Short and pointy, long and floppy, or somewhere in between—dog ears come in all shapes and sizes. And although their appearances may vary from pooch to pooch, one thing about dog ears remains a possibility for all breeds: discharge.
If you’ve noticed dried fluids or an odor coming from your pup’s ear, you might be dealing with dog ear discharge.
This article will take you through some frequent causes of ear discharge in dogs, as well as solutions you can try for cleaning a dog’s ears at home. Are you ready to give your canine companion the ear care they need? Let’s dive in.
What is Ear Discharge?
Ear discharge refers to the emission of fluid from the ear canal. Discharge is not a medical condition in and of itself, but rather a symptom of several different ailments. Typically, discharge presents itself when the ear is trying to expel something that shouldn’t be in there.
Recognizing dog ear discharge is likely the first step in discovering any underlying problems as it can be identified without special tools.
Dog ear discharge can take on a few different forms. You may even see behavioral changes in your dog before you see the actual discharge, so you should be on the lookout for any signs of the following:
- Waxy, yellow discharge
- Dried reddish-brown or black fluid
- Excessive head shaking
- Continuous scratching at the ears
- Hot or inflamed ears
- Odor emanating from the ear area
If you notice your dog scratching ear to ear and can identify the presence of discharge, a bacterial infection or yeast infection may also become a possibility. As such, taking action as soon as you see any of the above symptoms is critical.
There are plenty of issues that could cause dog ear discharge, so be sure to double-check with a trusted veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
Here are some of the possible causes of the discharge you’re seeing.
The medical term for inflammation of the outer ear, otitis externa appears in up to 20% of all dogs. Due to their inner ear shape, canines are especially prone to ear infections, especially if they have floppy ears that reduce airflow to the ear canal.
While a small number of bacteria and yeast normally live in the ear canal, a buildup of ear wax or other debris can lead to the overgrowth of these microscopic passengers and infection.
Infections of the inner ear and middle ear (otitis interna and otitis media, respectively) can also occur if an external ear infection goes untreated.
These tiny, bug-like critters are transmitted from one animal to another. Ear mites feast on ear wax, and their presence can often lead to ear discharge.
Mites show as small, white dots in or around the ear, though they may be hard to spot with the naked eye. A black, crusty discharge is a telltale sign of ear mite infestation and warrants further investigation.
Believe it or not, dogs can suffer from allergies just like we do. If a food or pollen allergy causes your dog’s ears to swell, a waxy discharge may leak from the dog’s ear canal.
Dirt and dust can accumulate in the ear canal over time, especially if you live in a climate where these airborne debris are common. As dirt clogs the ear, swelling can occur, with ear discharge being a possible outcome as the ear tries to remove foreign material.
Remedies to Treat and Prevent
A visit to the vet may not be necessary in minor cases, although asking their advice is always welcome. If you’re given the green light, a dog ear discharge home remedy from the choices below may work for you.
Clean the Ear
Since ear discharge can often mean wax or other debris is in the way, a simple cleaning may alleviate your dog’s discomfort. You can use an antimicrobial ear rinse to flush out any irritants while relieving itching.
If you start cleaning your pup’s ear and he seems to be in plenty of pain, don’t push through. Instead, seek professional help, as a thorough cleaning under anesthesia may be necessary.
Medicated Ear Drops
Whether over-the-counter or prescribed by a veterinarian, antibiotic ear drops are often recommended for more severe cases of ear infection. Treatment with ear drops usually lasts a few weeks and is meant to be continued until the infection is gone.
As they say, the best offense is a good defense. When it comes to healthy ear care, this translates to keeping the area around the ears clean and under control.
Trimming excess hair near the ears ensures airflow to the ear canal, allowing built up moisture to dry quicker. For those pups that love to swim, drying agents may help to soak up leftover water to avoid swimmer’s ear symptoms.
Keep yourself familiar with your dog’s ear health by inspecting the area every few days. Your dog won’t even mind the extra head scratches—sounds like a win-win!
Vetericyn: Helping You Catch Discharge Ear-ly
If you see discharge coming from your dog’s ears, the most important step is to take a deep breath. In most cases, this won’t be a major issue. In fact, ear discharge alone can be perfectly natural (like in the case of allergies, for example).
That said, if you see discharge, a good ear cleaning might be worth putting on the to-do list. And to assist, check out Vetericyn’s line of pet-safe cleaning solutions.
Reviewed by Dan Richardson, Veterinarian
Dan Richardson has been a practicing veterinarian for over 10 years. He specializes in surgery and orthopedics. Dan is originally from rural western Nevada and attended the University of Idaho for undergraduate study and Oregon State University for Veterinary School. The Richardson Family enjoys camping and spending time on the water fishing, paddle boarding, or digging their feet in the sand somewhere warm.
- Merck Veterinary Manual. Ear Infections and Otitis Externa in Dogs. www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/ear-disorders-of-dogs/ear-infections-and-otitis-externa-in-dogs
- MSPCA. Ear–Scratching, Head Shaking, and Ear Discharge: Does Your Dog Have Otitis? www.mspca.org/angell_services/ear-scratching-head-shaking-and-ear-discharge-does-your-dog-have-otitis/
- FETCH by WebMD. Discharge From a Dog’s Ear: Causes and Treatments. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/dog-discharge-ear#1