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What are Foul Smelling Ears?

Is that foul smell really coming from Fido or Fifi?  The short and simple answer is yes and it could be coming from various locations on your canine family member: ears, mouth or anal area.  

There are a number of things which can cause foul smells in those areas but in particular, a strong odor coming from the ears of your canine can mean illnesses ranging from mites to ear infection. A condition concerning the ears must be evalauated in order to avoid loss of hearing or balance.

Foul smelling ears in dogs can be the result of a number of issues with your canine family member and some of those issues can be serious.

Symptoms of Foul Smelling Ears in Dogs

There are a number of things which can cause the canine ear to become stinky.  Here are some of the symptoms you may notice:

  • Persistent scratching sometimes to the point of being obsessive
  • Red and irritated areas from constant scratching
  • Open scratch wounds or sores 
  • Pain or tenderness when the ears are touched or rubbed
  • Sour smell similar to the smell of sourdough starter
  • Vigorous head shaking or rubbing ears on the carpet
  • Dark discharge or darkened and excessive amounts of earwax

Types

 

There are several types of conditions which can result in foul smelling ears in dogs:

  • Ear infections - This can be bacterial or fungal in nature; yeast infections are among the fungal organisms which are known to afflict canines

  • Parasitic infestations - This can include fleas, ticks, mites and a variety of other parasites
  • Cuts, abrasions and other wounds in the ear canal - These can result from nail injuries from the persistent scratching that accompanies ear infections 

  • Cancer
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Causes of Foul Smelling Ears in Dogs

Ear infections are the most common cause of foul smelling ears in canines.  These infections can come from:

  • Various bacterial organisms which are common to the skin and ear canal of the canine can take advantage of opportunities created by abrasions, cuts and other wounds allow the bacteria to cause an infection
  • Fungal organisms - There are a variety of fungal organisms which are known to cause stinky ears in your canine family member, one of which  is yeast

  • Ear mites and other parasites can cause parasitic infections which will produce a foul smell
  • Earwax buildup - Periodic cleaning of your pet’s ears may keep this cause under control

  • Allergies - This can include food allergies as well as inhaled irritating allergens
  • Trauma to the ear
  • Hormonal abnormalities - This would include hypothyroidism

  • Ear environment - This includes moisture which is retained or other ear environment which prevents the normal natural cleaning process that is built into the canine ear
  • Hereditary conditions, immune issues and tumors
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Diagnosis of Foul Smelling Ears in Dogs

Any ear infection has the potential to not only affect the outer ear, but also can go deeper into the middle and inner ear components.  It is for this reason that, if any of the above symptoms are noted, it is vitally important to get veterinary medical advice and treatment.  

It is important for you to be prepared to give your veterinary professional detailed information about the symptoms you’ve noticed, the severity and the duration.  Noting if the symptoms came on suddenly or more gradually will be helpful for your vet, too.  He might also need to know about the dietary regimen you’re feeding your canine family member, as well as exercise routines, bedding materials and any hereditary issues if known.  Providing as complete a health and vaccination history as possible will be very helpful as well unless the attending vet has access to that information.

Your vet will do a physical examination and may order blood testing to rule out some of the systemic (hormonal) issues and determine if the infection is bacterial, fungal or parasitic.  Once he has all of the results of his preferred testing, he will develop and initiate a treatment plan.

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Treatment of Foul Smelling Ears in Dogs

Treatment for foul smelling ears in dogs will be dependent upon the cause which has been determined by your veterinary professional.  Here are some components of the treatment plan you might see:

  • If the cause is simply dirty ears, your vet will likely clean your pet’s ears and give you a cleaning regimen to follow along with a cleaning schedule with which to use it
  • If the cause has been determined to be a bacterial infection, your vet will administer antibiotics either orally or by injection and there may be some administration of oral antibiotics which you will need to do at home for a specific period of time
  • If the cause is found to be fungal in nature, fungicides will be administered by your vet and perhaps by you at home
  • If a foreign body is determined to be the cause, removal of the foreign body will ensue and may be followed by a course of antibiotics if a bacterial infection is anticipated
  • If parasites are at the root of the foul smell coming from the ears of your pet, appropriate treatment will be provided for them
  • If hormonal imbalances, hereditary issues or tumors are found to be at fault for those smelly ears, appropriate medications and procedures will be recommended
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Recovery of Foul Smelling Ears in Dogs

Recovery of your canine family member from foul smelling ears is generally considered to be good, provided diagnosis and appropriate treatment are given in a timely manner.  The longer an ear infection is allowed to fester and deepen, the chances of deeper middle and inner ear damage is higher and the damage caused in these sensitive areas can be serious and permanent.  In the event that the cause is cancer, the prognosis for your pet will depend upon the type and extent of the cancer progression.

