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Dogs are more prone to ear infections than humans because of the shape of their ear canals which has a steep vertical portion and then a horizontal portion, almost creating the shape of the letter “L”.  This shape makes it harder for wax, oil, and other debris to make their way out of the canal, and their presence creates an environment that promotes the growth of the small amount of yeast and bacteria that normally reside in the ear canal.  An overgrowth of these yeast and bacteria create the ear infection As many as 20 percent of dogs have some form of ear disease which may affect one or both ears and cause dog ear discharge.

Dog ear discharge refers to the emission of fluid from a dogs 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. This then means that Ear discharge in dogs isn’t really a specific condition; it’s actually a symptom of an underlying issue, like mites or an ear infection. Because problems like these can be extremely painful, there’s no reason to let your dog suffer needlessly. Know the signs and symptoms of dog ear problems, how to prevent them, and what you can do when they happen.    

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 product 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

Signs and symptoms of dog ear discharge

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.

Remedies and treatment of dog ear discharge

Consult your vet

If your dog is showing any of the common signs of ear discharges, it’s important to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. If you suspect an infection of any kind, visitany of VetPlanets outlets for diagnosis and treatment. Our trained veterinarians will look into your pup’s ear canals with a special tool called an otoscope to diagnose the cause of the brown discharge. We’ll also check for secondary infections that may have developed.

Quick treatment is necessary not only for your dog’s comfort (these conditions can be painful!), but also to prevent the spread of possible ear infection to the middle and inner ear. Do not try to treat ear infections at home.

Be prepared to provide your vet with a thorough history of the problem. This is especially important for first-time infections, or if you are seeing a new veterinarian.

Clean your Dog’s Ears

In order to protect your dog from developing ears 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.

Steps for Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears
  • Assemble your supplies (cotton ball or gauze, dog ear-cleaning solution, and a towel) and your dog. Try to clean your dog’s ears when he is calm — this will help make the process easier.
  • Squeeze a veterinarian-approved ear-cleaning solution to fill your dog’s ear canal and massage gently at the base of the ear for about 30 seconds. You will hear a squishing sound as the product dislodges debris and buildup. Don’t let the tip of the applicator touch your dog’s ear, as this can introduce bacteria.
  • Let your dog shake his head. This is where the towel comes in — you can use it to protect yourself from spray and wipe down his face. Once your dog has finished shaking, take the cotton ball or gauze and gently wipe out the ear canal, going no deeper than the depth of one knuckle. If your dog appears to be in pain during the cleaning process, stop and call your veterinarian.


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