Where Does All That Ear Discharge Come From?

by Nicola Parry, DVM

Discharge from the ear canal is one of the most common ear issues in dogs, and typically indicates an ear infection. Just like in people, your dog’s ears will normally produce some discharge even when completely healthy. This is mostly composed of a waxy substance called cerumen that tends to be a yellow-brown color. Cerumen acts to coat the ear canal, helping to prevent excessive growth of bacteria or yeast that can set up infections in the ear. When the ear is irritated for any reason, however, it produces more of this cerumen, and sometimes its quantity can seem never-ending!

So if healthy ears produce discharge, how do you recognize an ear problem?

5 Signs That Your Dog May Have Ear Problems

  1. Increased quantity of ear discharge
  2. Scratching or shaking of the ears
  3. A change in discharge color
  4. Nasty smelling discharge
  5. A head tilt

3 Ways To Attack Ear Problems

1. Consult your veterinarian

Have your dog examined immediately by a veterinarian if you suspect an ear problem. Ear discharge can result from a variety of causes, so it may not be obvious as to whether the problem is due to ear mites, bacterial infection, fungal infection, allergy, or a foreign body such as a grass seed in the ear canal. Your veterinarian may need to perform tests to diagnose the underlying problem, before prescribing any medications that may be necessary, such as antibiotic tablets or ear drops.

2. Grooming

Dogs with long hair around the ears or those with long, floppy ears (or a combination of both!) can be particularly prone to recurrent ear infections because their ear canals aren’t well ventilated. One important way that you can help in these cases, is to pay attention to any excess hair growth around the ear canal, and to trim it regularly.

3. Ear Cleaning

Your role here is especially important, especially if your dog is prone to developing recurrent ear infections. Weekly cleaning can be a vital part of your dog’s ear-care regime. Use a gently formulated product, such as alavender and eucalyptus ear cleanser, to remove moisture, wax and debris that may accumulate in your dog’s ears. Then follow this up with a few drops of Ear Clear, a natural serum to help clear debris, break down cerumen, and reduce itchiness. And then especially when weekly cleaning regimes are underway and the ear canal no longer contains excessive discharge, pre-moistened ear wipes can be a wonderful and convenient way to keep the ears clean and sanitized.

As you begin cleaning your dog’s ears, you will notice that tissue from inside the ear canal, and the skin around its external opening, may start to peel. This is completely normal! Your cleaning regime loosens the dead tissue and debris in this region – but this is a good thing! Getting rid of the dead tissue, in and around the ear canal, helps to get rid of debris that could otherwise act as a focus for development of further infection.

Ear infections are therefore one of the most common reasons for dogs visiting their veterinarians, and can be a result of many underlying causes. And although you can’t completely prevent ear infections arising, your regular ear cleaning regime can definitely help reduce the number of times your dog visits his vet!

Nicola Parry is a veterinarian at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is ACVP board-certified and her career has taken her along various paths, including general practice and academia. She enjoys teaching veterinary pathology, as well as writing for the veterinary, medical and scientific worlds. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her oddball cat, Tiddles

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