Ear Odor

Every day you hug your pet, rub her belly, and enjoy little canine (or feline) kisses. But lately -- ugh! -- her ears smell like old gym socks. You don't even want to be in the same room.

Ear odors aren't so good for intimacy, but they are a valuable warning sign. They usually mean that your pet has ear mites, an ear infection, or both, says Merry Crimi, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Though dogs can get an infection caused by mites, they are more likely to get a bacterial or yeast infection. "Generally, such an infection develops after they have an allergic episode," says Dr. Crimi. In the warm months especially, when pollen in the air makes them itchy, dogs and cats may scratch their ears raw, allowing bacteria or other infection-causing organisms to move in.

Smelly ears can also occur after baths or when pets take a plunge in a nearby pond because wet ears provide a fertile environment for germs. This type of infection is most common in breeds with long, hanging ears, like cocker spaniels, since the earflaps trap moisture inside. Poodles are also prone to ear infections because they have narrow ear canals that trap bacteria-breeding wax and grime.

In some cases, dogs and cats develop polyps or tumors in the ears when they get older. If the growths prevent normal drainage, ear secretions can gradually accumulate, getting smellier over time. In fact, anything that gets inside the ear, like burrs or grass seed, can begin to fester, causing smelly sores or infections.

See Your Vet If...

  • Your pet's ears are very itchy
  • She has been swimming or has had a bath recently
  • There is bleeding inside or on one of the earflaps, or the ears are swollen
  • Your pet is frequently tilting her head or having trouble with balance
  • There is a bad smell or discharge in one or both ears
  • There is Fur loss around the ears, or the ears are scabby
  • Your pet seems to be having trouble hearing
  • Her ears are unusually tender or itchy
  • The tips of her ears are cold, white, and dry, which are signs of frostbite
  • Your pet is frequently scratching one or both ears

Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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