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Dog Ear Wax Color Chart: When Color Can Indicate a Problem

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dog ear cleaning

A dog’s ears present a lot of questions for their owners, many of which revolve around ear wax. There are many aspects of dog ear wax that are normal and many that aren’t. So, let’s break down what normal dog ear wax should look like and when to suspect a problem. To help in the process, we have designed a new dog ear wax color chart.

What Is a Normal Color for Dog Ear Wax?

dog ear wax picture

If you take a look into a healthy dog ear, you’ll notice a thin coating of a pale yellow substance. That’s normal ear wax. There typically isn’t a lot of it, although ear wax production can vary by dog. Here are the signs of normal ear wax in dogs:

  • The ear wax should not have an odor,
  • The ear wax should not be dark or bloody,
  • The ear wax should be pale yellow,
  • The surrounding ear should be a nice, calm pink.

Dog Ear Wax Color Chart

When does the color of your dog’s ear wax indicate a health problem? Now that we know what normal dog ear wax should look like, what does it mean if your dog’s ear wax looks different? Abnormal ear wax can come in many different forms. It may be brown, black, red, extra greasy, dry and crumbly and smell bad. Each change in ear wax may mean something different with issues ranging from a bacterial or fungal infection to parasites.

You may also notice that the inside of your dog’s ear can become red, swollen, and even bloody with this abnormal ear wax. Dogs with ear infections or parasites may also shake their head, scratch their ears, or not want their ears touched along with having different colored or bad-smelling ear wax.

Dog Ear Wax Color Chart (Image)

Please find below a color chart summarizing the different colors you can expect to find with dogs’ ear wax, and what they mean:

dog earwax color chart

Below is a text table summarizing this information:

Dog Ear Wax Colors and What They Mean (Text Table)

YellowishNormal Most dogs have normal ear wax that is pale yellow to light brown
Light brownNormal The normal color of ear wax can range from yellow to light brown. As long as there is no odor or other signs, it’s most likely normal ear wax.
BrownNormal or infectionNormal ear wax can be brown in color. However, brown can also indicate an infection, if there is bad odor or if your dog is scratching their ears or shaking their head.
Dark brownUsually ear infectionDark brown ear wax, along with an odor and ear scratching or head shaking usually means an ear infection.
RedIndicates blood from injuryRed in your dog’s ear wax usually means there is an injury or bite in your dog’s ear.
Reddish-brownInfectionA reddish-brown color to your dog’s ear wax usually indicates an infection or parasites.
GreenInfectionGreen, bad smelling ear wax will indicate an infection. Dogs may also shake their head and scratch their ears.
BlackInfectionBlack ear wax can indicate an infection. Coffee ground-looking ear wax may indicate ear mites.
GrayDirtyGray ear wax usually just means your dog was playing outside in the dirt.

When Does Ear Wax Become a Problem?

Most of the time, a dog’s self-cleaning system in their ears works well to keep the ears healthy and a dog’s hearing top-notch. However, there are times when ear wax can actually cause problems in a dog’s ears.

Certain dog breeds and health conditions can cause excessive ear wax production and build-up that may cause pain, difficulty hearing, ear infections, or even attract parasites. Dogs with long ear canals, think of Basset Hounds, may have difficulty properly draining ear wax. Excessive hair in the ears in breeds like Poodles can form a sort of dam that blocks ear wax from leaving the ear. Skin folds found in Bulldog breeds can have the same effect. There are even some breeds like Cocker Spaniels that carry a genetic predisposition to producing excessive ear wax.

All of these conditions make it more difficult to normally rid the ear of ear wax and the irritants that it traps. In some of these cases, you’ll not only see excessive ear wax, you may also notice a change in the color and odor that would indicate an infection. You may also notice that your dog tilts or shakes their head, scratches at their ears, or doesn’t want their ears touched when their having a problem.

Causes of Abnormal Dog Ear Wax

If your dog has some abnormal ear wax, your next step is to figure out why. With many causes behind abnormal ear wax in dogs, finding the exact cause will take looking at a dog’s other signs and possibly some veterinary diagnostics.

  • Excessive production/improper drainage: If you have a long- or hairy-eared dog, chances are their excessive ear wax is due to not draining properly. The ear canal is either just too long for the wax to flow out or it’s being blocked by hairs or skin folds. If this is the case, you may have to regularly clean the ears to prevent other complications. On the other side of this, your dog may produce so much ear wax that it won’t drain properly. Same thing goes, clean the ears regularly.
  • Ear infections: Bacteria and yeast like dark, moist areas which makes the ears the perfect place to set up shop. Ear infections are more common in dogs with long or heavy ears that don’t let a lot of air into the canals. They also tend to occur after swimming, bathing or an outing in the rain or snow. If your dog has brown, green, or black ear wax with a bad odor and are shaking or tilting their head or scratching their ears, see your veterinarian. Prescription cleaners and ointments may be necessary to clear up an ear infection.
  • Ear mites: While more common in cats, dogs can get ear mites. These are little bugs that live in the skin of the ear canal and feed on blood and earwax. They often create a black, coffee ground-looking ear wax and very itchy ears. Your dog will be rubbing their head on the carpet, furniture, and asking for ear rub after ear rub. Veterinarians will diagnose them by finding the little critters under the microscope and treating with an anti-parasiticide.  

Is it Ear Wax or Ear Mites?

Determining whether your dog’s aural discharge is due to an ear infection or ear mites can be tricky without veterinary diagnostics. Both issues will show up with brownish discharge and itchy ears, however, ear mites will cause an intense, insatiable itch. The discharge also tends to look crumbly and granular, like coffee grounds. Ear infections, on the other hand, tend to have a greasier, gooier texture. Ear mites may also cause small, red bumps to pop up on the outside of the ear, face, and neck.

The only definitive way to diagnose ear mites is to get a small sample and view the adult mites or eggs under a microscope. A veterinarian will be able to do this quickly and easily and get your dog the right treatment.


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How to Prevent Problematic Dog Ear wax in the Future

If your dog is a repeat offender to ear infections or excessive earwax, regular ear cleaning will become your best friend’s best friend. If your dog has normal earwax and no other signs, try not to disturb the delicate balance in the ear. Cleaning ears that don’t necessarily need it may cause a disruption that leads to ear infections or excessive earwax down the road.

Some dogs will do well with scheduled ear cleanings, say once or twice a week to prevent earwax buildup and infections. Others may just need it after baths, swimming, or a day out in the rain or snow. Speak to your veterinarian about what cleaning schedule is best to prevent your dog’s recurrent earwax problems.

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What is Ear Wax For in Dogs?

The ears have a built-in cleaning system that helps to prevent potentially harmful debris from reaching the eardrum and damaging hearing. The main component of that self-cleaning system is ear wax.

Ear wax is a sticky, oily substance that is made by special glands in the ear canal. The stickiness of ear wax allows it to grab onto things like dirt, pollen, dead cells, grass seeds, and other foreign objects and then slide its way out of the ear, taking any irritants with it where they can’t harm the eardrum or a dog’s hearing.

Author

  • Dr Chyrle Bonk, Veterinarian

    Dr. Chyrle Bonk received her Master in Animal Science from the University of Idaho and her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Oregon State University. She has over 10 years of experience in small animal veterinary practice, working for a veterinary clinic in Idaho.

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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