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Ear Discharge in Dogs

Dog Ear Discharge: Causes and Treatment

Dog ear discharge is fluid or debris emission from the ear canal. The dog ear naturally produces a small amount of ear wax or cerumen for protection. 

Cerumen transforms into ear discharge when the ear is aggravated and attempts to remove irritants from the ear canal. 

Common causes of ear discharge in dogs are excessive ear wax production, ear infections, allergies, ear mites, tumors or growths, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, ruptured eardrums, foreign bodies, and trauma. 

Ear discharge symptoms include visible discharge, ear scratching, head shaking, odor, redness and swelling, pain or discomfort, behavioral changes, head tilt, balance issues, and secondary skin irritation. The discharge looks like dirty dog ears

Managing ear discharge involves cleaning the ear and treating the underlying cause. The treatment varies based on the trigger. Black stuff in dogs ears indicates mites and requires antiparasitics, and brown stuff in dogs ear means yeast infections and entails antifungals. 

What is a Dog Ear Discharge?

Dog ear discharge is the emission of debris from the ear canal working through the external ear. Ear discharge is a symptom of an underlying ear problem. 

Healthy dogs produce a small amount of non-smelly, pale yellow to pale brown ear wax known as cerumen. The ear wax is created by glands located in the ear canal. 

The cerumen has protective roles, including dead skin turnover, canal cleaning lubrication, trapping dirt and moisture, and preventing infections. Ear wax is a medium beneficial to the ear microbiome.    

A small amount of healthy dog ear wax turns into discharge when the ear expels an irritant. Accumulated dirt and water in dogs ear contribute to discharge formation.  

The three main types of ear discharge are dry and flaky, thick and waxy, and liquid. The color of the discharge varies based on causality. Green discharge suggests bacterial infection, black means mites, and red indicates bleeding. 

What is Otitis Media in Dog Ears?

Otitis media in dog ears is inflammation of the middle ear, which includes the tympanic bulla, the auditory tube opening, and the small ear ossicles. 

Middle ear infections in dogs are uncommon. The most frequently reported causes are foreign objects penetrating the eardrum and infections spreading from the outer ear. 

Indicative signs of otitis media include head shaking, dry eye, facial nerve paralysis, and recurrent outer ear infections or otitis externa. 

Otitis externa makes the dogs ear smell and causes excess discharge. Untreated otitis media progresses to the inner ear and triggers otitis interna, affecting the dog’s sense of balance. 

What are the Causes of Ear Discharge in Dogs?

The causes of ear discharge in dogs are listed below. 

  • Excessive Ear Wax Production: Wax is produced in the ear to protect it from water irritation and prevent dirt and germs from causing harm. Excessive wax production indicates underlying problems associated with ear inflammation. 
  • Ear Infections: Ear infections caused by bacteria and yeast lead to increased discharge secretions. Bacteria and yeast inhabit dogs' ears, but pathogenic strains overpopulate when ear conditions change due to moisture or dirt buildup. 
  • Allergies: Allergies are a common cause of ear inflammation, manifesting as ear discharge. Food and environmental allergies provoke chronic or recurrent ear infections. 
  • Ear Mites: Ear mites are tiny bugs that live on the surface of the ear canals and feed on wax. The mites are highly irritating and trigger excessive ear discharge. 
  • Tumors or Growths: Growths inside the ear canal block the air entrance and trap dirt and germs, triggering infections and discharge. Ear tumors are benign or malignant, and polyps are fleshy and non-cancerous growths. 
  • Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune conditions, such as pemphigus and lupus, affect the skin and cause inflammation in some dog’s ears. Excess discharge always accompanies ear inflammation. 
  • Endocrine Disorders: Certain endocrine conditions increase the risk of ear infections. The most common culprit is hypothyroidism, which manifests as an underactive thyroid gland and low thyroid hormone levels.  
  • Ruptured Eardrum: A ruptured eardrum leads to deafness in some instances. Common causes in dogs include trauma, loud noises, foreign objects, infections, toxin exposure, and severe atmospheric pressure changes.  
  • Foreign Bodies: Foreign bodies in the dog’s ears are widespread, especially in spring and summer. The most commonly retrieved foreign objects are grass awns, like foxtails and cheatgrass. 
  • Trauma: Trauma to the ears, such as scratches, bites, or foreign bodies, results in local inflammation and discharge. Dogs ear bleeding is commonly associated with traumatic injuries. 

