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What Do A Dog's Smelly Ears Mean

Updated on October 18, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


Oh oh, Healthy Ears Don't Have An Odor

You're "sharing a moment" with your dog; giving a good head rub or ear scratch, cootchie-cooing him, and playing huggy bear and kissy face. But the moment is ruined by the heartbreak of ear odor.

If you're like a lot of folks, you figure it's normal for a dog's ears to smell rather unpleasant, especially for a floppy-eared breed such as a cocker spaniel, where there isn't a lot of air flow into the canal.

The fact is, though, that healthy ears don't have an offensive odor, and if your dog's ears do smell offensive, there's probably something cooking there that isn't good. And ears are something that owners shouldn't mess around with. At least a call to the vet is in order.

Veterinarians tend to see more instances of ear problems in the summer, due to a few factors. Dogs spend more time out of doors where there's plenty of low foliage and tall grass for them to romp through, insects are present, and many dogs love to swim.


Dogs are naturally adapted for a life out of doors, and their ears are constructed with that in mind.

The canal is shaped sort of like a loosely flexed arm to protect the inner ear from the conditions described in the previous paragraph.

Roaming through tall grass and brush exposes the ears to seeds and other plant debris that can enter the canal and cause problems.

The purpose of vertical and horizontal canals is to prevent the stuff from reaching the inner ear, but it doesn't always work.

Have you ever had “swimmer’s ear?” Swimming can give a dog “swimmer’s ear,” too. And once the debris, insects or water do get deep into the ear, they may not work their way out.

The result can be anything ranging from mild discomfort to a serious infection.

Or, it may not be a foreign body at all. The lining of the ear is simply an extension of your dog's skin, and a skin problem can migrate to the ear canal.

Another possibility is that an ear infection is in progress, or that ear mites are present, and a third scenario would involve a systemic problem such as hypothyroidism.

If your dog's ears smell bad you'll probably notice other symptoms, as well.

He may scratch constantly at, behind or below the ears, he may rub his ear along the ground, or he may shake his head.

He may seem off balance or disoriented and may react negatively to an ear rub or head scratch, or, conversely, he may react enthusiastically, leaning in towards the hand.

If he lets you near his ears, look for a discharge. Whether or not a discharge is present, if the dog shows signs of an ear problem, don't delay in making a call to the vet.

When the vet examines the dog, he'll often use a topical anesthetic that will allow the introduction of an otoscope and other instruments into the ear without making the dog go ballistic. In some cases a general anesthetic is required.

Using the otoscope, the vet can get a good look inside the ear canal, all the way to the ear drum, to examine it for infection or foreign bodies.

If a foreign body is present, the vet may pass forceps through the cone-shaped attachment on the otoscope to grab it.

If he sees evidence of an infection, he'll probably take a swab of discharge for microscopic examination, since infections can have any of a number of origins.

There are yeasts, bacteria, and even parasites such as ear mites that can cause ear infections.


In order to prescribe a course of treatment, your vet will have to determine the cause of the infection. This having been accomplished, the actual treatment will probably be administered by you.

Said treatment will likely involve flushing the ears with a special cleansing solution and instilling drops of medication.

Treatment can be required for up to three weeks. During that period, your vet may have to see the dog to be sure the treatment is working.

So, if you get up close and personal with your dog, and detect an odor coming from the ears, the dog may be in some degree of discomfort and could be headed for trouble. It's time to call the vet.

Does Your Pet Get Treated For Chronic Ear Problems?

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© 2012 Bob Bamberg


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    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      I'll bet many besides me are curious as to how this will turn out, Honeypots.

    • profile image

      Honeypots 3 months ago

      Thank you Bob , I truly hope someone out there has some kind of solution ill be taking him to yet another vet specialist and in hopes someone can help me I'm at wits ends at the point i have well over 6000$ in vet expenses and medications and no answers to his issues other then well lets try this new medicine NO i want something fixed here not more medicine that will only help him while he is on it. I'm so frustrated !!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      What a frustrating dilemma, Honeypots! I wish I could offer additional information, but there's nothing I know beyond what 6 vets would know. The journey you're on could be the subject of a hub that could prove helpful to other pet owners. I hope they can find a solution to your dog's ear problem soon. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • profile image

      Honeypots 3 months ago

      I have a German Shepherd that is a rescue Dog when i got him the point of his ears was molded to the inside of his ear the infection was so bad it took me well over 8 weeks to clean all the crap out of his ears, I took him to vet and they gave him multiple meds, pain, steroids,antibiotics which helped very little, the ears cleared up somewhat during this time, but then once off the meds here we go again, its been 7 months now 6 vets later and still same issue i have tried everything on the market there is and he has been on numerous antibiotics , the last vet i took him to i insisted they change his medication and do a biopsy which none of the others had done, at this point I'm frustrated i do not know what to do his ears stay infected and the dog can not live on medicine the rest of his life without anyone being able to help. Please if there is a Vet or someone with knowledge out there let me know. i am to take him back to the vet again, where the tip of ear is underneath is badly infected and i feel they need to crop the ear off or something but they say oh I'm sorry we need to get the infection under control first ok well your remedies of antibiotics, steroids and pain meds only work while he is on the medicine, so PLEASE someone help i want him better so i can have him out playing ball etc.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for checking in JThomp42, and thanks for the votes. Regards, Bob

    • profile image

      JThomp42 5 years ago

      Good to know. Voted up.