Can Dogs Smell Ear Infections?

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Introduction

You knew that your dog had an amazing sense of smell - but just how amazing is it? You might have heard stories about doggos sniffing out illnesses, sicknesses, cancers, and more, and we're here to tell you that that's all true. Your dog, with his or her amazing nose, is totally able to sniff out when you're sick, on your way to getting ill, or if you might have some sort of medical condition. 

With that knowledge, it should come as no surprise that your dog is perfectly capable of sniffing out an ear infection on you or another animal before you're even aware of it yourself. Want a better idea of how dogs can be trained to sniff out illnesses? Want to know what signs your dog might be giving you to let you know you're developing an ear infection? Read on!

Signs You Dog is Sniffing Out an Ear Infection

Because your dog's sense of smell is incredible, they're able to pick up on the tiny changes that are happening in your body. You might not know it, but tiny, physiological changes in your body give off a certain smell, and your dog, with a nose that can smell about 100,000 times stronger than yours, is certainly picking up on those changes. 

If your dog is smelling some kind of change in your ear canals, you can expect them to pay a ton of attention to the affected ear. That means your pup will likely spend tons of his or her time sniffing at your ear, licking your ear, trying to get a good look at it, and overall obsessing with your infection. 

Your pup will likely be relaxed, but alert, and you can expect him or her to raise their nose to help better smell the area, or even tilt their head to concentrate on the smells around them. Your pup might also point his or her tail high and forgo wagging in order to better focus on the scent. 

Body Language

Here's some body language cues your dog might be giving you if they're trying to alert you to an ear infeciton:
  • Alert
  • Guarding
  • Sniffing
  • Raise ears
  • Licking
  • Ears up

Other Signs

There are a few other signs your dog might give you as well if they are trying to alert you to a physiological change in your ear:
  • Laying on you
  • Obsessive and incessant licking or sniffing
  • Pawing at you

History of Dogs Smelling Illnesses

Dogs, regardless of their breed, have a more acute sense of smell than humans do. Dogs evolved from wolves over 10,000 years ago, though they still retain traits like superior senses of smell. Because of this, and because humans took notice of dogs' abilities quite some time ago, dogs have been used in the medical field for years to sniff out particular illnesses. 

In fact, in 1989, according to the Canada Free Press, a woman whose dog kept sniffing out a mole on her leg was able to avoid a serious cancer diagnosis. Because the dog was avid about sniffing the mole - and trying to bite it off when he could - she went to the doctor get it checked out and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. 

In 2006, five dogs were even trained to detect cancer based on breath samples. According to Nancy Dreschel, a veterinarian in Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University, dogs are now able to detect bladder cancer in humans just by smelling their urine. 

The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Ear Infections

Dogs are able to detect acute, tiny changes in physiology because every change in your body will give off a particular odor. These scents, although impossible for us to smell, are easily picked up by animals - dogs especially. When people and animals develop ear infections, there are plenty of scents going on that your dog can pick up on. 

For example, an ear infection might cause a buildup of wax (which certainly has a particular smell), a buildup of infected puss, strange discharge, and even more substances that aren't normally produced by your body. Your dog, with his or her nose that contains over 200 - 300  million receptor sites, has the ability to pick up chemistry changes that our noses (with only about 6 million receptor sites) just can't.

Training Your Dog to Sniff Out Illnesses

If you're interested in training your dog to detect illnesses, we first and foremost suggest getting them enrolled in a special program led by a behaviorist or specialist so that they can properly be trained and certified. 

Scientists, doctors, and researchers will use different means to train dogs to detect certain strains of illnesses, and typically, that will include access to small containers of blood plasma, urine samples, or sputum (one of which is cancerous). When a dog stops sniffing and sits in front of a cancerous or illness-ridden sample, the dog will be rewarded. 

There are, however, ways that you can help your dog learn how to associate certain smells with certain reactions without working with a team of professionals. First, try to get your dog to associate playing with a specific toy as a reward. Do this multiple times a day until your dog recognizes playing with his or her favorite toy as a reward for a job well done. 

Next, implement a particular scent into the toy. Ensure that your dog is associating the scent with the toy by consistently adding it to the toy. Then, try hiding the toy and training your pup to give you a specific signal when they locate that toy with the scent. Reward your dog when they do this with, you guessed it, the toy. The next step is simply to hide the scent somewhere and reward your dog with the toy when they sniff it out. 

How to React if You Think Your Dog is Sniffing Out an Ear Infection:

  • Don't ignore your dog! If your dog is paying special attention to a certain area, you might want to get it checked out by a doctor. You might end up thanking your dog in the long run!
  • Make sure your dog is in good health to keep their sniffer in good shape, too.
  • Reward your dog for letting you know about your ear infection. Even if your dog is wrong, give your dog the proper reward for attempting to sniff out a scent.