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

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A dog’s ears present a lot of questions for their owners, many of which revolve around earwax. There are many aspects of dog earwax that are normal and many that aren’t.

So, let’s break down what normal dog earwax 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 Earwax 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 earwax.

Earwax is a sticky, oily substance that is made by special glands in the ear canal. The stickiness of earwax 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.

What Is a Normal Color for Dog Earwax?

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 earwax.

There typically isn’t a lot of it, although earwax production can vary by dog. It shouldn’t have an odor, be dark or bloody, and the surrounding ear should be a nice, calm pink.

When Does Earwax 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 earwax can actually cause problems in a dog’s ears.

Certain dog breeds and health conditions can cause excessive earwax 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 earwax. Excessive hair in the ears in breeds like Poodles can form a sort of dam that blocks earwax 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 earwax.

All of these conditions make it more difficult to normally rid the ear of earwax and the irritants that it traps. In some of these cases, you’ll not only see excessive earwax, 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.

Dog Ear Wax Color Chart

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

Dog Earwax Colors and What They Mean (Text Table)

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

You may also notice that the inside of your dog’s ear can become red, swollen, and even bloody with this abnormal earwax. 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 earwax.

Dog Earwax Color Chart (Image)

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


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dog earwax color chart

Causes of Abnormal Dog Earwax

If your dog has some abnormal earwax, your next step is to figure out why. With many causes behind abnormal earwax 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 earwax 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 earwax 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 earwax 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 earwax 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 Earwax 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.

How to Prevent Problematic Dog Earwax 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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Author

  • 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.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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