If you are petting your dog’s head and get a peek into its ears, the insides should look clean, pink and healthy. If you notice that the insides are coated in a dark-colored discharge, instead, you may be alarmed, and for good reason—discharge in the ears is a tell-tale sign of an infection or health problem. Although dogs are known for getting messy here and there, the inside of their ears should stay clean and dry.
Here’s what you should know about ear discharge and what it means.
Potential causes of ear discharge
There are a number of different problems that can plague your dog’s ears and cause it discomfort. Many of the symptoms will appear similar, but there might be slight differences that help you identify the problem at hand.
- Earwax accumulation: The first thing you’ll want to do when you notice discharge is make sure your dog doesn’t simply have a buildup of earwax. Normal earwax will range from yellow to light brown in color but can sometimes look darker if your dog recently got into some dirt. Some earwax in the ears is normal since it protects the inner ear from damage. If your dog is not displaying any signs of discomfort such as head shaking or scratching at the ears, the earwax buildup is more than likely normal. If your dog is showing signs of discomfort in its ears, there may be too much wax built up or an ear infection is developing.
- Fungal or yeast infection: Fungal ear infections are caused by yeast microorganisms that have overgrown in the ear. This yeast thrives in moist environments, so these infections are most common after your dog has gone swimming. Fungal ear infections can produce very dark brown or almost black discharge that smells pungent. Fungal or yeast infections will require antifungal ear drops to clear up.
- Ear mites: Ear mites are extremely contagious parasites that lodge themselves in your dog’s ears and feed off the wax and oil there. Ear mites can cause your dog a lot of distress due to their presence in the ear canal. If ear mites are the problem, you’ll likely notice a discharge that is reddish-brown and looks like coffee grounds. Your dog will also likely be scratching at its ears and shaking its head constantly. To get rid of ear mites, you or your vet will need to flush out all of the discharge and mites from inside the ear, then administer daily ear drops. If ear mites are not treated in a timely manner, they could even cause your dog to go deaf.
- Outer ear infection: Allergies, excess ear wax or bacterial overgrowth can cause outer ear infections. These types of infections usually produce a yellow or reddish-brown discharge that feels waxy. Dogs with outer ear infections typically experience ear pain, head shaking, itchiness, inflammation and redness. If these infections are not treated properly, outer ear infections can lead to more severe inner ear infections, which are much more painful and may cause your dog to experience balance problems and nausea.
If you notice your dog’s ears have dark-colored discharge and that it is scratching at its ears a lot, take your pup to the vet for an exam. Your vet will be able to identify the true cause of the discharge and itchiness and provide a treatment plan that will alleviate the problem.
Preventing ear problems in dogs
In order to protect your dog from developing ear infections or getting ear mites, you’ll want to take very good care of its ears on a regular basis. Use a cotton ball and dog-safe ear cleaning solution to wipe the inside of the ears out once every one to two weeks. This process should be a part of your dog’s routine grooming procedure, especially if you have a floppy-eared dog, since those have a higher chance of developing infections.
Your dog’s ears should also be cleaned after swimming or bathing so excess moisture is removed to prevent fungal infections. Remember to never use a cotton swab to clean your dog’s ears, since you could accidentally push too deep and injure your dog’s eardrum.
Additionally, be wary of the underlying cause of your dog’s ear infection. Since food and environmental allergies can cause inflammation in the body, your dog may develop secondary ear infections because of them. If you notice your dog itching in other parts of its body or see small, red bumps, it might have allergies and should be tested by a vet. Avoiding your dog’s allergens can help prevent secondary ear infections.
If your dog does get an ear infection, seek veterinarian help as quickly as possible to relieve your dog’s discomfort. Should your dog be allowed to scratch at its ears constantly, it may end up injuring itself even more and develop additional infections.