Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes
Any foul smell coming from your pup is normally a telltale sign something isn’t right! Of course, just like us humans, your pup can be the culprit of that bad release of gas that stinks out the entire room, but when the smell is coming from their mouths, paws, anal glands, or ears, that’s when you need to take action.
In fact, if you notice any smell coming from your pet’s ears, it's a huge indicator that there could be a serious health problem. Cheese, vinegar, metal, or honey (sweet) are some of the more common noticeable odors, and they all indicate different issues...
Smelly ears are commonly a result of an infection, perpetuated by swollen ear canals. If any part of the ear or ear canals become infected, inflamed or affected by underlying diseases (such as allergies or hormonal diseases), it can lead to foul smells! This inflammation of the external ear canals is known as otitis externa...
"Foul smelling ears are often an indication of otitis externa. This can be caused by primary, secondary, perpetuating and predisposing factors. Primary causes include allergies, parasitic infestations, autoimmune diseases, hormonal disorders, foreign objects trapped, alongside many others. Secondary causes include bacteria and yeast proliferation within the ear canals due to inflammation from the primary cause. Perpetuating causes include inflammation of the ear canal, scarring of the lining and inadequate self-cleaning of the canal, occurring as a consequence to ear disease.
Predisposing causes include long hairy ears, humid environment, obstructions and physical damage from cleaning, which increase chances of otitis recurring. All of these factors need to be considered in the treatment of ear disease because if they are not managed, otitis will fail to respond to therapy and will become recurring."
Let's take a look in depth at some of the main causes of doggy ear inflammation...
Earwax plays an extremely important part when it comes to the health of your pup’s ears. Wax is naturally developed by the body to moisturize the skin around the ear canal, preventing discomfort and irritation from itchy, dry ears… Plus, the chemicals found in the soft substance can fight off aggressors and infection.
Acting like a shield for the eardrum, this light-brown wax can sometimes overdevelop and build up if your pet’s self-cleaning ability becomes disrupted. This is when changes in color and volume may occur, becoming yellow or reddish-brown, weeping out of the ear. If the balance is not corrected, this excess wax can predispose them to becoming infected, resulting in foul odors.
Bacterial infections often involve more than one type of bacteria, normally causing a sweet-honey or rotten meat smell to radiate from the ear. Accompanied by swelling, redness, itchy, and sometimes pain, bacterial infections need medical attention as soon as possible - requiring antibiotic ear drops and treatment. If you begin to notice a horrid smell along with excess discharge and clinical signs of an infection (e.g. ear shaking, circling, scratching), visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Another common sign your pet is suffering from a bacterial infection is rubbing their ears across the floor or on the wall, also shaking their head or reluctance to having their ear touched due to pain and discomfort.
Candida albicans is a yeast that is present on most living things – including us humans and our furry friends. Now, although the word fungus makes you think of mold, it is in fact a normal and healthy party of the skin and gut. The key to healthy yeast is balance, but when the immune system falters due to stress or illness, yeast can grow out of control, causing all sorts of clinical signs of skin disease;
Before you start to panic, yeast infections are not fatal, but they can lead to other health issues and complications that will need your immediate attention.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include;
If you believe your pooch to have a yeast infection within their ear, please visit your veterinarian as soon as possible so that they’re able to diagnose the problem and help your furry friend get back to full - non-smelly ear - health.
Another common cause for bad-smelling dog ears is an allergy – environmental or dietary. Almost half of the canine ear infections are caused by an allergic reaction due to thriving bacteria and yeast. For both of these potentially harmful aggressors to grown, they need the optimum environment... And an allergic reaction is perfect for providing this.
When allergens react trigger your pup’s immune system, the molecular immune mediators within the body will try to fight off the aggressor. This natural reaction can lead to excess moisture and swelling within the ear canal, where yeast and bacteria thrive under humid conditions, resulting in an colonisation and infection, along with sweet or rancid odor. This natural reaction can lead to excess moisture within the ear canal, where yeast and bacteria can thrive, resulting in an infection, along with sweet or rancid odor.
Ear infections commonly go hand-in-hand with allergies, as the ears are an extension of the skin. About 50% of dogs with allergic dermatitis suffer with recurring ear disease and 80% of dogs that have food sensitivities do too. Allergies predispose dogs to very severe ear infections so this may be something to consider in the long-term in order to get your pup’s issues under control.
