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Black Stuff in Dog's Ear? Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment - PawSafe

Black Stuff in Dog’s Ear? Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

black stuff in dog's ears

Imagine a scenario where you are cuddling with your cozy furry friend; when you are hit with this smell, you cannot place where it is coming from. You end up tracing it back to your dog’s ears. To your surprise, not only is there some stench but there is also black stuff in your the ear canal.

Usually, the black discharge in your canine’s ear is either the stuck-up debris or ear mites. It also indicates an ear infection and could be accompanied by other signs like a foul odor or a dog scratching their ear excessively. This should concern dog owners and may leave us wondering how to proceed.

By addressing any health issue promptly, you save them from intense agony and get to cuddle your pup comfortably. We have consulted the work of canine ear health experts and hope this article will leave you more knowledgeable on the importance of checking your dog’s ears regularly and identifying any black stuff that may be present.

Ear infection is one of the leading health issues veterinarians have to deal with in their daily lives.  There are three types of ear infections:

  •  Otitis externa, which is the most common;
  •  Otitis media; and
  •  Otitis interna.

Otitis media and interna are severe ear infections and could lead to deafness if left untreated. It is estimated that 20% of dogs have some form of ear infection. Dogs are more prone to ear infections than humans due to their L-shaped ear canal.

All dogs are vulnerable to ear infections. However, dogs that swim often and have floppy ears are more susceptible to chronic ear infections. The dark discharge in dogs’ ears is not a common problem in dogs, and it can result from various factors such as moisture retention, allergies, foreign objects, or anatomical features that limit proper ear ventilation. 

Causes of Black Gunk in Canine Ears

The ear canal of a pug with visible dark discharge

If you’ve noticed blackish red discharge in your dog’s ear, it’s essential to try and identify the underlying cause. Here are some common reasons why a dog may have dark ear discharge:

1. Ear Mites

Ear mites are a type of parasite that can cause irritation and inflammation in the ears. They are tiny and difficult to see with the naked eye, but they leave behind a dark, crumbly substance in the ear canal that looks like coffee grounds. If your dog has ear mites, they will exhibit behaviors such as:  

  • Scratching or pawing the infected ear;
  • Shaking their head excessively;
  • Rubbing the infected ear on furniture as they are trying to bear the discomfort; and
  • A dark brown or black discharge coming from the infected ear.

If you notice a dark brown or red discharge that looks like blood, it is likely a severe infection from the middle or inner ear. This is more painful and could lead to deafness or irreparable damage to the ear. 

Ear mites, if left untreated, can cause mange. Mange is contagious and can be easily transmitted to other pets. Humans, too, can get mange from contact with an infected dog. Treatment should involve all the pets in touch with an infected dog.

Pooches infected by mange are likely to scratch themselves from time to time, and this could lead to your dog losing hair and having patches of crusty skin.

2. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections can occur in the ear due to a variety of reasons, such as allergies or injuries. The black debris in dog ears may be a result of the discharge from the infection. Other signs of a bacterial infection include redness, swelling, and a foul odor.

3. Fungal Infections

Fungal infections, such as yeast infections, can cause dark brown or red discharge in canine ears. These infections thrive in dark, warm, moist environments like the ear canal. Yeast overgrowth can occur for various reasons, including allergies, moisture trapped, and poor hygiene.

Dogs with long, floppy ears, like Basset Hound, are more prone to ear infections. As much as their saggy ears help stir the smell up toward the nose, they can act as a home for bacteria, leading to disease when not cleaned regularly.

The dog may scratch their ears and shake their head if they have a fungal infection. Other symptoms include redness, swelling, blood blisters on the ears, and a foul odor.

4. Allergies

Allergies can cause inflammation and irritation in dog ears, producing black ear gunk. Common allergens include pollen, dust, and certain foods.

Allergies often lead to ear canal infections extending to the outer ear. If your dog has allergies, they may also scratch at their ears frequently and have other symptoms, such as sneezing and watery eyes. 

5. Dirt and Debris

Sometimes, the dark stuff in the ear is dirt and debris accumulated over time. This can happen if your dog spends much time outdoors or in dusty environments. Regular ear cleaning can help prevent the buildup of dirt and debris.

Understanding Dog Ear Anatomy

dog ear anatomy

When understanding black stuff in a dog’s ear, it’s essential first to understand the anatomy. The ear is divided into three main sections: the outer, middle, and inner ear.

