Ear mites are common in dogs, especially puppies. Although ear mites can lead to secondary infections, diagnosis and treatments are usually straightforward.
Table of Contents
- Ear mites can cause scratching, head shaking and a black discharge from the ears.
- Diagnosis must be made by a veterinarian examining inside the ears and possibly taking swabs.
- Treatment involves ear cleaning and medicated ear drops or spot-on treatments.
- Prognosis (outcome) is good, although secondary infections can occur.
- Ear mite infections are largely preventable.
Symptoms & typesEar mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are tiny parasites that live on the surface of the skin in the ear canal. They feed on your dog’s ear wax and skin. They are so tiny that they are very difficult to see with the naked eye, although you may be able to see tiny white specks moving around.
Ear mites are tiny parasites that live on the surface of the skin in the ear canal.Ear mites usually affect both ears. The most common symptoms of ear mites in dogs are:
- Scratching at the ears
- Shaking the head
- Rubbing the face along the ground
- Red, inflamed skin around the ear
- A black discharge, which is often described as looking like ‘coffee grounds’
- Smelly ears
Understanding the diagnosticsFirst of all, it’s really important that you don’t make a diagnosis yourself! Many ear infections aren’t caused by mites. Incorrectly trying to treat your dog for ear mites will only delay appropriate treatment, which can lead to more serious infections. Your veterinarian will make a diagnosis by examining inside your dog’s ears with an instrument called an otoscope. Because the otoscope magnifies their view, they may be able to see tiny white specks moving around in the ear wax. Often mites aren’t visible, so they may need to take a swab from the ear. This involves gently rolling a cotton swab in the ear canal and transferring the material onto a glass slide, which is then examined under a microscope. This enables them to see any mites and to look for evidence of a secondary infection with bacteria or yeast. If your dog has a secondary infection, your veterinarian may wish to send a cotton swab to the lab, for a test called ‘culture and sensitivity’. This lets them know exactly what type of infection is present and how best to treat it.
It’s really important that you don’t make a diagnosis yourself!
Learning About The CausesIf you are wondering what has caused your dog’s ear mite infection, they most likely picked it up from another dog, as this is the most common means of transmission. Puppies will often catch ear mites from their mom. It’s also possible to catch ear mites from the environment, such as from bedding, although this is less common. Ear mite infections are usually caused by a mite called Otodectes cynotis. But there are other types of mites that can cause problems in the ear canal, another reason that proper diagnosis is key!
Many types of mites can cause problems in the ear canal, which is why proper diagnosis is key!
Best Treatment OptionsTreatment for ear mites in dogs starts with ear cleaning. Removing excess wax allows your veterinarian to get a better view of the ear canal and enables topical treatments to work more effectively. If your dog’s ear canals are very sore, then they may need to be sedated for cleaning. Your veterinarian may also show you how to clean your dog’s ears at home. There are several treatment options available for the mites themselves, ranging from spot-ons to topical ear drops. Your veterinarian will prescribe the best treatment for your dog. It’s important to treat your dog’s environment too, as ear mites can survive for months on the bedding and other soft furnishings. Hot washing any bedding helps, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend a suitable spray treatment for the environment. Treatment tends to act against adult mites, not the eggs, and these little critters can reproduce at an alarming rate! It takes 3 weeks for the eggs to mature into adults. Even if you kill all the adults, the eggs can survive, so more adults will appear after 3 weeks. This means many treatments need to be given for 3 weeks or more or need to be repeated after 3-4 weeks. If the ear canals are inflamed, your dog may also need anti-inflammatory treatment. This provides pain relief and opens up the ear canals, so the treatment can work. Anti-inflammatory medication may be included in the ear drops or given separately by mouth. Your veterinarian will also treat any secondary bacterial or yeast ear infections. Unfortunately, home remedies are usually ineffective and delay appropriate treatment. If left untreated, ear mites can cause secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections. In severe cases, ear mite infections can damage the eardrum. The good news is that ear mites are preventable! Many flea preventatives also protect against ear mites. Talk with your veterinarian about which preventatives would be best for your dog.
Parting thoughtsWhile there are many possible causes of ear infections in dogs, such as ear hematoma or underlying health issues, ear mites are one of the most itchy and unpleasant! If you suspect that your dog has ear mites then it’s important you take them to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Luckily, treatment is usually straightforward!
There are a number of active ingredients (drugs) that kill ear mites. Your veterinarian may prescribe medicated ear drops, tablets, or spot-on treatments.
Ear mites must be diagnosed by a veterinarian, as many types of ear infections can present in the same way. You may see tiny white flecks moving around, although most of the time they are too tiny to see with the naked eye. Ear mites usually cause a black discharge from the ears, which looks like coffee grinds.
There are several treatment options for killing ear mites. They are available in a range of preparations, such as ear drops or spot-on treatments. Your veterinarian will prescribe the most appropriate treatment for your dog based on the level of inflammation present, if there is any secondary infection, and if the eardrum has been damaged.
Ear mites cannot survive for long on humans. Thankfully it is very rare, but ear mites can cause a rash in humans. If you are worried, contact your doctor for advice.
Sarah-Jane Molier wanted to be a veterinarian from around the age of ten. After much hard work, and her first degree in animal science, she realized this dream and graduated in 2009. She has been working in small animal clinics ever since.