My Dog’s Ears Stink. Can you tell me what’s wrong?

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Question: My puppy has an odor inside his ears. Can you tell me what’s wrong?

Answer: An odor inside your dog's ears is often a sign that there's an infection taking place. There are a number of bacteria types that can cause a skin infection, and your local vet will be able to tell you exactly what's causing the problem, based on the odor., but it’s important that you look for redness, swelling, and drainage.

Because your puppy's ear canal is very small, a skin infection can be an even more serious problem than it normally would be for your adult dog.


By definition, an ear infection is a bacterial infestation in the inner or outer ear canal. Aside from the ear canal, the middle ear cavity contains a variety of delicate and important structures, such as the eardrum, ear ossicles, and the cochlea. Particularly with cats, an infected ear can cause serious consequences such as permanent hearing loss.

Despite the common name, ear infections are not limited to the ears only. Infections that occur under the chin and the neck are referred to as a throat infection, although they are no less serious.

The video below demonstrates the seriousness of ear infections, especially in dogs.

Ear Mites

In Dogs? 3 Major Symptoms

Ear infections aren’t just a nuisance. Your dog may be suffering a great deal if he has a painful ear infection.

Besides the pungent smell, another way to determine if your dog has an ear infection is by looking inside the ears. The ear canal will be red and swollen with some yellow or green discharge. You may also notice that the ears appear darkened or look like they’re covered in wax.

Telltale symptoms of ear infections include bad odor, scratching of the ears, red and swollen ears, and shaking of the head.

Ear infections are usually not serious, but your dog’s health, hearing, and general well-being could be compromised if his ear infection isn’t addressed. So, how do you know if your dog has an ear infection? Dog ear infection symptoms include general signs of discomfort in the affected ears. Dogs in a lot of pain may withdraw from their owners or whine, and they’ll scratch and dig at their ears. They may even shake their heads frequently or hold their ears sideways.

Dogs that are suffering from ear infections may also lose their hearing temporarily. If your dog seems to be suddenly deaf, ear infection could be the cause.

Ear “Infection”

One of the most common concerns that pet owners raise is ear smell. While you can’t tell from the smell, an ear can be either normal or it can be sick or diseased.

If you ask for help online, you’ll be sure to get numerous responses telling you exactly what smells bad. Some will insist it’s a bacterial infection. Some will insist it’s fungal. Some will insist it’s mites. The truth is that it could be any or all of the above.

The first step is knowing what’s normal for your dog. Over the next few weeks or months, perform occasional “smell tests” (without pushing down). The smell should not be present in all or even most of the ear canals. As you perform the smell test over time, you’ll start to develop a sense of what’s normal for your dog.

Detecting a smell at one or two sniff tests doesn’t tell you whether the smell is coming from a diseased ear. Some diseases have a gradual onset. They start with a small but existing ear problem. As the condition worsens over time, it results in a stinky ear.

Ceruminous Otitis

One of the most common reasons for a dog’s ears to smell bad is otitis which simply means inflammation of the ears. Otitis typically results from bacteria entering the skin lining in and around the ear canal.

The most common bacteria is a fungus called Malassezia (Mona-sse-zeh-a) which is part of the normal bacterial population of dogs’ skin. Humans and other animals are also susceptible to different fungi, but thankfully dogs are the only host to this strain.

Your dog’s hygiene will affect how often and how severely otitis flares up. A smelly ear is usually a sign of another underlying health problem apart from otitis and should be treated. Ear infections are common in dogs and if your dog’s ears smell, you should schedule a vet appointment regardless. Be prepared to go over your dog’s diet as this may have an effect on the severity of ear infections.

You can help treat otitis by cleaning the ears with an ear cleaner formulated especially for dogs. Follow manufacturers’ instructions and be extra careful when cleaning out the ear canal.

Foreign Objects

The most common reason why dog ears smell bad and develop an odor is from foreign objects or dirt that gets caught in the ear.

To pinpoint the problem, let’s take a look at how the ear works. Ears are divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear is where you see the long, floppy, dog ear flap that hangs down your dog’s ear. The outer and middle ears work together to collect and direct sound to the inner ear.

The middle ear is the area between the outer and inner ear. It includes the ear drum. This is the mechanical part where sound waves are converted into nerve impulses and sent to the brain. The inner ear is where the conversion into nerve impulses take place.

Ok, so now that we know how the ear works, let’s see how something that gets stuck in the ear may be the culprit for bad smelling ears.