Why Do my Dogs Ears Smell
Pet Health Questions and Answers

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell?

Does your dog have smelly ears? Maybe they smell sweet like grapes or terrible like moldy bread.
When my dog was getting frequent ear infections in his younger days, we had a difficult time getting them to stop! Sometimes dog ear problems can be very persistent, especially if your pup is predisposed to ear infections due to their breed or activity.

For example, my black lab absolutely loves the water! This, along with allergies, caused his ear infections to reoccur for years.

Ear odor is typically a sign of ear infections, which are even more common in dogs than in people. Your dog’s ears may also smell due to ear wax buildup or ear mites. All of these conditions can be treated by your veterinarian.

In this article, we’ll discuss ear odor more in-depth, including symptoms of both ear infections and ear mites so that you can better determine which your dog is struggling with. We’ll also discuss how to prevent smelly dog ears and what causes these common ear issues.

Remember, though, that at-home treatments for your pup can be risky. For that reason, I won’t suggest any home remedies here. Please see a licensed veterinarian who can safely clean your dog’s ears and prescribe medications and other treatments as needed.

Help! My Dogs Ears Smell Like Cheese
Help! My Dogs Ears Smell Like Cheese

Table of Contents:

Why Do My Dog’s Ears Smell?

My dog’s ears stink! If your dog’s ears smell bad, they likely have an ear infection. Ear mites or wax build up can also cause this symptom.

The very best thing you can do for a dog with smelly ears is to get them to the veterinarian. Trying to diagnose your dog yourself can lead to misdiagnoses or worsening of the problem.

A veterinarian can prescribe medication to cure both ear infections and ear mites. Home remedies for these health problems are ill-advised.
In the meantime, watch your dog’s behavior and note if they’re having any of the symptoms below.

Related article: Why Do Dogs Lick Each Other’s Ears

A Veterinarian Examination can Diagnose the Problem if Your Dog's Ears Smell Bad
A Veterinarian Examination can Diagnose the Problem if Your Dog’s Ears Smell Bad

Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs

Ear infections are one of the most common health problems for dogs. Water-loving breeds, such as Labradors, are most prone to ear infections. Floppy-eared breeds are also more likely to get them.
However, any breed can develop an ear infection.
Symptoms of ear infections in dogs include:

  • Odor
  • Ear redness or swelling
  • Discharge coming from ears
  • Shaking or tilting of the head
  • Scratching at ears
  • Pain

Ear infections should be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. This will both ease your dog’s discomfort and prevent the ear infection from spreading further into the inner ear.

Ear Infections Cause Redness and Swelling
Redness and Swelling of the Ear are Signs of an Ear Infection. They Often Smell Bad Also.

How to Prevent Dog Ear Infections

Ear infections must be treated by a veterinarian. If your dog gets ear infections a lot, like my poor pup used to, you can ask your vet for some ear wash or buy your own from the store.

Keeping your dog’s ears clean can help prevent ear infections, but it won’t cure an already-existing infection and doesn’t guarantee your dog won’t get another in the future.

When cleaning your dog’s ears, only clean the outer-ear, where you can see. Never use Q-tips or any other object to reach into the ear canal, as this can injure your dog.

Clean Your Dog's Outer Ears with a Soft Cloth
Clean Your Dog’s Outer Ears with a Soft Cloth
NEVER Put a Q-Tip Inside Your Dog's Ear Canal
NEVER Put a Q-Tip Inside Your Dog’s Ear Canal

Another way to prevent ear infections is to keep your dog’s ears dry. Activities like swimming or playing in the hose outside can cause water to get stuck in the inner ear.

While these activities don’t need to be avoided completely, you can protect your dog by, for example, putting a cotton ball in their ears. You can also dry your pup’s ears after a swim or any other activity involving water.

If your dog commonly develops ear infections, it may also be a good idea to take notes including the date, which ear is infected, recent activities such as swimming, and what you think caused the infection.

I keep these notes in the same folder as my dog’s veterinary records so that it’s easy to find.

This can help you or your veterinarian notice patterns that you may not have otherwise seen.

Lastly, keep your dog healthy by scheduling regular veterinary appointments. Ear infections can be a secondary condition to health concerns such as thyroid disease or autoimmune disorders.

What Causes Dog Ear Infections?

Dogs can simply be predisposed to ear infections, or there may be an underlying cause. Causes of ear infections range from environmental factors to health conditions.

From the start, dogs are more prone to ear infections than humans. This is due to the structure of their ears.

Moisture in the Ears

Moisture in your dog’s ears can cause infection, just like in humans. This is why water-loving breeds are more prone to ear infections.

You don’t have to stop your pup from having fun in the water to clear up their ear issues, though. Just try to prevent water from getting into their ear canals.

Water Loving Dogs are Susceptible to Ear Infections
Water Loving Dogs are Susceptible to Ear Infections

If you’re playing in the hose, avoid directing it toward your dog’s ears.

When it comes to swimming, some people plug their dog’s ears so that the water can’t get inside or dry their dog’s ears after they get out of the water.

Dirty Ears

Your dog’s ears may become dirty from playing outside.

If your dog is prone to ear infections, get into the habit of cleaning their ears regularly. This could be once a month, or as needed or recommended by your veterinarian.

Purchase ear wash from your veterinarian or local pet store.

I simply wet a cloth or paper towel with the ear wash and gently wipe my dog’s outer ear. You can also use a cotton pad or ball.

Q-tips are okay for use on the outer ear, but don’t be tempted to clean your dog’s inner ear with any object. You can push the wax further inside, which will hurt your dog rather than help them.
If your dog’s inner ear is in need of a clean, schedule them for a professional cleaning with your veterinarian.

