My Dog Has Black Stuff in Their Ears
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Black discharge from a dog's ear can appear seemingly out of nowhere. We often first see there is a problem by repeated scratching of the area, something which can exacerbate the problem by opening wounds or introducing secondary bacteria. The initial agitation is often due to otitis, a general term for swelling of the ear often caused by mites or fungal infections. When we look at the ear closely, we might be able to see accumulation of yellowish ear wax. If this ear wax is black in color, it can be a sign of a specific problem.
At AnimalWised, we look at why my dog has black stuff in their ears. Not only do we find out why a dog has black ear wax, but we see what treatment options are available and how we can prevent this problem through better ear hygiene.
Ear wax color in dogs
Ear wax is a substance known medically as cerumen. It is a protective agent which is secreted by ceruminous glands which produce the initial oily substance. Once it is secreted, it will start to change due to the presence of other substances found in the dog's ear canal and pinna. These substances include sebum from the sebaceous glands, dirt, skin cells and other detritus either from the ear itself or the environment.
The substances which mix with the ear wax cause its color to change. Initially, cerumen is a light-colored gunk which is oily in consistency. As it ages and mixes with other substances, it becomes both darker and drier. These color changes are often due to environmental issues, but the problem can potentially be pathological. It is for this reason we can see black stuff in the dog's ear.
It is not possible to tell the dog's ear issue from color alone. However, we can use ear wax color to determine the general state of the ear:
- Light yellow: fresh ear wax which is oily and light.
- Dark yellow: older ear wax, usually mixed with other substances.
- Green: indicates the presence of purulent discharge and possible infection.
- Red: indicates the presence of blood with fresh blood being brighter red and becoming darker as it ages.
- Brown: may be a sign of old blood, although healthy ear wax can have a brown tone.
- Gray: likely indicates the presence of dirt.
- Black: can be very dark ear wax due to dirt, but may also be indicative of a pathological issue.
There are various reasons for black ear discharge in dogs. We look at these issues in more detail below.
Mites are microscopic arthropods that often cause skin problems in our animals. There are various species of mites capable of parasitizing the external auditory canal of dogs and resulting in otitis. Otitis is not the term for black stuff in a dog's ears, instead referring to inflammation or infection which may have concurrent black ear wax.
The mite that causes these processes is often one that belongs to the genus Otodectes cynotis, although there are other species that can also cause otitis in dogs. These include mites from the following genera:
- Otobius megnini
Dogs suffering from this type of otitis usually develop intense itching in their ears. This leads to the dog compulsively scratching their ears, shaking their head and rubbing themselves against surfaces to try to relieve the frustration they cause. Another characteristic symptom of an ear mite infestation is the presence of blackish cerumen which has the appearance of coffee grounds. This is due to blood, dirt, discharge and the mites themselves.
Ear mites are external parasites in dogs that are usually relatively easy to diagnose, but this must be carried out by a veterinarian. They will examine the ear canal with an otoscope to visualize the mites. If they are unsure, they may take a sample of the black ear wax and observe it under a microscope to identify the species of mite.
The treatment of mite otitis in dogs requires:
- Cleaning the external ear: the inside of the ear pinna can be cleaned of black stuff with a gauze soaked in saline or chlorhexidine (always diluted to 40%). In addition to cleaning the inside of the pinna, we must also clean the external ear canal to ensure the drug treatment penetrates properly for efficacy. It is necessary to wash with specific cleaning products for dogs that must always be prescribed by a veterinarian.
- Antiparasitic treatment: the veterinarian will determine which antiparasitic drug is required to kill the specific mite. These include fipronil for dogs in the form of ear drops or a systemic/topical treatment in the form of a drugs such as selamectin.
Learn more about ear inflammation with our article on external otitis in dogs.
Another pathogen that can trigger the appearance of black stuff in the ears of dogs is fungal otitis. This is most commonly caused by fungal yeast such as the species most commonly associated with canine otitis, Malassezia pachydermatis. This yeast is naturally present on the skin of dogs without causing any problems, but sometimes proliferates uncontrollably, giving rise to otitis.
Various factors can instigate an overproliferation of this fungus. Factors that usually trigger this overgrowth include allergies, antibiotic treatments, prolonged stress and any reason for immunosuppression. Fungal infection can also be a secondary infection after another cause of otitis. Dogs suffering from an aural yeast infection usually have a pasty, brownish-colored ear wax with a strong odor. It does not usually cause significant itching.
Treatment for this type of black wax in the dog's ears requires:
- Cleaning the ear canal: as we have already mentioned, the inside of the ear canal can be cleaned with gauze and saline. Specific products should also be used to clean the ear canal, allowing the antifungal treatment to penetrate and be effective. These products should always be recommended by a veterinary professional.
- Antifungal medication: antifungal treatment should be administered in the form of ear drops containing enilconacol, miconazole or chlortrimazole. Antifungal treatment is generally combined with antibiotic treatment, since yeast overgrowth is often accompanied by simultaneous bacterial overgrowth.
- Other drugs: when there is a lot of inflammation, lots of black ear wax or the ear canal is very small, it may be necessary to start a systemic treatment with corticosteroids such as prednisone for dogs.
When they have any issues which causes inflammation, it can cause great pain to the dog's ear, especially if they harm it from scratching. This can result in various complications, with an aural hematoma in dogs being particularly problematic.
Lack of hygiene
When we observe the presence of black ear wax in dogs, we must first take into consideration the differential diagnoses of ear mites and fungal infection. However, there are other reasons why a dog's ear may have black stuff. Lack of hygiene is an important issue. Although they perform some self-cleaning, dogs will need some help maintaining their overall hygiene, especially if they have been in particularly dirty environments.
To prevent ear problems in dogs, we need to perform regular ear cleaning. This should be carried out approximately every 2 weeks. We need to use specific ear cleaning products for small animals. When this cleaning is not carried out preventively, it is common for earwax to accumulate and to acquire a dark or blackish color over time.
This is due to ear wax collecting the residues present in the ear canal such as dust and skin cells. This oxidizes when it comes in contact with the air. In these cases, the presence of dark earwax does not have a pathological significance in itself. However, this lack of hygiene can be a predisposing factor that triggers the appearance of otitis. That is why it is essential to maintain proper hygiene in the ears of our dogs by performing preventive cleaning on a regular basis.
Find out more with our step-by-step guide to cleaning a dog's ears or checking out the video below.
In dogs, the external auditory canal has a fairly marked L-shape. This makes it difficult for ear wax to escape to the outside. There are certain breeds in which the conformation of the outer ear and/or the ear further complicate the drainage of earwax. For example, Shar Pei dogs often have very narrow ear canals (stenotic) and Basset Hounds have very low-hanging ears, characteristics that make it difficult for earwax to escape and prevent proper ventilation of the ear canal.
Something similar occurs in animals that have polyps or tumors in the ear canal. These prevent the normal flow of wax to the outside. In these dogs, it is relatively common to find a discharge that is darker than usual, which corresponds to old earwax that has oxidized over time. It also collects debris and dirt present in the ear canal. These breeds are also more predisposed to suffering from otitis and other ear disorders, which is why it is especially important in these breeds to maintain proper ear hygiene by performing regular cleanings.
Learn about other ear problems in dogs with our article on why a dog has cold ears.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Has Black Stuff in Their Ears, we recommend you visit our Skin problems category.
1. Pye C. (2018). Pseudomonas otitis externa in dogs. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, 59(11), 1231–1234.
- Association of Spanish Veterinarians Specialists in Small Animals (AVEPA). (2016). Canine otitis.