Why Does My Dog Have Dirty Ears?

February 7, 2023
Amber LaRock - LVT & Vetted Vet Pro

Have you ever been cuddling with your dog and petting their face, only to discover a thin layer of dirt coating the inside of their ears? This gunk may appear to spread deep into their ear canal, leading you to wonder what could possibly cause this. Not only will you want to understand the potential causes of dirty ears in dogs, but it’s important to learn when and when not to clean them. Sometimes a dirty ear in dogs just needs a good refresh, and other times a dirty ear is pointing to something more. 

Our team at Vetted wants to empower you through education on your pet’s health, so let’s introduce you to all the details surrounding dirty ears in dogs. We’ll discuss some of the most common reasons why your dog’s ears are filled with dirt, as well as the best ways to tend to their ears moving forward!

Before we move forward, we suggest downloading the Vetted app so you can have access to our pet parent guidance center! This is our chat platform that allows you to speak with veterinary professionals 24/7, so you can reach out to us with any further questions about your dog’s dirty ears!

Are Dirty Ears Normal In Dogs?

When discussing dirty ears in dogs, it’s important to realize that not all ear dirt is bad. Our dogs have ear wax in their ears just like you and I do, and it is designed to catch unwelcomed debris and dirt. A thin layer of yellow ear wax lining the inside of their ears is just fine, and even a small amount of light brown wax is often normal as well. 

However, if it seems like your dog’s ears are filled with brown gunk, or if you see any evidence of an ear infection, then this likely means it’s time to jump into action. To make sure you can spot the difference between dirty ears and a brewing infection, we will break down these issues in detail below. 

Why Does My Dog Have Dirty Ears?

As we mentioned above, not all ear dirt is bad. So how do you spot the difference between standard gunk and a painful ear infection? Let’s break it down!

(While the only way to diagnose the cause of your dog’s dirty ears is by having them assessed by a vet, we can offer a few examples of the potential underlying factors below.)

Normal ear wax: A tiny bit of ear wax is normal for our little ones. Ear wax serves as a protective ear barrier, and it traps any dangerous debris before they travel deep into the ear canal. If all you see is a thin layer or yellow or tan wax inside of their ear, then this is likely nothing to worry about.

It’s time to clean their ears: While ear wax is completely normal, sometimes it can get a bit out of hand. This is especially true in long haired dogs, as they are known to trap excess ear wax in the hair around their ears. If there are no signs of an ear infection (redness, swelling, ear odor, discomfort, pus, head shaking) then you can likely clean your dog’s ears with an approved ear cleanser. You can typically clean your dog’s ears once a month without issue, but every pup will vary in what they need. 

For more instructions on how to do this safely, be sure to reach out to our Vetted Vet Pros on our 24/7 pet health chat. We will guide you step by step!

An ear infection: Sometimes ear infections can lead to a buildup of brown dirt inside of your dog’s ears. In addition to their dirty ears, you will likely see other signs of a brewing infection. The most common signs of an ear infection in dogs include ear redness, swelling, head shaking, moisture inside the ears, ear odor, pus, and discomfort when the ears are touched. If this is the case for your dog, we suggest scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian. 

You can also reach out to our Vetted Vet Pros, as we can point you in the direction of our at home ear infection test kits. 

A case of ear mites: If your little one has become a host to ear mites, then you may notice a large amount of brown dirt inside their ears. These critters burrow deep into your dog’s ear canals, and cause an array of irritating symptoms to follow. Not only is their presence itchy and painful enough, but they can also lead to an ear infection. If you think your dog may have caught ear mites, then we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian. 

What Should I Do For My Dog’s Dirty Ears?

We understand how concerned you are about your pet’s dirty ears, so you are likely wondering what you should do next. If this is a simple case of ear wax build up and there are no signs of an ear infection, then cleaning your dog’s ears with a vet-approved ear cleanser is often the next step. Just be sure to only use cotton balls or gauze, as Q-tips can cause serious damage to their ear canal. If you would like some guidance on how to do this properly, you can always reach out to our Vet Pros!

However, if there is any evidence of an ear infection in your little one, then we always suggest reaching out to your veterinary care team. Ear infections in dogs are very painful, so you will want to treat their discomfort as soon as possible. As always, our Vet Pros are here to answer any questions about your pup’s potential ear infection!