How do Allergies Contribute to the Development of Ear Discharge in Dogs?

Allergies contribute to the development of ear discharge in dogs by causing ear inflammation. Environmental and food allergies in dogs manifest with chronic or recurrent ear infections. 

Ear infections trigger ear discharge and are itchy. Dogs paw their ears to reduce the itchiness, leading to secondary infections and worsening ear discharge. 

Dogs frequently visit the veterinarian for ear infections, and allergies are suspected. Managing dog allergies soothes the ears and alleviates inflammation. 

How do Ear Mites Cause Ear Discharge in Dogs?

Ear mites cause ear discharge in dogs by irritating the ears. Mites are barely visible parasites living on the ear canal's surface. The mite activity causes irritation and inflammation. 

The inflammation results in excess ear production. Ear mites in dogs are treatable, and the ear discharge diminishes once the parasites are eliminated. 

Reduce the risk of discharge overproduction and ear mites in dogs by keeping the dog updated on flea and tick preventatives. Most anti-flea and tick products are efficient against ear mites. 

What are Breeds Prone to Dog Ear Infections?

Poodles, Spaniels, and long-eared breeds are prone to dog ear infections. 

Poodles and Spaniels are at a higher risk of infections because their hairy ear canals trap dirt and prevent moisture from evaporating. 

Long-eared breeds are susceptible to otitis because of their unique ear anatomy. Examples of dogs with long and floppy ears are Basset Hounds, Weimaraners, Bloodhounds, and Beagles. 

Frequent swimming is a lifestyle factor that increases the risk of ear infections. Labrador Retrievers are swimming dogs prone to ear infections. 

What are the Signs of Ear Discharge in Dogs?

The signs of ear discharge in dogs are listed below.

  • Visible Discharge: Visible discharge is an indicative sign of excess wax production. The discharge characteristics indicate the underlying cause. 
  • Ear Scratching: Most causes of ear discharge make the ears itchy. Dogs scratch or rub their ears for temporary relief. 
  • Head Shaking: Head shaking is a sign of itchy and discharge-filled ears. The dog shakes in an attempt to get rid of the accumulated discharge. 
  • Odor: Ear discharge contains dirt and germs, like bacteria and yeasts, which give it a foul and repulsive smell. 
  • Redness and Swelling: Redness and swelling are accompanying signs of inflammation and are visible in the ear canal and the ear flap. 
  • Pain or Discomfort: Ear infections and other discharge causes are painful and uncomfortable for the dog. 
  • Behavioral Changes: The pain and irritation associated with ear discharge change the dog’s behavior, causing appetite loss, lethargy, and mood swings. 
  • Head Tilt: Head tilt is standard for dogs with discharge due to ear infections. The head tilts to the side of the affected ear. 
  • Balance Issues: Loss of balance occurs in dogs with affected middle and inner ear and is a severe sign of ear problems. 
  • Secondary Skin Irritations: Secondary irritations occur on the dog's head at the base of the ears due to self-inflicted injuries when scratching the ears.  

1. Visible Discharge

Visible discharge is discharge in the ear canals and the inside of the ear flap. The discharge is uncomfortable and gives the dog an unkempt appearance. 

Prevent visible discharge by keeping the dog’s ears clean. The treatment for ear discharge is medicated ear drops, oral medications, or surgery, depending on the underlying cause. Visit the veterinarian immediately for dogs with visible discharge. 