Outer Ear

The outer ear is the part of the ear that we can see. It comprises the ear flap (the pinna) and the ear canal. The pinna is designed to capture the sound waves and channel them to the eardrum through the ear canal. 

The ear flap is made of cartilage and covered in skin and fur. The ear canal is a tube that leads from the ear flap to the eardrum. Tiny mites usually burrow on the edges of the pinna and can cause intense itching.

The type of parasite causing the infection depends on the environment, season, and geographical location.

Middle Ear

The middle ear is behind the eardrum and comprises three tiny bones called the ossicles. These bones are the malleus, incus, and stapes. The middle ear also contains the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat.

Inner Ear

The inner ear is located deep within the skull and is responsible for hearing and balance. It comprises the cochlea, responsible for listening, and the vestibular system, responsible for balance.

Understanding the anatomy of a ear is essential when identifying and treating any issues, such as black discharge in the ear. If you notice any black discharge or buildup, it’s vital to have them seen by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

Symptoms to Look Out For

If you’re concerned about black stuff in dog ears, there are a few symptoms you should look out for. Here are some common signs that your dog may be experiencing an ear infection:

Ear Scratching

If your dog is scratching their ear frequently, it may be a sign that they have an ear infection. Scratching excessively can cause further irritation and lead to bleeding or scabbing. Scratching could also mean your dog is suffering from allergies to food or environmental factors.


Head shaking in dogs is normal. They may do it when they are playing or have water trapped. However, if your dog shakes their head incessantly, it could indicate an ear infection.

When this is the case, they are shaking to relieve the discomfort caused by the infection or to clear the ear canal from foreign objects that might have found their way in there.

Unpleasant Odor

Bacteria or yeast ear infections are the most common causes of unpleasant smells. Different smells from the ear may mean other things. For example, poop or rotten flesh may indicate a bacterial infection, while an old trash or garbage smell indicates ear mites infestation.   

Changes in Behavior

If your dog is experiencing discomfort or pain in their ear, they may exhibit changes in behavior. Pain, age, stress, lethargy, and trauma can contribute to behavior changes like separating or distancing themselves.  

When you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, you must take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis of Ear Problems in Dogs

Dark brown gunk or discharge within a Maltese dog's ear from an infection

When diagnosing ear problems in dogs, there are a few key things to remember. First, it’s essential to be aware of the different types of ear problems that dogs can experience. These can include:

  • Ear infections;
  • Ear mites;
  • Foreign objects in the ear;
  • Allergies; and
  • Tumors.

If you notice any signs of swelling, redness, or irritation in the ears, you must act fast and consult a professional. Prolonged treatment leads to more severe health issues. Some common signs of ear problems in dogs include:

  • Scratching or rubbing at the ears;
  • Shaking the head;
  • Redness or swelling in the ear canal;
  • Discharge or odor from the ears; and
  • Loss of balance or coordination.

Once you’ve administered the home remedies with the help of a professional and your dog still exhibits ear problem signs, take your dog to the vet. They will likely physically examine the ears to look for signs of infection or other issues.

The vet may also take a sample of any discharge or debris in the ear to examine under a microscope. In some cases, further diagnostic tests may be necessary to determine the underlying cause of the ear problem. These can include:

  • Blood tests;
  • Skin allergy testing;
  • Imaging tests (such as X-rays or CT scans); and
  • Biopsies.

Overall, the key to diagnosing and treating ear problems in dogs is to be proactive and seek veterinary care as soon as you notice any signs of trouble. Most ear problems can be successfully managed and resolved with prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment Options

When it comes to treating black or red goo in a dog’s ear, several options are available. A 1999 study by Patterson showed that between topical and injectable treatment methods, topical treatments like administering Ivermectin were found to be more efficient in reducing ear mites.

Here are some of the most common treatment options:

Home Remedies

Several home remedies may help alleviate the symptoms of blackish red stuff from the ear canal. These include:

  • Cleaning the ear with a gentle, non-irritating solution;
  • Applying a warm compress to the affected ear; and
  • Using natural remedies like aloe vera, tea tree oil, or apple cider vinegar.

It’s important to note that while home remedies may provide temporary relief, they are not a substitute for proper veterinary care. Several treatment options are available for ear discharge. Working closely with your veterinarian is important to determine the best course of action for your furry friend.


Medication is often the first line of defense when treating black gunk  in the canine ear. Your veterinarian may prescribe ear drops or antibiotics like cefpodoxime with clavulanic acid, which has proven effective, safe, and convenient.

Antifungal medications like Itraconazole capsules will be prescribed for fungal infections to help clear the infection. It’s essential to follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian and to administer the medication as directed.


