Types and Causes of Ear Discharge in Dogs

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Types and Causes of Ear Discharge in Dogs

Ear discharge is one of the common symptoms of an underlying health issue that affects the ears. Every pet owner should be familiar with the symptoms of ear problems in dogs, how to take a proactive approach in preventing them, and what to do when your dog is exhibiting ear issues. Keep reading to learn more!

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What does my dog have in his ear?

Ear discharge in dogs is often accompanied by other symptoms such as pawing and scratching the affected ear, pain, head-shaking, ear odor, and/or tilting of the head toward the affected ear. The ear may also appear red and inflamed.

In more serious ear problems, partial or total loss of hearing and neurological symptoms may be exhibited by the dog. These may include stumbling or circling to one side.

Depending on the cause, ear discharge may be yellow and waxy, dried and brownish, or black.

Ear mites, allergies (to food, fleas, pollen, etc.), tumors of the ear canal, endocrine disorders (such as hypothyroidism), and foreign material in the canals can all cause inflammation of the ear and increased waxy discharge, setting the stage for infection.

The most common ear conditions in which ear discharge is one of the prominent symptoms include:

1. Ear Mites

These extremely tiny parasites can infect dogs of all ages. They colonize the ear canals and cause persistent itching, scratching, and head-shaking. A dark-colored, crusty ear discharge is often associated with an ear mite infestation.

There are several products formulated for ear mite treatment. Some formulas only kill adult mites, but newer products have ingredients that are effective against all the ear mite’s life stages. It is highly recommended to talk to your vet about the best product for your dog.

2. Otitis Externa

An infection of the outer ear can be caused by a variety of issues. It can be a result of allergies, polyps, ear mites, too much moisture in the ears as a result of bathing or swimming, or other problems. The inflamed ears of a dog with otitis externa are painful and hot to the touch. The itching and discomfort will cause the dog to scratch or paw at his ears or rub them against surfaces. A yellow or brownish waxy ear discharge usually accompanies these symptoms.

An external ear infection warrants prompt veterinary attention and intervention. There is a possibility that otitis externa can spread to the middle and inner ear which can lead to more serious problems.

Depending on the cause, an external ear infection may be treated with an antibiotic and/or antifungal medication (topical and/or oral). Your vet may also recommend an ear cleaning and/or ear-drying solution. Surgery may be indicated for chronic otitis externa.

3. Otitis Interna and Otitis Media

Infection of the inner ear (otitis interna) and middle ear infection (otitis media) are often a consequence of an external ear infection that remained untreated.

Both issues share similar symptoms as otitis externa coupled with balance and mobility problems. Some dogs walk around in circles, suffer from nausea, and may be reluctant to open their mouth.

A round of antibiotics may be prescribed by your vet for the treatment of middle or inner ear infections. Ear flushing may also be performed by your vet. Serious infections may require surgery to address.

4. Allergies

The ears of dogs are not immune to the typical signs associated with allergies. Whatever may be the allergen that triggered the reaction, the condition of the ear and the surrounding skin can be affected. Allergens may be present in pet food, or in the environment where the dog can inhale or be in contact with them.

To address ear infections associated with allergies, the trigger factor must be identified and dealt with first. Specific tests may be necessary to identify the allergen. You should work closely with your vet in managing your pet’s symptoms while preventing or limiting exposure to the allergen.

5. Dirty Ears

Without regular cleaning, dirt and dust can accumulate in your dog’s ear canal over time.

Earwax (also called cerumen) is a secretion of the glands lining the ear passages. An important function of the earwax is to collect dirt, pollen, and other foreign bodies that enter the ears. As the earwax makes its way out of the ear canal, it carries with it all these foreign materials.

However, the conformation of a dog’s ears is unique. The vertical and horizontal portions of the ear canal form a letter L. This makes it more difficult for ear wax and foreign material to easily slide and glide their way out of the dog’s ear canal. The buildup creates a favorable environment for the growth and multiplication of yeast and bacteria that cause an ear infection.

Excessive buildup of earwax may also be caused by the presence of ear mites, allergies, hypothyroidism and certain endocrine problems, and foreign material in the ear canals. All these are important predisposing factors of inflammation and infection in the ears.

Some Dog Breeds Are Prone to Excess Earwax

Some dog breeds are more prone to excessive earwax buildup. Cocker Spaniels can develop a genetic problem that causes ear glands to secrete excessive earwax. Basset Hounds have very long ear canals which make them more prone to excessive buildup of earwax. The folds of the ears in English Bulldogs can trap excessive earwax.

Some dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, are also prone to allergies and skin problems that can lead to excessive wax buildup and ear infections. The excess hair in the ear canals of Poodles can trap earwax that can form into a big hairball that blocks the ear canal.

Regular ear cleaning using a vet-recommended ear cleaning solution should be done. How often you should clean your pet’s ears will depend on the assessment of your vet.

How to Prevent Excessive Ear Discharge in Dogs

Healthy ear care involves keeping your dog’s ears clean. This should be part of your dog’s regular grooming regimen.

Excess hair near your dog’s ears should be kept well-trimmed to promote proper airflow to the ear canal. It can help prevent the buildup of moisture in the ear canals where bacteria and yeast can thrive.

If your dog loves swimming, regular ear cleaning using an ear cleaning solution that contains drying agents can help keep soak up any excess water in the ears to prevent swimmers’ ear issues and infection.

Make a habit of inspecting your dog’s ears every few days. Any sign of an ear issue should be brought to your vet’s attention.

Read more:

10 Facts About Your Dog’s Ears

Ear Tumors in Dogs and Cats

Common Ear Problems in Dogs

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s ear discharge or another condition?

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Published: 10/27/2021

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