The most noticeable signs your pup is suffering with allergies and causing further pathology within the ears include;
If you believe your pup is suffering from allergies and these are affecting the ear, please visit your veterinarian as soon as possible so that they can help identify the trigger and eliminate it from your pup’s environment. They’ll also be able to administer any necessary medicines and ointments to clear the infection and reduce the swelling within the ear canal.
If your dog has a gunky, smelly ear and a sudden onset of shaking their head constantly, this may indicate they have a grass seed down the canal! Grass seeds are notorious for getting into places they shouldn’t, and are a very common problem especially in the summer months. They are most commonly seen to get trapped inside the ear, the eye, in between the toes and in the skin. Because of their one directional dart-like shape they are sharp enough to penetrate the skin or a crevice, but they cannot come out themselves and instead keep migrating forwards. This can cause swelling, abscesses and infections if not found and removed early!
If an ear infection is present and your pup is scratching at their ears and even circling to one side, it is important to go to the vet so they can have a look down the ear canal to see that there isn’t a pesky grass seed stuck inside. They’ll often need to be removed by the vet, as well as giving your pup the necessary medication to reduce swelling and clear the infection. Make sure you don’t ignore the signs because grass seeds can become VERY painful for your pup, and may damage the internal structures (such as the ear drum) leading to serious problems further down the line.
Your dog’s ear canal is similar to the letter ‘L’. No matter what breed, all canine ears will have this shape formation. However, due to this design, there are areas of the ear canal, deep within that is the perfect environment for fungus and bacteria to grow.
If your pooch loves to take a swim in the lake when you’re out for walkies, or you might have sprayed water into their ear while giving them a wash, this excess water can easily get trapped in the dark, deep area of the ‘L’ creating the perfect environment for bacteria to colonise and cause an infection (otitis externa), leading to foul smelling ears and the other symptoms associated with ear infections.
Dogs with floppy ears; Beagles, Basset hounds, English cocker spaniels, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels are more prone to ear infections, as their pendulous ears restrict air flow and moisture is trapped easily within the canal.
As you can see from above, there are many different potential causes of smelly dog ears. From sweet to putrid, any pungent smell emitting from your pup’s ears is a cause for concern. Seeking medical advice is paramount to help you resolve the issue, as a neglected ear infection or illness could lead to hearing loss…
However, there are also things you can do at home to help your pet’s ear health - but we do recommend you talk to your vet before you start putting anything inside your fur baby’s ear!
A great way to help your pet fight the cause of smelly ears is simply adding probiotics to their diet. Packed with beneficial nutrients and bacteria that is naturally found in the gut, adding a probiotic to your pet’s meal can seriously improve their overall health – and give their natural defenses the tools to combat infection, whilst keeping healthy bacteria balanced.
When your dog’s gut is in perfect working condition, their entire body will function better - which is why probiotics are so important and an integral supplement to add to your pet’s life.
A balanced diet plays an essential role in maintaining your pup’s ear health – and keeping the bad smells at bay! Doggies are omnivores, meaning they should not survive on meat alone and need meat, veg and carbohydrates to have a nutritious diet and obtain all the vitamins they need. But, if they have a poor-quality substandard diet or are fed high levels of sugary treats, this create an environment where bad bacteria thrive and multiply, leading to bacterial imbalances and even recurring infections.
With this being said, if your pup has recurrent ear infections or certain sensitivities you can purchase a ‘Sensitive Skin & Stomach’ feed, for example, from many reputable companies, which only use high-quality ingredients and protein sources. These feeds are proven to support skin health and protect skin barrier function from allergens. They often contain high levels of Omega-3s and Omega-6s to strengthen the skin barrier and break the cycle of inflammation. They also typically contain Vitamin E which is an antioxidant. This vitamin helps neutralize toxic free-radicals in the skin. This kind of food is great for dogs with chronic skin and ear conditions, so it’s worth looking into this.
You can get in touch with the company’s advisory team or your vet if you have any specific questions about each type of food and the alternative protein sources they have available. If your dog has a specific meat or grain allergy and you need an alternative source of protein or carbohydrates, you should consult with your vet on what they should be eating.
If you notice any smell coming from your dog’s ears, it is normally a sign that something is wrong with the sensitive inner ear and will need your attention as soon as possible. By adding a probiotic to their daily routine and making sure you’re giving them a balanced, well-rounded diet, you should be able to help your furry friend combat any potential infections or irritants that can upset their ears!