Surgery may sometimes be necessary to remove the cause of the dark discharge in the ear. This is typically only considered when the infection is severe or if there is a tumor or growth in the ear canal. Your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with you and help you make an informed decision.

Prevention Tips

Preventing black stuff in a dog’s ear can be achieved through various measures. Here are some tips that can help:

Regular Ear Cleaning

Regular ear cleaning prevents gunk  in your dog’s ear. You can use a cotton ball or a soft cloth to clean their ears. Avoid using anything that would push the debris further into the ear canal, like cotton swabs.

You can also use ear-cleaning solutions that are specifically designed for dogs. Follow the instructions on the label and consult with your veterinarian before using any new product.

Proper Diet

A proper diet is crucial in maintaining your dog’s overall health, including their ears. Feed your dog a well-balanced diet with high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and limited carbohydrates. You can also include garlic and turmeric, which can help your dog’s body to fight the yeast.  

Avoid feeding your dog table scraps, as this can cause allergies. Food allergies are one of the most prevalent causes of ear infections in dogs since they can lead to the unnatural growth of yeast.

Regular Vet Check-ups

Regular vet check-ups are necessary to prevent infections that cause discharge in the ears. Your veterinarian can examine your dog’s ears and identify potential problems before they become serious. 

They can also recommend ear-cleaning products and advise on adequately cleaning your dog’s ears. By following these prevention tips, you can help keep your dog’s ears healthy and prevent black stuff from forming.

When to Consult a Vet

While some causes of black ear discharge can be treated at home, others require veterinary attention. Here are some signs that it’s time to take your dog to the vet:

  • A foul odor accompanies the black grime  in your dog’s ear.
  • Your dog is scratching or pawing at their ear excessively.
  • Your dog’s ear is red, swollen, or painful to the touch.
  • Your dog is showing discomfort, such as whining or shaking their head.
  • If your dog has a history of ear problems.

In some cases, black ear discharge can indicate an infection or injury that requires medical attention. Early detection and treatment are key to keeping your dog healthy and happy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I clean my dog’s ears at home?

Cleaning your dog’s ears at home is easy and can be done using simple steps.

1. First, ensure you have enough space to be sure your dog will not mess up the surroundings when shaking. 
2. Gather all the necessary supplies, including ear cleaning solution, cotton balls or pads, and treats.
3. Gently grab your dog with one hand with your thumb in the middle of their eyes. The rest of the hand should be holding the mouth.
4. Tilt your dog’s head to one side and apply the cleaning solution to the ear canal.
5. Massage the base of the ear to help loosen any debris or wax until you hear a squishing sound.
6. Use a cotton ball or pad to remove any excess solution and debris. Let the dog go to allow him to shake their head and repeat the process on the other ear.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection in dogs?

The symptoms of an ear infection in dogs can include redness, swelling, discharge, odor, and scratching or rubbing at the ears. Your dog may also show discomfort or pain when touching their ears.

What causes excessive black ear wax in dogs?

Excessive blackish or dark brown ear wax in dogs can be caused by various factors, including ear infections, allergies, ear mites, or simply a wax buildup. It is essential to have the ears examined by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

How do I know if my dog has ear mites?

Ear mites are a common parasite that can affect dogs, particularly those that spend a lot of time outdoors. Symptoms of ear mites in dogs can include scratching or shaking of the head, dark discharge or debris in the ear canal, and a strong odor. 

Why is my dog’s ear crusty inside?

Various factors, including ear infections, allergies, or a buildup of wax or debris can cause crusty ears in dogs. 

What is the best treatment for brown discharge in a dog’s ear?

The best treatment for brown discharge in a from the ears will depend on the underlying cause. Your veterinarian may recommend ear cleaning, medication, or other therapies to address the issue. It is essential to follow what is recommended and to monitor your dog’s ears for any changes or signs of discomfort.

Final Thoughts

The dark stuff in your dog’s ear can indicate an underlying infection or other health issues. To prevent black stuff from developing in your dog’s ears, clean their ears regularly and keep them dry.

Avoid using cleaners that can irritate their skin or anything that could push the debris inside the ear canal and cause further problems. Follow our guide if you need help properly cleaning your dog’s ears, or consult a professional who can guide and recommend appropriate products.

By taking these simple steps, you can help keep your dog’s ears healthy and avoid any potential health issues. Remember to prioritize your furry friend’s well-being and act promptly to prevent more suffering for your dog.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.