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Foul Smelling Ears Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Labrador Retriever

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One and a half

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Itching

Really itchy ear, head shaking, yellow/brown discharge, metallic smell

Sept. 11, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Thank you for your question. It sounds like your dog has developed an ear infection. You are going to want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so they can examine the ear, run an ear cytology to see if there is a bacterial or yeast overgrowth, and then they can prescribe appropriate medications to treat the ear infection. I hope he feels better soon.

Sept. 11, 2020

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German Shepherd/Border Collie

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Drainage And Bad Smell

I noticed this morning that my dogs ears had a lot of drainage, kind of waxy, and when I started cleaning them I also noticed the awful smell. Is this signs of an ear infection? What can I do?

July 15, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear about your dog's ears! Without examining your dog, it's very difficult for me to know for sure what might be going on. What you describe could certainly be consistent with an ear infection. If there is a smell, your dog needs to have ear swabs checked by a veterinarian so that they know what kind of infection it is (a certain type of bacteria vs. yeast) so that they can prescribe the most effective medication. I recommend calling your vet and scheduling an appointment to have your dog seen. They should be able to help! I hope your pup starts feeling better soon.

July 15, 2020

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Cooper

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Maltese

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Redness
Itching
Unable To Sleep
Discomfor

My dog Cooper has an ear infection . I dont know the cause for it , it's only on his left ear and it is extremely red .His ears are already clean but it been an extreme discomfort for him . He was unable to sleep through the night . What treatment or method should I seek for Cooper ?

June 23, 2018

Cooper's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

You should ensure that Cooper’s ears are kept clean, however you should visit your Veterinarian to get some ear drops or systemic treatment to help against the ear infection; regular cleaning can only do so much as sometimes prescription medications are required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 24, 2018

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One

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Jack russel + Chihuahua

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12 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Smelly Ears
Wet Ears

My dog recently had something go into his paw and he licked it for over 3 hours before leaving it alone. There was nothing i could see. Now his ears smell like salmon and are wet on the outside. So i'm​ confused wheath​e​r or not he just needs a bath?

April 21, 2018

One's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I'm not sure how his ears and his paw may be related, without seeing One, but given the signs that you are describing, it may be a good idea to give him a bath, and if the smell and wetness isn't resolving, to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they will be able to look at him and determine what might be going on with him.

April 21, 2018

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Sophie

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Shih Tzu

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9 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Foul Oder From Ears
Constant Scratching
Rubbing On Carpets And Couch

My dog is constantly scratching her ears or rubbing on the couch and carpets, sometimes till the point where it bleeds or is badly irritated. There is a foul oder coming from it aswell but the problem is that i live on a small island and the recourses here arent that good, ive taken her to the vet before but i feel as if they havent done anything to help (i havent recieved any medicine or even been told what is wrong with her) and they charge almost $400 each visit please can you give me any advice on anything that will help her.

March 7, 2018

Sophie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. It sounds like Sophie may have an ear infection, or mites. Infections can be bacterial, or fungal, and often do require topical therapy - if you have seen a veterinarian recently, you can call them and let them know that the problem is still occurring and that you do need medication to help relieve her problem. I hope that you are able to get some relief for her.

March 7, 2018

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Bonnie

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Maltese Shih Tzu

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Odor
Ear Scratching
Ear Odour

I normally clean my dog's ears after giving her a bath with a soft cotton ball but this evening I tried the ear solution that I bought from a pet store. It's antibacterial. I used the solution as per the instructions. My dog's ears normally musky but after the drops today, they smell like vinegar. Is it because of the drops that tricker the vinegar smell or has my dog always had the infection? Please advise. Thanks very much.

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Zukii

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Anatolian Pyrenees

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Redness
Ear Itching
Painful
Foul Smell

My dog has a lot of black ear wax build up in her ears. One if her ears is worse than the other, and they also stink really bad! I took her to the vet and they gave me an ear cleaner, but that didn't work.

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