Woman placing cotton ball in dog’s ear

Key takeaway

Dog earwax ranges from pale yellow to brown and even gray. The only way to tell if this is normal is by examining your dog’s ears for signs of infection, including redness, discharge, odor, inflammation, and so on. If these common symptoms are present, consult your veterinarian. 

Your dog’s ears are made up of three essential components: the outer ear canal, middle ear, and inner ear. Each section plays a vital role in maintaining proper ear health and provides your dog with extraordinary hearing capabilities. Another vital component is your dog’s earwax, which keeps the ear clean and free of debris, protecting the inner workings of the ear. 

That said, a sudden change in your dog’s earwax color can be alarming and potentially indicate an underlying issue. But, what exactly does healthy earwax look like? In this guide, we’ll provide you with a helpful dog earwax color chart to help you determine if it’s time to get your dog’s ear checked. We’ll also show you how to clean your dog’s ears properly and keep them gunk-free.

What Is Earwax?

Earwax, or cerumen, is a naturally-occurring substance that develops in the external portion of the ear canal. This oily substance is secreted by the glands in your dog’s ears and is essential to protecting the ear’s structure from damage caused by dust, debris, bacteria, dead cells, and other foreign particles1. Due to its water-repelling properties, earwax also hinders moisture entry and prevents it from reaching the eardrum.

Dog Earwax Color Chart

Earwax can be all sorts of colors, from dark gray to light brown and pale yellow. If you’re wondering what color should normal dog earwax be, use the dog

Color 

Possible Indication

No Discharge

  • Infection unlikely
  • Inflammation, pruritus of pinna (outer ear) could indicate allergies

Dark Brown/Black

  • Associated with yeast-related ear infections
  • Veterinary consultation recommended

Brown

  • Healthy ear wax can range from yellow to light brown to black
  • Odor or inflammation may indicate infection
  • Veterinary consultation recommended

Yellow

  • Normal ear wax can range from yellow to light brown to black
  • Pinna (outer ear) should appear pinkish
  • Neutral odor 
  • May be associated with ear infections

Red

  • Bloody ear wax could indicate injury or bug bites
  • Pruritus may also be present
  • Veterinary consultation recommended

Green 

  • Green ear wax accompanied by foul odor is associated with yeast and fungal infections
  • Veterinary consultation recommended

Gray

  • May indicate presence of dirt
  • Can be associated with ear infections
  • No discharge—No discharge or earwax means that an infection is unlikely. However, if the inflammation of the outer ear is present, it can indicate allergies. 
  • Dark brown or black—This type of earwax is commonly associated with yeast and/or bacterial ear infections. It’s a good idea to consult with a veterinarian if earwax is this color.
  • Brown—Light brown earwax is normal and expected. If the wax is accompanied by odor or inflammation, it can be a sign of infection. Veterinary consultation is recommended.
  • Yellow—Yellow earwax is considered normal, but an infection can be festering if there’s swelling, redness, or discomfort.
  • Red—Red earwax can indicate the presence of blood. This can be due to injuries, bug bites, or irritation caused by pruritus (itchiness). Veterinary consultation is recommended to identify the cause of red earwax. 
  • Green—This earwax color is often associated with yeast infections, especially if a foul odor is also present. 
  • Gray—Gray-colored earwax can result from an ear infection, but it can also indicate dirt and debris build-up. Clean your dog’s ears and see if their earwax returns to a normal color, such as yellow or light brown. 

Besides earwax color, you should also keep an eye on its consistency and amount. For example, if the earwax is oozing instead of semi-soft, or if there’s an overproduction of earwax, it could indicate an underlying issue.

 

Graphic of ear cleaning steps

Cleaning Your Dog’s Earwax

Despite ear cleaning being essential to a dog’s hygiene, many pet parents avoid cleaning their dog’s ears. If you’re in this category, we’ve got you covered. We’ve broken down the ear cleaning process into a few simple steps:

  1. Fortunately, you don’t need special or expensive tools to clean your dog’s ears. Instead, you’ll gather real cotton balls or gauze and a vet-approved ear cleaning solution. Other cleaning agents may contain harsh chemicals or fragrances that irritate your dog’s ears. Make sure to also avoid cotton swabs to prevent damaging the ear canal or drum and pushing earwax further into the ear.
  2. Position your dog in front of you and fill their ear canal with the cleaning solution for 30 seconds. Then, gently massage around the base of the ear for approximately 40 seconds. To prevent contamination, don't let the tip of the applicator touch the inside of your dog’s ears. If this happens, wipe the tip off with alcohol.
  3. Allow your dog to vigorously shake their head and remove all of the solution from their ears. This will loosen the earwax, making it easier to clean up.
  4. Use the cotton balls to wipe the waxy debris out from the ears. 
  5. Repeat steps 2, 3, and 4 a minimum of four or five times until no further waxy debris is found on the cotton balls. Repeating the steps allows you to provide your dog with a more thorough cleaning. 
  6. Don’t forget to reward your dog for cooperating!

