Ear Mites In Dogs: Cause, Symptoms, And Treatment

Mites in dogs

Ear mites are one of the most common external parasites in dogs, next to fleas and ticks. These insect parasites look lice ticks or little spiders but they are barely visible to the naked eye. They thrive on the wax and oils that are present on the dog’s ears. Mites on dogs are very contagious which means they can easily transfer from one dog to the next or even from cats to dogs. Even if there is only one pet with ear mites, there is a big possibility that other pets in the household are infected, too. 

Dogs that are harboring ear mites suffer from intense itching and discomfort. The dog mites cause irritation in the ear passages. The following symptoms are commonly associated with ear mites in dogs:

  • Persistent ear scratching
  • Head-shaking
  • Rubbing their ears against something solid like the wall, floor, or carpet
  • Scratching can lead to lesions, scabs, and cuts around the ears
  • Dark, foul-smelling discharge in the ear canals that resemble coffee grounds. The discharge is actually made of dried blood.
  • Infections may be present as bacteria infect the wounds caused by the dog’s scratching.
  • In severe infestations, the ear mites may spread to other parts of the dog’s body.

What are ear mites in dogs?

There are several species of ear mites, but the most common types of mites that affect dogs are known as Otodectes cynotis (Greek “a beggar of the dog”). Aside from dogs, these mites can also infest cats, foxes, and ferrets. 

How mites are transmitted

Did you know that picking up even one ear mite can pave the way for full-fledged infestation within a very short time? When a dog or cat shakes his head, ear mites can be spread in the immediate environment. These mites will quickly find a nearby host because they are unable to survive for long periods without one. Ear mites in dogs can also be present on loose hair that has fallen off to the floor or ground. 

Female ear mites are prolific. They lay about 5 eggs a day that hatch within 4 days time. Upon hatching, the juvenile ear mites soon feast on the oils and ear wax. The life cycle of ear mites usually lasts for 3 weeks. 

What happens when ear mites aren’t treated promptly?

Severe cases of ear mite infestation that is not given prompt medical intervention can increase a dog’s risk to ear problems including loss of hearing and loss of balance. This is a very important reason to take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as you notice any sign of a potential dog ear mite problem. 

How ear mites in dogs are diagnosed

In addition to the symptoms that are present, the vet will use a special instrument known as an otoscope to closely examine the dog’s ear canal for any indication of a mite infestation. The vet may also find it necessary to examine ear discharge under a microscope. In severe cases, a dog may need to be sedated if he can’t seem to stop scratching at his ears and could hardly keep still. Sedation can help ensure ease of diagnostic examination and initial treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about having your dog sedated, don’t hesitate to talk to your vet. 

How ear mites on dogs are treated?

The ears are very sensitive organs thus, a home remedy is never recommended. Taking your pet to the vet will help ensure that the best treatment regimen can be started immediately. After a thorough examination, the dog’s ears will have to be cleaned thoroughly to remove the debris, ear wax, and the mites. Then a topical anti-parasitic medication is applied to the dog’s ears. When there are signs of secondary infection, your vet may prescribe a round of antibiotics. If you have a multi-pet household, your vet may advise treatment for all dogs and cats even if they are not yet showing any signs of infestation. 

Most ear mite infections are treated as outpatients. But your vet will give you instructions on how to care for your pet, since treatment will have to be continued at home for several weeks. These may include regular ear cleaning and administration of anti-parasite medication. 

Frequent bathing may also be recommended for up to a month to get rid of mites that may still be attached to loose hair. Cleaning and disinfection of your pet’s immediate environment, including his things, could also help reduce the possibility of re-infection. 

Take note that most ear mite medications only kill the mature mites, leaving the eggs intact. Thus it’s important for treatment to extend for several weeks to get rid of all the mites. Even if your dog has ceased showing any signs of infestation, you should follow the instruction of your vet regarding the duration of treatment. Your pet’s intense itching and scratching will eventually subside in time as the effect of the medication kicks in. 

What is the best way to protect dogs against ear mites?

Protecting your dog against ear mites can be very challenging but not impossible, especially if your canine buddy spends a lot of time outdoors. The mites can easily attach to anything that dogs can come in contact with, from blades of grass to loose hair to carpets. While it is difficult to control what your pet will encounter on his outdoor excursions, it is easier to keep your pet’s indoor environment free from mites. Regular thorough cleaning of your pet’s living area is very important. 

You can also ask your veterinarian about preventive medications. There are certain anti-flea products that contain active ingredients that can also prevent ear mites in dogs. You should work closely with your vet in creating the best parasite prevention program that will give your pet adequate protection not only during certain seasons but throughout all the months of the year. 

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