Closeup of a dog's inner ear and ear flap

As a pet parent, it’s important to understand the icky, sticky world of dog ear wax to ensure our canine’s ears stay healthy. We’re covering ear wax colors, meanings, and offering helpful tips for optimal ear health to prevent potential pain and discomfort

Grab a cozy spot, your favorite four-legged friend, and let's unravel the mysteries behind those adorable ears!

What is earwax?

Ever wondered why your dog's ears sometimes produce that mysterious substance? Well, it's the canine version of earwax, and it serves a purpose similar to ours. 

Dog ear wax is a protective secretion produced by glands in the ear canal. It helps trap debris, dust, and microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, mites, etc.), preventing them from reaching deeper into the ear. This natural defense mechanism plays a crucial role in maintaining ear health and overall well-being. 

Do all dogs get earwax?

Do dogs have ear wax? Absolutely! Just like humans, all dogs produce earwax to safeguard their delicate ear canals. However, the amount can vary from one furry friend to another. 

Certain breeds with specific ear shapes or anatomies may be more prone to earwax buildup. Breeds with floppy ears, like Cocker Spaniels or Basset Hounds, often have less airflow, creating an environment conducive to earwax accumulation. Regular monitoring and cleaning are essential, especially for our floppy-eared friends, to prevent potential issues.

Why some dogs have more earwax or ear discharge

Understanding why some dogs have more earwax or discharge is linked to their individual characteristics. Dogs with long, pendulous ears may experience reduced ventilation, creating a breeding ground for moisture and wax buildup. Additionally, allergies (environmental and food) or infections from ear mites, bacteria, and yeast can contribute to increased ear wax production. It's crucial to remain vigilant, as excessive ear discharge could signal an underlying health concern like an ear infection or worse.

Dog earwax color chart 

If only there was a way to simplify the many colors of dog earwax and what they mean… You’re in luck! Take a look at the dog ear wax color chart below for a summary of what each color means:

Dog ear wax color chart with text

If you prefer a visual guide to your dog's ear wax colors, see below.

Dog earwax color chart with pictures

Keep reading for more details on the causes and meanings of irregular earwax!

What each earwax color means for your dog's health

Let’s decode the variety of dog ear wax colors and what they might signify for your pup's well-being. Each hue provides valuable insights into their health!

Black earwax

While some dogs naturally have dark brown or almost black earwax, a sudden change to black earwax could indicate the presence of dried blood, which may signal an ear mite infection or injury. Consult your vet if you notice this change.

Brown earwax

Common and usually normal, brown earwax may indicate the presence of dirt or debris. If it turns dark brown–or when foul odor is paired with brown discharge, dog ear infection may not be far behind. Consult with your veterinarian if you notice anything abnormal.

Yellow earwax

A pale yellow hue is generally considered healthy. However, if the yellow becomes darker or is accompanied by other symptoms like ear scratching, head shaking or tilt, sensitivity to the touch, or redness in the pinnae (ear flap) or ear canal, it's wise to seek veterinary advice.

red earwax

Red earwax may indicate blood, suggesting an injury or infection (bacteria, mites, or yeast). If you notice red earwax, consult your vet promptly to identify and address the underlying issue.

green earwax

Uncommon but not unheard of, green earwax may signal an infection or the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria. This bacteria is especially resistant to antibiotics, so in dogs with chronic or recurring ear infections, Pseudomonas bacteria may survive treatments and colonize the ear canal. Consult your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

gray earwax

Gray earwax can be indicative of a yeast infection. If your dog displays discomfort, itching, or redness along with gray earwax, seek veterinary attention.

Clear earwax or no discharge

This is generally a positive sign, indicating clean and healthy ears. However, keep an eye out for other signs of potential issues, such as scratching, head shaking, or a bad odor. Clear discharge, on the other hand, is not normal and could be a sign of ear infection. 

Dog having ears cleaned with an ear flush

How to clean your dog’s earwax

Maintaining proper ear hygiene is crucial for your dog's overall well-being. Regular cleaning helps prevent infections and ensures a happy, healthy pup. Consider these recommended treatments:

  • Ear Flushes: Gently flush your dog's ears with an ear cleaning solution to remove excess ear wax and debris that can cause buildup. As dogs have both a horizontal and vertical canal that connects the eardrum to the outside world, it's important to use an ear flush to thoroughly clean the ear. 