Some dogs may need more ear cleaning than others, especially if they’re more prone to ear infections or wax build-up, while others may never need their ears cleaned2. A vet can guide you to determine a cleaning schedule that works for you and your pet. Once a schedule is in place, you’ll be able to notice changes in your dog’s ears or wax easily. It’s also a great idea to start cleaning your dog’s ears when he is a puppy so he will be used to the cleanings as he gets older.

Remember, your dog's ears should appear pink and be free of foul-smelling odors or discharge. You also don’t want to clean too often as that can result in irritation or an infection2.  And, if you notice any pain while cleaning your dog’s ears, stop what you’re doing and contact your veterinarian. 

If your anxious dog stresses about ear cleanings, use the following tips to make the process easier:

  • Play with your dog or go on a walk to tire them out before the ear cleaning 
  • Distract your pet with treats, such as peanut butter or canned food
  • Start slowly and take breaks if your dog is showing signs of stress
  • Desensitize your dog by introducing them to the ear cleaning materials and practice handling their ears
  • Have a professional clean their ears

When to See a Vet

Ultimately, the only way to tell if earwax is normal is by watching out for signs of a dog ear infection, including inflammation, redness, frequent head shaking, head tilting, scratching, or discomfort. If your dog is experiencing symptoms of an ear infection, make sure to visit your veterinarian. Sometimes, inflammation may not be present on the outer portion of the ear, so a vet will have to conduct a proper exam using an otoscope (an instrument to look in the ear). 

Graphic of how to tell if your dog’s wax is normal

Dog ear infections can arise for several reasons, such as:

  • Dog allergies—Food, flea, or environmental allergies can affect your dog’s ears and cause repeat ear infections.
  • Ear mites—Small, spider-like parasites that are attracted to earwax and thrive in the dark environment ear canals provide. Most often, mites will be so tiny you can’t see them without the right equipment, so a trip to the vet is necessary. 

Once the vet has determined the root of your dog’s ear infection, they can prescribe treatment and help your dog bounce back from their condition. With Dutch, you can get your dog’s ears checked out virtually and receive treatment for ear infections caused by allergies right to your doorstep. 

Dog getting ears cleaned

Dog Earwax Color: Frequently Asked Questions

With so much information about dog earwax and ear cleaning, it can be difficult to know what’s helpful and what isn’t. We’ve answered some frequently asked questions about dog earwax below to guide you.

What color should my dog’s earwax be?

Earwax ranges from yellowish to light brown to even black—all of which can be associated with an ear infection. Ideally, your dog’s ear should be a healthy pink color and be free of redness, discharge, and odors. Look out for other notable dog ear infection symptoms, including head shaking, ear scratching, and ear rubbing on the floor or other surfaces. 

Why is my dog’s earwax dark brown?

While light brown earwax is completely normal, dark-colored earwax can signify a yeast or bacterial infection. If you notice dark brown wax in your dog’s ears, it’s a good idea to consult a veterinary professional for guidance. 

What are the typical signs of a dog ear infection?

Typical signs of a dog ear infection include:

  • Head shaking 
  • Unpleasant odor 
  • Red skin 
  • Discharge 
  • Inflammation 
  • Excessive ear scratching 

If you’re concerned about an ear infection, refer to our ear infection drainage dog earwax color chart.

Pug having his ears examined by vet

Final Notes

There’s no denying the importance of your dog’s earwax. After all, it’s what keeps dust, bacteria, and other foreign particles out of the ear canal and drum. While healthy earwax ranges in color, consistency, and quantity, it’s vital to watch for signs of infection, such as inflammation, discharge, redness, pain, and swelling. It’s also a good idea to regularly check and clean your dog’s ears to help get the gunk out.

Did you notice a sudden change in your dog’s earwax color due to environmental, flea, or food allergies? Get started with Dutch to learn how a Dutch-affiliated vet can help your furry friend’s earwax get back to a normal, healthy color and prevent further complications. 

References

  1. Earwax.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000979.htm

  2. Burke, Anna. “How to Clean a Dog's Ears.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 25 June 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-to-clean-dogs-ears/