left for too long.
How Can I Get Rid Of Ear Infection Smell On My Dog?
To get rid of an ear infection smell on your dog, you will first need to treat the underlying cause of the infection. Then you will be able to treat the infection, which will also treat the foul smell problem.
Step 1: Schedule A Check-up With Your Vet
Your vet will examine your dog’s ears and ask you for a full history of your dog’s health, including any known allergies or underlying health conditions.
If the ear infection is very painful and severe, or your dog is becoming significantly stressed during the examination, they may need to be put under anesthesia.
Then your vet will be able to perform a more thorough examination using a device called an otoscope.
This is a flexible wire tube with a light and a camera at the end, which allows the vet to get a closer look at the internal ear structure and determine the cause of the infection. Treatment options can include:
These are usually ear drops or a medicated ointment that should be applied to the ear several times a day.
Your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory pain relief if your dog is in a lot of pain.
If the ear infection is more severe, your vet may prescribe an oral antibiotic, steroid, or antifungal medication that is administered in tablet or liquid form.
In the most extreme cases, surgery may be required, especially if the ear infections are re-occurring or are caused by a tumor.
During the procedure, the ear canal can be opened, or the surgeon will remove all dead tissues and debris from the ears.
Step 2: Stick To A Schedule With Your Dogs Ear Infection Medications
Follow your vets’ guidelines closely for each medication given.
It can be helpful to set up a schedule or write down dates and times for administering your dog’s meds on a blackboard or calendar so you don’t forget.
Missing one dose is not a huge cause for alarm, but you should stick to the instructions as much as possible.
A common mistake is to stop the medication before the infection has fully cleared up, which can cause it to come back even worse.
You must finish the full course of medication even if your dog’s ears appear to have cleared up because the internal infection could still be present.
This can lead to something called antibiotic resistance, in which the remaining bacteria continue to grow and become immune to the effects of further antibiotic treatments.
Simple ear infections should clear up within 1-2 weeks. However, chronic ear infections can require medication for at least 6-8 weeks.
Step 3: Keep Your Dog’s Ears Clean
Your vet will likely advise you to keep your dog’s ears clean during treatment and after.
Saying that they may recommend that you don’t clean the ears for the first few days to allow the treatment to get to work.
You can ask your vet about the best ear cleaners and how to perform the procedure if you’re not sure.
The most important thing is to NEVER push cotton buds into the ear, as this can cause internal damage.
Instead, softly wipe the outer ear using a soft cloth or cotton wool ball.
Step 4: Observe Your Dog For Re-occurring Infections
If your dog keeps getting ear infections, they will need a more comprehensive vet check-up because they may have an underlying health condition that needs addressing.
An allergy test can be performed if an environmental trigger is thought to be the cause.
Furthermore, your vet may also perform x-rays or biopsies depending on the severity.
Chronic ear infections can get expensive over time.
So, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet about finance options and pet insurance that can spread the cost of any treatments.
How To Stop Your Dog From Getting Ear Infections In The Future
Some dog breeds are prone to getting ear infections.
However, there are some preventative measures you can adopt at home to reduce the likelihood of ear infections returning.
Let’s run through them now:
Check Your Dog’s Ears Regularly
The best treatment when it comes to ear infections is prevention.
Every time you groom or play with your dog, it’s a good idea to check their ears.
Any signs of redness, inflammation, or discharge should be checked by a vet.
Clean Your Dog’s Ears Once Per Week
Use a PH-balanced ear cleanser recommended by your vet or a saline solution to clean the outer portion of the ears.
Avoid using over-the-counter ear cleaners or wax removers, as these can contain ingredients that may irritate the ear canal.
NEVER use products that contain alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because these chemicals can damage healthy ear cells.
To clean your dog’s ears, squirt ear cleaner into the ear to fill the canal.
Then, gently massage the base of the ear; you should hear a squishing sound whilst doing this.
Gently pull up the pinna (the top outer portion of the ear) and massage again to ensure the solution gets right down into the inner ear.
Then wipe the outer ear with the ear cleaner and a soft cotton wool ball or cloth.
Allow the solution to get to work for a minute, and then wipe off any excess. As an additional note, it’s worth cleaning your dog’s ears in a bathroom or somewhere your dog can shake their head as much as they need!
Do not attempt to remove or pluck any hairs from the ears unless guided or instructed by your vet because this can cause inflammation.
Keep The Ears As Dry As Possible
If your dog is a fan of swimming, make sure you thoroughly dry their ears after every dip in the water.
You can also use drying agents to prevent moisture from building up in the ears.
Similarly, dry your dog’s ears well after every bath or after a walk in the rain. Moisture encourages bacteria to grow, so the drier your dog’s ears, the less likely they will develop chronic ear infections.
This is especially important for dog breeds with long, low-hanging ears, such as spaniels and certain hounds.
Control Any Underlying Allergies That Could Be Causing Ear Infections
For example, if you know your dog has a food or pollen allergy, then you must take steps to reduce their exposure to these allergens.
This can include dietary restrictions, medication, or reducing access to certain areas.
Unfortunately, ear infections in dogs are common and can be caused by a variety of different things – from bacteria through to environmental allergens.
And chances are, if your dog does develop an infection, you will begin to notice that particular ‘infection-like smell’.
While you may have hoped that you could reduce/remove the smell at home by yourself, the best course of action is to visit a vet and be prescribed the appropriate course of medication, for your dog (based on the cause).
In time, so long as you follow the advice of your vet and the instructions of the medication (and your dog remains the course), you should find that the smell begins to wain.
And the infection should subside.
From there, it’s just a matter of keeping your dogs ear’s clean to prevent future infection.
- Royal Veterinary College: Reveals dog breeds most affected by ear infections older Vets: The common causes of ear infections in dogs
- American Kennel Club: Dog ear infections
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I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.