Salicylic acid and veterinary safe surfactants can help clear ear wax buildup and harmful bacteria, mites, and yeast from inside the ear canal, so keep an eye out for these ingredients when shopping for an effective ear flush for dogs.

  • Ear-Cleaning Wipes: Convenient and effective, dog ear-cleaning wipes can help remove debris and keep your canine’s ears clean. Always opt for wipes designed specifically for dogs. Ear wipes are easier for cleaning puppy ear wax, since wiggly pups may not hold still for ear drops or flushes. 

Although ear wipes are helpful in cleaning the parts of the ear that can be reached by the wipe (ear flaps and immediate inner ear area), it’s important to also use an ear flush to clean the deeper parts of the ear canal.

Remember, never use a cotton swab to clean your dog's ears, as this can push debris deeper into the ear canal and potentially cause harm to the delicate ear drum.

Should you see a vet for a dog’s earwax?

While some degree of dog ear wax is normal, persistent or alarming changes should prompt a visit to the vet. Keep an eye out for potential warning signs that may indicate an underlying issue requiring professional care.

Pay close attention to warning signs that may signal a dangerous ear condition. If you notice persistent red or black earwax, it's crucial to act swiftly. Black earwax, resembling dried blood, may indicate an injury or infection. Similarly, red earwax signals bleeding and demands urgent veterinary attention. These colors are red flags, suggesting potential issues that necessitate a thorough examination by a veterinarian.

Additionally, watch for other concerning symptoms, such as increased scratching, head shaking or tilt, sensitivity to the touch, or a strong, unpleasant odor emanating from your dog's ears. These behavioral changes could indicate an infection or an underlying health issue that requires professional attention.

What color earwax is healthy for dogs?

Wondering about the gold standard for dog ear wax color? Generally, a pale yellow or light brown hue is considered healthy, signifying a balanced and normal level of wax production. As long as there are no abnormal odors or signs of inflammation, these dog ear wax colors suggest a harmonious environment inside your dog's ears.

Pale yellow or pale brown earwax is often the benchmark for canine ear health. These colors are what’s expected from the natural and protective secretions from the ear. These secretions aid in trapping debris, preventing environmental allergens and irritants as well as infectious organisms from reaching deeper into the ear canal. 

Maintaining healthy ears extends beyond color alone. Regular inspection for any unusual smells or signs of inflammation, such as redness or swelling around the pinnae (ear flap) or ear canal (inner ear), should be considered along with an assessment of ear wax color. 

Long story short: if your dog's ear wax falls within the pale yellow to pale brown spectrum and exhibits no concerning attributes, you're likely on the right track. Keep up the good work!

Is dog earwax a sign they have an ear infection?

Not necessarily. While changes in earwax color can indicate potential issues, not all earwax is a sign of ear infection. As discussed earlier, various factors contribute to earwax color. To determine if your dog has an ear infection, consider the overall context, including additional symptoms and behavioral changes. Bookmark the dog ear wax color charts from earlier so that you’ll have a comprehensive guide on recognizing warning signs!

Final thoughts on dog earwax

Congratulations! You've just become an earwax aficionado, equipped with the knowledge to keep your dog's ears healthy and happy. Remember, regular observation, gentle cleaning, and prompt veterinary attention when needed are the keys to ensuring your furry friend's ears are as fabulous as the rest of them. Happy ear-watching!

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Written By a Vetnique Vet

Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ

Dr. Patrick Mahaney works as a concierge-style veterinarian and has a number of celebrity clients through his house-call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness. He loves building personal, long-term relationships with his clients to best suit their pets’ needs within the comfortable confines of their homes.

To spread his message of holistic veterinary medicine on a large-scale basis, Dr. Mahaney attained a Certified Veterinary Journalist certificate and enjoys contributing to pet-related media projects. He is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist.

Holistic, House-Call Veterinarian

Los Angeles, CA

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