Detecting and Treating Ear Mites in Dogs

Mychelle Blake
Contributor: Jess
Dog scratching his ears

Ear mites may seem like more of an irritation issue. However, it is very important to treat them so that they do not result in a problematic health concern.

What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are tiny, infectious parasites that resemble ticks and live in the ears of affected dogs. Barely seen by the naked eye, ear mites appear to be small white dots. It takes about three weeks for an ear mite to develop into an adult. These little pests can live their entire lives inside a dog's ear. And once afflicted, thousands of tiny mites scurry inside the ear canal. Keep in mind that your dog's ear canal is extremely sensitive. As the little buggers creep and crawl inside the ear, they eat cerumen or earwax. As this happens, the tender ear canal becomes more and more irritated.

Detecting Ear Mites

A veterinarian can easily detect dog ear mites by examining a sample of earwax from an afflicted dog under a microscope. You can detect dog ear mite infections at home by looking for dry, black ear discharge resembling coffee grounds in your dog's ear. (Sorry, coffee drinkers...) This dark discharge is composed of earwax, blood, biochemicals, and the ear mites themselves.

Problems That Develop

If not treated, the black discharge can actually close off the ear canal. Both the irritation and the blockage of air flow can further damage the ear and cause a fungal or bacterial infection.

Highly Contagious

Ear mites are very contagious. They can easily pass from one host to the next by physical contact. So, most likely if your dog has ear mites, she caught the infection from another animal with whom she had been socializing. Due to the ease of transmission, if you have multiple pets, they all should be treated for ear mites, even if only one displays the discharge and/or symptoms.

Mites in Dog Ears Symptoms

A dog will display certain symptoms that will clue you in to the problem of ear mites. The primary symptoms are:

  • Constant scratching behind or inside the ears
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Dark, coffee ground-like discharge from the ear
  • Ear canal inflammation
  • An unusual head tilt or loss of balance
  • Vomiting or a refusal to eat
  • In extreme cases, sores behind the ears due to excessive scratching

How to Get Rid of Dog Ear Mites

If you notice your pet displaying any of these symptoms, please take her to your local veterinarian's office immediately.

  • After examination and a positive diagnosis of ear mites, most veterinarians will first clean and flush the ears thoroughly with moist, soapy water to dispose of the discharge inside of the ears.
  • Every bit of the discharge must be removed from the ear canal before any medication will work. In severe cases, an anesthetic may be necessary to allow for a complete cleaning.
  • Then, the vet will apply medicinal drops into the ear canals or by means of an injection.

Please do not attempt to treat your dog's ears with over-the-counter ear mite medication or home remedies prior to a visit with your veterinarian. Many well-meaning dog owners use these products for weeks, even months, without positive results. A simple and quick visit to your vet will alleviate the pain and discomfort your pet feels due to the presence of ear mites. It may even save you a couple of bucks in the long run, as well.

Additional Precautions

After you have treated your dog for ear mites, wash everything that she has come in contact with in hot, soapy water. Adult ear mites are extremely mobile and can actually live for a while off of a dog. So, treat everything from your dog's toys to her bedding, perhaps even yours, to make sure all ear mites have been eliminated from the environment.

Dog Ear Mite Preventative

Treat your dog with a flea medication monthly. Many flea treatments, such as Frontline Plus, will help to kill mites as part of a larger plan to treat infestations using ear mite topical treatments for the ears, cleaning and other instructions provided by your veterinarian. Note that using a flea medication alone will not eradicate an ear mite infestation.

Ear Mites Versus Yeast Infection

Ear infections caused by bacteria and yeast are very common in dogs and from the outside appear to have the same symptoms as ear mites such as head shaking, scratching, skin inflammation and a foul-smelling and dark discharge. Diagnosis of whether your dog is suffering from mites or a yeast infection must be done by a veterinarian. He or she will take a sample of the discharge in your dog's ear canal and review it microscopically for signs of mites and bacteria. Sometimes it's possible for your dog to have both mites and a yeast or bacterial infection.

Using Home Remedies for Ear Mites

Ear mites can cause serious problems for your dogs if not treated correctly, so as much as you'd like to save money and use home remedies such as hydrogen peroxide, olive oil or apple cider vinegar, it's best for your pet to see your veterinarian. For one thing, the signs and symptoms of ear mites and ear infections are very similar and you need a vet to properly diagnose which is affecting your dog, or possibly even both. You may also think you have killed off the mites with home remedies while the eggs remain intact and ready to hatch. Your dog's ear canal can also be damaged by having too much of a substance such as oil inserted in it. If not properly treated, ear mites can worsen and lead to more infections, hematomas and scarring and even deafness, as well as considerable pain and discomfort for your dog along the way. It can also spread to any other pets in your home very easily.

Ear Mites Require Veterinary Treatment

Found in more cats than dogs, ear mites are nasty parasites that damage your pet's ear canals. Ear mites will not go away by themselves. Without proper care and medication, the ear mite infestation will continue to grow and can potentially cause permanent damage to your dog, such as skin disease, seizures, and deafness. Although humans cannot contract ear mites, the mites can bite people; so if only for your own sake, please seek treatment for your pet.

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Detecting and Treating Ear Mites in Dogs