Ask the Vet: Preventing Stinky Dog Ears

| April 24, 2012

Dr. Lauren - Ask the VetDr. Lauren, a local veterinarian, answers user questions about pet health.

We are having a hard time keeping our dog’s ears from getting stinky.  She had this problem when she was younger and our vet said it was from yeast.  What can we do?

Ear infections are the one of the most commonly diagnosed medical problems we see.  Ear disease affects about 1 in every 5 dogs, and 5 to 10% of cats as well.

The technical name for this problem is otitis externa (literally inflammation of the external ear canal).  The signs are shaking the head, scratching at the ears, and discharge from the ear canals.  The discharge can be cream-colored fluid or thick brown wax depending on the bacteria or yeast involved in the infection.  These ears will often have an unpleasant musty odor to them.

The organisms that are infecting the ears are typically yeast or cocci type bacteria, which normally live on the skin of the ear canal, but which have multiplied out of control.  There is nearly always some underlying disease that caused the ear to be inflamed and allowed these otherwise harmless bugs to flourish into an infection.  The underlying cause can be as simple as getting water or some foreign material into the ear, but most often it is some form of allergic disease.  Allergic skin disease in the dog can be from food allergies or from pollens, molds, dust, etc. that are in the air the pet breathes.

Regardless of the cause, treatment involves getting the ear canal clean, and removing the inflammation.  The third component of treatment will be antibiotics for bacterial infections or antifungals for yeast infections.  In either case it is important for us to recheck the ear to be certain the infection is gone. Cleaning the ears can sometimes be done easily with an ear cleanser if the discharge is mild, but many times will require cleaning with an agent that breaks up the ear wax and then repeated flushing to remove it all.  If the wax build up is heavy or the ear is painful to the touch this is best accomplished by your veterinarian.

Once the ear infection is eliminated, weekly inspection of the ear canal at home is needed to catch any recurrence early so that it can be treated.  In pets with recurring ear infections with a suspected allergic component, a food trial with a hypoallergenic diet or allergy testing may be indicated.  Although the up front cost for this is higher than the cost of treating ear infections, in the long run it will save you money, and just as important, make your dog’s life more enjoyable.

My cat, Leroy, hates getting into his carrier and going to the vet.  How can I make this a pleasant experience for everyone involved?

In the United States, there are millions more owned cats than owned dogs, yet cats visit veterinarians less frequently than dogs. Contributing to the decrease in cat visits is the stress associated with getting the cat to the veterinary practice.  In fact, 60% of cat owners report that their cat hates going to the veterinarian and 38% of cat owners report that they get stressed just thinking about bringing their cat to the practice, according to a 2011 study.  The American Association of Feline Practitioners have recently launched a Cat Friendly Practice Program to minimize the stress the veterinary visit places on both clients and feline patients.  To find a cat friendly practice in our area visit

Here are some tips to help Leroy begin to enjoy his carrier and vet visit!

1. Start carrier training as young as possible. Starting as kittens teaches your pet that the carrier is just another fun hiding place, or play area, rather than a confined punishment space. Carriers that load from the top or especially those that come apart are helpful, as veterinarians can then take the top off and start their examination with the cat comfortably sitting in the bottom. Put the carrier in a room that the cat likes to be in, perhaps in a sunny location, with a soft piece of bedding to encourage exploration and voluntary use.

2. Encourage daily entry. Every day, put a piece of kibble or a treat in the carrier. When the cat eats it, calmly praise/pet him and give him a few more treats. If the cat doesn’t take the treat right away, just walk away; if you try to persuade the cat, they will become suspicious! It may take a few days, but the cat should start to eat the treats, although maybe when you are not watching.

3. Begin car rides. Over days to weeks, move on to placing the carrier in the car, then short car rides.  If at any point your cat becomes nervous (crouching, ears back, etc.), go back a step and give treats until your cat is more comfortable with that level.

4. Cover the carrier when traveling. When you start taking the carrier in the car, place a towel over it; cats usually feel safer this way.

5. Add toys, treats or bedding into the carrier. If your cat has favorite toys, treats, bedding, or brushes, bring them to your veterinary clinic when you visit.  It will give your cat more familiar things that he associates with good feelings.

6. Consider using Feliway® (pheromonal anti-anxiety spray) just before traveling. When the time for the examination arrives, the routine will be familiar and your cat will be much more comfortable. With especially nervous or suspicious cats, Feliway® can help with the initial training period as well.

Some cats, despite your best efforts, still become scared of confinement or travel. In such instances, your veterinarian can help you by prescribing additional anti‐anxiety medications to help alleviate the stress.


Have a question for Dr. Lauren? E-mail her at

Dr. Lauren, a native of Knox, PA, practices in a busy animal hospital in Butler, PA. She received her undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University in 2005 and her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. Dr. Lauren treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

DISCLAIMER: Neither Explore Your Town, Inc. nor Dr. Lauren Smith will be held responsible for the outcome of any advice given on this website, as a true diagnosis and/or treatment cannot be given without a thorough physical exam and lab test results. Your submissions to this column hold you responsible for the fate of your pets and relieve the above aforementioned parties of all and any liabilities.

Copyright © 2019 EYT Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of the contents of this service without the express written consent of EYT Media Group, Inc. is expressly prohibited.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Ask the Vet, Local News