Ear Discharge

Like humans, dogs and cats have a bit of wax inside their ears to trap grit before it gets into the ear canal. But when you see a runny or crusty discharge, which may be white, brown, green, or tinged with red, it is time to be concerned.

In cats, a discharge that is dark and dry-looking is often caused by mites, tiny organisms that burrow into the delicate tissue inside the ear to lay their eggs. (Dogs, however, rarely get ear mites.) Mites can cause extreme itchiness, so frequent scratching is another common sign.

Discharges can also be caused by allergies, says Merry Crimi, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Milwaukie, Oregon. "Dogs and cats can have an allergy to plant pollens, especially those that are abundant in the spring and fall. And just as a person gets a runny nose from pollen allergies, a pet can develop waxy and itchy ears." Food allergies can also cause problems, she adds.

Infections are a common cause of ear discharges, Dr. Crimi says. In cats, the discharge will probably be light brown or yellow; in dogs, it will probably be brown, green, or white, possibly with a little blood mixed in. Labradors and other dogs that love the water are prone to bacterial or yeast infections because wet ears are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, or other organisms. Sometimes, just giving your dog a bath can start an infection brewing.

In some cases, an ear discharge can actually be caused by medications used to treat an ear infection, says Jay W. Geasling, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Buffalo, New York. "If your pet's ears ooze after you start treatment, she could be allergic to the antibiotic." This type of problem is especially common with ointments containing neomycin, he adds.

An ear discharge can also be caused by a foreign object like a burr or grass seed that gets inside the ear and starts festering, says Dr. Crimi.

See Your Vet If...

  • The discharge is crusty
  • Your pet's ears are itchy
  • She has been swimming or has had a bath recently
  • She is taking medications
  • There is bleeding inside or on one of the earflaps, or the ears are swollen
  • Your pet is frequently tilting her head or having trouble with balance
  • There is a bad smell or discharge in one or both ears
  • There is Fur loss around the ears, or the ears are scabby
  • Your pet seems to be having trouble hearing
  • Her ears are unusually tender or itchy
  • The tips of her ears are cold, white, and dry, which are signs of frostbite
  • Your pet is frequently scratching one or both ears

Next Steps:

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