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Dog Ear Infections: Otitis Externa, Also Known As “Stinky Ear”

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At some point in nearly all dog’s lives, you’re going to encounter the dreaded Stinky Ear! But, not to worry, it’s not usually serious, is very common, and is easily treatable – and avoidable with regular maintenance and cleaning of your pup’s ears. We found some great information about the dog ear infections, Otitis Externa, at PetsMD. As always, if your dog is experiencing any unusual itchiness, redness, or smells, check with your veterinarian for the proper course of action and treatment.

Dog Ear Infections: Otitis Externa, Also Known As “Stinky Ear”


Ear infections that are external, meaning outside of the ear canal are one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. The medical term for this is Otitis Externa which is the inflammation of the ear canal.  Ear infections can occur in any breed, but those with large floppy ears are more prone to developing this condition.


There are many reasons for your dog’s ear to become infected.  Some of the most common causes for an external ear infection are the following:

  • Allergies, including a food allergy.
  • Parasites such as ear mites.
  • Presence of bacteria and/or yeast and a certain type of fungus.
  • Foreign bodies such as a plant fiber.
  • Trauma
  • Excessive moisture present in the ear. This is common is breeds that swim often.


The most common signs and symptoms of an ear infection are the following:

  • Foul odor present in the ear(s)
  • Scratching or rubbing the ears and head
  • Discharge in the ears than is yellow, green or white.
  • Redness or swelling of the ear flap or canal
  • Excessive shaking of the head or tilting it to one side
  • Pain around the ears and head.
  • Depression
  • Aggressive behavior when head and ears are touched.


A diagnosis will begin with a complete physical exam and medical history given to your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian will most likely to the following:

  • Exam with Otoscope – This is an instrument that will allow for visualization of the ear canal and the eardrum.  This is normally a painless procedure, however your dog may say otherwise if his/her ear is infected.  It may be necessary to sedate if it does prove too painful.  The otoscope is useful to determine if there is any foreign body in the ear. 
  • Ear swab and Cytology – A sample of the material that is in the ear will be examined under a microscope in order to determine if there are mites, bacteria or yeast in the ear.  Based on the findings a variety of treatments will be recommended.
  • Culture & Sensitivity – This test is often run when there is a long standing history of ear infections.  This test helps determine what drugs are going to be most effective in clearing the infection.


Treatments can vary for ear infections, but these are the general treatments for the common ear infections:

  • Foreign body, wax plug, parasite. Sedation is needed in order to remove one of these items.  This is usually done in a day’s visit, and your dog should be able to return home the same night.  A course of oral antibiotics may be given following removal, as wells and oral anti-inflammatories and on occasion if the case is severe and short dose of oral steroids.
  • Bacteria, Yeast or Fungus. In these cases the ears are generally flushed clean with some medicated flush and ear medication is instilled into the ear(s).  Again, this might include sedation in order to assure the ears are completely clean.  A course of oral antibiotics may be given following cleaning, as well as oral anti-inflammatories and on occasion if the case is severe and short dose of oral steroids.  It is most common to have ear medications, and you may be prescribed ear cleaner to use at home.  (You can find information on how to clean your dog’s ear on this website.)

Generally speaking most types of ear infections can be managed successfully with the proper medications, and follow up visits to your veterinarian.


One of the best ways of preventing ear infections is by keeping your dog’s ears clean and treating them on a monthly basis with an ear mite preventive.

Do you have any experience with a dog ear infection, or otitis externa? Describe the symptoms and your treatment below for our other readers!

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