Why do my Dog’s Ears Smell?

Dog’s with itchy, painful ears are a fairly common occurrence at a veterinary clinic. In fact, up to 20% of dogs are living with some type of ear disease in one, or both of their ears. Knowing how to quickly recognize if your dog is starting to develop an ear infection will allow for prompt veterinary attention and treatment, giving your furry family member the relief they deserve!

How do I know if my dog has an ear infection?

Most owner’s will notice that their dog is whining, pawing at their ears, holding their head sideways, or shaking their head. However, some dogs do not show many symptoms at all, and owners will only notice a smell coming from the ears or some redness.

If you notice any of the following signs in your dog, call your veterinarian and ask about getting your dog’s ears checked:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching /pawing at the ear
  • Discharge from the ear (can be brownish, yellowish, or dark coloured)
  • Odor
  • Redness inside the ear
  • Scabs or crusts

What caused my dog’s ear infection?

Ear infections are caused by yeast or bacteria being trapped in the ear canal and multiplying in the warm, moist environment that exists there.

Many things can cause this bacterial/yeast overgrowth such as:

  • Allergies
  • Excessive moisture
  • Endocrine disease
  • Foreign material
  • Injury to the ear canal

Dogs with long ears (Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels) are prone to ear infections due to their ears staying covered most of the time.  If you own one of these breeds, check their ears frequently to make sure you catch any sign of infection early. Dogs with allergies, and those who swim also get ear infections more commonly.

How does my veterinarian diagnose an ear infection?

When you arrive at the veterinary clinic, your vet will perform a full physical exam on Fido, this includes asking you A LOT of questions about those ears. This information helps your veterinarian determine how bad the infection may be and if there is an underlying cause. The next step will likely be collecting an “ear cytology”.  To do this, your veterinarian will take a sample of the ear discharge and look at it under a microscope. This allows your vet to know exactly what is growing in the ear canal, so they can choose the appropriate medications to clear it up. Ear cytology is also useful to determine if the ear infection is responding to medication and to know when the infection is completely gone.

If your dog allows, your vet will look into the ear to see the ear canal and ear drum. This is not always possible due to infected ears being painful, and sometimes sedation is required.

How do I treat my dog’s ear infection?

Your veterinarian will use the information they gained from the history, physical exam, and ear cytology to choose an appropriate medication to treat your dog’s infection. Sometimes this will be a daily medication put into the ear canal and sometimes it will include oral medications to treat both itch and deeper, more significant infection – it all depends on what your vet finds. The length of time to treat the infection will also vary depending on the severity and type of infection. Expect to return to your veterinary clinic for rechecks to assess how the ear is healing and ensure Fido is feeling better.

One thing not to do is try to treat your dog’s ear infection at home without seeking veterinary care. Using products like rubbing alcohol, avocado/coconut oil, vinegar, or essentials oils can make the infection worse and prolong your dog’s potentially painful ear condition.