My Dog Has a Funny Smell Coming From His Ear

There is nothing quite like the ripe smell of infected dog ears for clearing a room! And when it's your dog that's the culprit, there is little else you will be able to focus on until you have at least gotten a handle on what the problem is and how to deal with it. A few easy steps should have you well on your way to a solution.

What to Look For

When your goal is to thoroughly examine your dog's ears, start by observing your dog at rest. Concentrate on how he holds his ears and moves them before you even attempt to approach them yourself.

When your dog is awake, grab a flashlight and some treats or toys. Your next step is to gain your dog's trust and calm him while preparing to focus on the physical exam of his ears. Try talking to him soothingly while you pet him elsewhere. Gradually work your way closer to the ears in a casual, relaxed manner. Food bribes and chew treats are often wonderful distractions.

Since the smell is what first drew you to them, follow your nose to the areas that seem the most pungent. Explore the entire area of his head associated with his external ears before moving on to the inside of his ears. Once there, get a close look at the full extent of his internal ears and as far into his ear canals as your eyes, a flashlight, and your dog's tolerance will allow.

What to Do

Now ask yourself a few questions to figure out how to proceed:

  • Did your exam reveal any puncture wounds or lacerations? Infected wounds are a common source of foul ear odor.

Start by cleaning the wounds and treating them, following the directions supplied in “How to Clean a Wound” and “How to Dress a Wound” [not available online]. If the wounds are too serious or disgusting, leave them to your veterinarian to treat appropriately.

  • Did you notice accumulated blood, pus, or other discharge inside your dog's ears? Fungal and bacterial infections of the ears, as well as mite infestation, can result in the accumulation of a significant amount of discharge and debris. Fungal (often yeast) infections usually cause a fermenting smell with a brown, waxy discharge that can border on being quite soupy. Bacterial (often staphylococcal) infections are also quite stinky. The discharge is usually pus, which is yellowish to green. These infections tend to need both topical and systemic therapy. Get your dog in to see his vet within a few days.

Mite infestations can also be the original problem in ear infections. The characteristic sign is that the material in your dog's ears is granular and dark brown, like coffee grounds. If this is the case, follow the directions in “How to Treat Your Dog's Mites” [not available online].


Always be cautious when you manipulate ears that you suspect are infected. They can be quite sensitive!

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