2. Ear Scratching

Ear scratching is a habit that involves rubbing the ears with the paws or against surfaces. Ear discharge is itchy, and scratching provides temporary relief but damages the dog’s skin barrier. 

Put an Elizabethan collar on the dog to prevent ear scratching. Anti-inflammatory medications and CBD oil help reduce itchiness. See a vet for dogs with itchy ears because ear scratching indicates an underlying issue. 

3. Head Shaking

Head shaking is the forceful side-to-side moving of the head. Dogs with ear discharge shake their heads to remove the source of irritation. 

Promote ear health to prevent head shaking. Head shaking resolves once the underlying cause of ear discharge is addressed. Visit the vet if the dog starts shaking its head suddenly. 

4. Odor

Odor is the unpleasant scent radiating from dogs with ear discharge. The odor is most intense when the ear flap is lifted. Odor does not harm the dog but is undesirable for the owner. 

Reduce the risk of discharge to prevent unwelcome ear odor. The foul-smelling odor from the dog’s ears diminishes once the discharge is cleaned. Schedule a vet visit if the dog's ears become unusually smelly. 

5. Redness and Swelling

Redness and swelling are hallmarks of inflammation in dogs. The two changes are visible on the ear canals and inner sides of the flaps and are painful to the dog. 

Maintain optimal ear hygiene to prevent redness and swelling. The treatment involves steroids or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. See the veterinarian promptly if the dog’s ear is red and swollen. 

6. Pain or Discomfort

Pain or discomfort is common for dogs with ear discharge. The feelings stem from the itchy and inflammatory processes occurring in the ear and harm the dog’s wellbeing. 

Minimize the risk of ear diseases causing discharge to prevent pain or discomfort. Pain diminishes as the underlying cause is treated, but pain medication is sometimes required. Consult a vet if the dog shows signs of pain or discomfort. 

7. Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes are unusual alterations in the dog’s conduct. Dogs with ear discharge lose appetite, get lethargic, and are moody. 

Support general ear health to prevent behavioral changes. Conduct alterations do not require special treatment and are resolved when the ear problem is treated. Visit the vet if the dog starts behaving out of the ordinary. 

8. Head Tilt

Head tilt is lowering one side of the head to the ground closer than the other. The tilt is a common sign of advanced ear problems in dogs. 

Treating ear discharge early on before the condition spreads to the inner ear prevents head tilt. Head tilt treatment depends on the trigger and includes antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and analgesics. See a veterinarian immediately for head tilts in dogs. 

9. Balance Issues

Balance issues are a loss of steadiness. Imbalances confuse the dog, make it anxious, and prevent it from freely moving in the environment. 

Prevent balance issues by addressing ear discharge. Treat the underlying condition before it progresses and disrupts balance. Balance issues require immediate veterinary attention. 

10. Secondary Skin Irritations

Secondary skin irritations are dermatitis symptoms caused by continuous ear scratching. Secondary infections worsen the ear condition, adding itchiness and skin lesions.  

Prompt ear discharge treatment, including local and systemic antimicrobials, prevents secondary complications. Schedule an immediate vet visit for secondary dermatitis and signs resembling skin allergies in dogs.  

What Does an Ear Discharge Look Like in a Dog?

Ear discharge in dogs varies in appearance based on the underlying cause. Discharge is yellow, brown, or black, with a watery or thick consistency and a foul odor.

What is the Most Effective Ear Discharge Treatment in Dogs?

The most effective ear discharge treatment in dogs is ear cleaning and managing the underlying cause. 

Ear cleaning is essential because it removes excess discharge that leads to germs and blocks airflow. The lack of airflow prevents moisture from evaporating, creating good conditions for germ growth. 

The treatment depends on the underlying cause and includes medicated ear drops, oral medications, or surgery. 

