Q&A: My dog’s ears smell bad. What could be the cause?

Q. My dog’s ears smell bad. What could be the cause?

A. Dogs have ceruminous glands inside their ear canals that produce wax. Sometimes, when drainage from the ear canals is not adequate, bacteria or yeasts can overgrow in the ear canal, making it smell really bad. Certain conditions, like allergies, can also increase yeast and bacterial overgrowth, leading to smelly ears. Ear mites, especially in puppies, may also cause an odour. Ear mites in a puppy can hyper-sensitise the ears (in certain breeds) for infections or itchy ears later in life!

If the ear canals are inflamed or sensitive or you notice a discharge, you should have it checked by a vet. Owners can watch for other clinical signs – these include excessive head shaking, excessive ear scratching, pain to the touch, sploshy ear canals with moisture inside them and even haematomas.

Treatment will depend on the diagnosis by your vet. For bacterial infections, antibiotics should be prescribed. Sometimes we treat what we see and see what remains. If there is infection, treat for it and reassess a week later. Sometimes secondary infection hides the underlying cause. Allergies can cause chronic recurrent ear infections. Moisture as a result of hairy ear canals or swimming can also cause recurrent ear infections. Often ear allergies and excess moisture can be treated effectively by topical corticosteroids, topical antibiotics, or topical ear flushes to enhance drainage.

Very often ear problems need to be constantly controlled and cannot be cured. A dog with an external ear canal infection will most likely have reoccurrences as a result of allergies, seasonal changes, swimming, or poor breed conformation, like hairy ear canals in Poodles or folding ear canals in Bassets.

Dr Jurie Grobler, Eastleigh


Q. I have decided to change my brand of dog food. Can I simply switch in one day, or will this affect my dog’s stomach?

A. When changing from any brand of food, integration over several days is highly recommended, as it helps your dog get used to the change in taste and ingredients (this is particularly beneficial for sensitive dogs), and reduces the chance of tummy upsets.

The correct way to integrate food is by gradually introducing it over a number of days, ideally four to seven days. Start with the bulk of your dog’s meal made up by his current brand (or a diet he’s accustomed to and enjoys), and add a small portion of his new food to it. As the days progress, keep adding more of the new food brand and less of the old one until you are only feeding the new diet.

Give your dog enough time to get used to the new food. Not all dogs are the same and some dogs take more time to adjust to a new food. Unless your dog is experiencing some sort of bad reaction to the new food (in which case you should discontinue feeding immediately), follow the ‘15 Minute Meal Rule’. Leave the food down for a maximum of 15 minutes and take it away after that. If he hasn’t eaten, he misses out until the next meal. In the majority of cases, dogs very quickly learn that they have a limited time to eat and persevering with this method is a sure-fire way to remedy ‘pickiness’.

It is well worthwhile persevering if the food you are changing to is a healthier one (we know many children won’t choose salad over sweets, yet it’s important to persevere). The most palatable food isn’t always the healthiest. It can take time for your dog to adapt his taste. A hungry animal will eat. If you’re following the ‘15 Minute Meal Rule’ and your dog has not responded by the end of the second day, or if he looks listless or is showing any other symptoms, take him for a check-up at the vet as his reluctance to eat may have medical causes.

Dr Sarah Miller, veterinarian


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