Wax Buildup

A buildup of wax in your dog’s ear can lead to infection, especially if the problem persists for an extended period.

The best thing to do in this case is to bring them to the veterinarian to have their inner ears cleaned. Don’t try to clean your dog’s inner ear on your own, as you may hurt them or damage the ear.


Any injury can become infected, and injuries to your pup’s ear are no different. If your dog has a scratch in their inner ear, for example, this can be incredibly difficult to keep clean.

Prevent ear injuries by addressing the cause. Does your pup have bad allergies or ear mites, causing their ear to itch? This may cause excessive scratching, which leads to damage to the inner ear.

Or perhaps your dog got into a fight and needs to be more closely monitored or kept separated from the dog who caused the damage.

Dog’s ears are fragile, and injury to them shouldn’t be taken lightly!

Ear Mites

Ear mites, the other health concern we’re addressing in this article, can also lead to ear infections. So, these conditions can exist side-by-side.

Dogs with Floppy Ears Are More Likely To Get Ear Infections
Dogs with Floppy Ears Are More Prone To Get Ear Infections

Floppy Ears

Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections, especially those with long ears or thick fur around the ears. Floppy-eared breeds that are prone to ear infections include basset hounds and cocker spaniels.

Thyroid Disease

When we talk about thyroid disease in dogs, we usually mean hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone production. This slows their metabolism and causes symptoms such as issues with fur and skin, weight gain, and ear infections.

Medium to large dogs are more likely to develop hypothyroidism, while it’s less common in small breeds.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune disorders affect a dog’s immune system. This system works to fight off disease and infection.

Dogs with autoimmune disorders may have a weakened immune system or one that attacks a part of their body, mistaking it for a disease that needs to be eradicated.

As you can probably tell, these disorders can be very severe. They also create an increased risk of other severe medical complications.

When your dog’s body can’t fight off illness or infections, this is very dangerous. It means that when your dog becomes sick, even with something simple like an ear infection, they need to be brought to the veterinarian immediately for treatment as they are at increased risk.

Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs

Ear mites in dogs are very contagious and, thus, also very common! But if your dog is on regular medication to prevent parasites, such as a flea and tick preventative, it’s less likely that they have ear mites as this medication would have killed them when they came into contact with your dog.

Symptoms of ear mites include:

  • Odor
  • Dark ear discharge
  • Dark clumps in the ear canal
  • Wounds on or in the ear
  • Ear swelling or infection
  • Scratching ears
  • Shaking head
  • Hearing loss

Just like with infections, ear mites should be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Long-term, they can spread to other parts of the body.

If your pup has ear mites, be sure to get any other pets in the household checked out as well. They are contagious between both dogs and cats.

How to Prevent Dog Ear Mites

Luckily, ear mites in dogs are preventable.

The first step is keeping your dog’s ears clean. This will keep their ears healthier all-around, decreasing their chances of ear mites, infections, and more.

Next, your pup needs to be on preventative medication. Your best bet is a regular flea and tick preventative, which will also kill ear mites.

Do Ear Mites Make Dog's Ears Smell? Yes. And they are contagious. Visit your vet for treatment.
Do Ear Mites Make Dog’s Ears Smell? Yes. And they are contagious. Visit your vet for treatment.

What Causes Dog Ear Mites?

Dogs get ear mites through contact with another animal who has them. They could catch ear mites from another dog or cat in your household or from playing with another dog at the park, for example.

Not being on a preventative medication makes your dog much more prone to ear mites, as they are highly contagious.

Do Ear Mites make Dogs’ Ears Smell?

Yes, ear mites can make dogs’ ears smell.

Your dog’s ears may smell due to ear mites, or they could have developed an infection secondary to the ear mites that is causing the smell.

Does Dog Ear Wax Smell?

If you directly smell your dog’s ears, they’re probably not ever going to smell good! However, there is a difference between the smell of a healthy dog’s ear and one that is unhealthy.

A build-up of ear wax can cause your dog’s ears to smell worse, and the scent may only be due to this. If you or your vet cleans your dog’s ears and they lose the smell, then ear wax was likely the culprit.

A Buildup of Earwax Can Cause Your Dogs Ears to Smell
A Buildup of Earwax Can Cause Your Dogs Ears to Smell

Continue to watch your dog for other symptoms like redness, discharge, and excessive scratching or shaking of their head.

Don’t ignore ear issues in your dog, as even a simple wax buildup can lead to other problems such as infection. When ear problems are left untreated, you risk your dog being in severe pain or even going deaf.

What does a Dog Ear Infection Smell Like?

The smell of a dog ear infection depends upon the type of infection. Yeast ear infections are caused by and smell like yeast.

Bacterial infections are slightly different. Sometimes they smell like something rotten. Other ear bacteria can smell sweet or fruity.

No matter what you’re smelling in your dog’s ears, it’s best to get them checked out right away to determine the cause.

A Veterinarian Can Diagnose an Ear Infection
A Veterinarian Can Diagnose an Ear Infection

My Dog’s Ears Smell like Cheese

Many people think that yeast ear infections smell like cheese. If this is what you’re smelling, bring your pup to the veterinarian as soon as you can.

They will give your pup a check-up, look in their ears, and then likely suggest a cleaning and some topical medication.

Dog ears can smell for a variety of reasons. We hope this article has helped you to take a better look at your dog’s symptoms and the potential causes of their ear odor.

Remember that only a veterinarian should diagnose and treat health conditions in your dog. There’s no replacement for their knowledge or expertise.