For example, ear mites are treated with oral, topical, or injectable antiparasitics. Dog ear infection treatment entails antibiotics or antifungal ear drops and oral antimicrobials in severe cases. Ear tumors or polyps require surgical removal. 

Wearing an Elizabethan collar during treatment is recommended to prevent the dog from ear scratching or rubbing, which worsens the condition. 

Can Dietary Changes Alleviate Ear Discharge in Dogs?

Yes, dietary changes can alleviate ear discharge in dogs. Diet modifications do not cure ear discharge problems in dogs, but changes are sometimes helpful. 

Dietary changes are essential for dogs with food allergies that cause ear infections and discharge. Dogs with food allergies must not consume allergy triggers. Common food allergens in dogs are chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, and gluten. 

Inflammation of the ear structures causes ear discharge. Certain foods act as natural anti-inflammatories and help relieve inflammation. 

Natural anti-inflammatory foods safe for dogs include leafy greens, blueberries, broccoli, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and ginger. 

Is there a Way to Reduce the Risk of Ear Discharge in Dogs?

Yes, there is a way to reduce the risk of ear discharge in dogs. Minimize ear discharge and problems by regularly inspecting the dog’s ears and maintaining good ear hygiene. 

Check the dog’s ears every one to two weeks. Dogs like getting ear scratches and do not mind the casual exams. 

Good ear hygiene includes keeping dog ear hair well-trimmed and cleaning the ears. Trim the excess hair in and around the ears to allow airflow and quick moisture evaporation. 

Cleaning the dog’s ears removes dirt and supports a healthy microbiome. Commercially available dog-specific ear-cleaning products, such as wipes, sprays, oils, and solutions, are recommended.   

Is Ear Discharge in Dogs Contagious to Other Pets or Humans?

No, ear discharge in dogs is not contagious to other pets or humans. Ear discharge is a symptom of an underlying condition. 

Certain underlying causes of ear discharge are contagious. For example, ear mites are transmissible from infected dogs to other pets and humans. Mites are highly infectious and spread quickly.  

What Happens if an Ear Discharge in Dogs is Left Untreated?

Health complications happen if an ear discharge in dogs is left untreated. The complications depend on the underlying cause of discharge, with most leading to hearing deficits. 

Infection is one of the most common causes of ear discharge in dogs. Untreated infections of the outer ear affect the middle and inner ear. One complication is eardrum rupture, which results in hearing problems in dogs

What is the Difference Between Normal and Abnormal Ear Discharge in Dogs?

The difference between normal and abnormal ear discharge in dogs is based on color, smell, and amount.  

Normal earwax is pale yellow or pale brown. The discharge is in moderate amounts and has no foul odor. 

Abnormal ear discharge is smelly, abundantly present, and colored green, gray, brown, red, or black. 

The different colors of ear discharge indicate specific ear conditions. For example, black gunk in dogs ear means a mite infestation, while brown gunk in dogs ear indicates a fungal infection.  

Can Ear Discharge Make a Dog Deaf?

No, ear discharge cannot make a dog deaf. Ear discharge is a symptom. Excess discharge built up in the ear canal causes temporary hearing decline but does not cause hearing loss. 

The underlying trigger of ear discharge, however, has the potential to cause hearing loss. Ear conditions, like infections or foreign bodies, progress. Severe ear problems lead to deafness in dogs if left untreated. 

Can CBD Oil Helps Dog Ear Problems?

Yes, CBD oil can help dog ear problems. CBD oil helps manage ear symptoms while a veterinarian diagnoses and treats the underlying condition. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a hemp plant extract with health-boosting properties. The extract is safe, non-addictive, and non-psychogenic. 

Dogs with ear problems benefit from CBD’s potent anti-inflammatory, antipruritic (anti-itch), and analgesic (anti-pain) effects. 

Consult the veterinarian about CBD oil vs. traditional medications for dogs with ear conditions. Cannabidiol is natural and safe to combine with mainstream ear treatments.