Ear mites are one of the most common health issues to affect dogs. They aren’t life-threatening, but they can create a great deal of discomfort for your pup and take up a great deal of time to treat.
Knowing the symptoms of ear mites, understanding how to treat them, and doing all you can to prevent them can go a long way in dealing with ear mites. The earlier you recognize a problem with ear mites the better for your dog because they can trigger secondary health problems that will increase the cost and time needed to get your dog back to good health.
What are Ear Mites?
Ear mites are just like they sound – mite bugs that infest the ear.
They are parasites that look like teeny-tiny little spiders. Medically, an ear mite infestation is called otodectic mange, which is essentially mange of the ears.
Ear mite infections are common in general when it comes to dog health, and they are especially common when it comes to ear health. About half of all ear infections dogs experience are caused by ear mites. It can be difficult to recognize the difference between an ear mite infestation and another kind of ear infection in your dog that could be more serious, so it’s important to have a vet check your dog out any time you are concerned about his or her ear health.
There are different strains of mites that infect dog’s ears, the most common of which is the otodectes cynotis. They thrive in dark, warm, and moist environments, so it’s easy to understand why they would love to tunnel their way into a dog’s ear, especially if those ears are long and floppy. They don’t go under the skin, but instead, live on dead skin cells and ear wax. While there, they scratch and prick the skin, which leads to the itching, irritation, inflammation, and discomfort that is so common when dogs have ear mites.
Like all parasites, it’s important to understand the life cycle of the ear mite when fighting an infestation.
Adult mites lay eggs in your dog’s ear canal. They take a few days to hatch. Once born, they experience a few days long period known as the nymph stage before developing into full-grown adult mites that are capable of breeding. This entire cycle takes about a month, so in just a few weeks your dog could be suffering from a significant gang of mites in his or her ears. In severe cases of ear mites, there might be evidence of the parasites on the dog’s face and head.
Ear mites, like many health issues for dogs, are extremely contagious. When your dog is near other pets with ear mites or uses bedding that has come into contact with an animal with an infestation, the odds of your dog developing ear mites are high. Mites can crawl across the fur so if your dog plays with another infected dog, the mites can travel from one coat to the other.
Ear mites are also able to survive for weeks without a host. This means if your dog comes into contact with bedding or other surfaces that have been contaminated – even several weeks after the initial contamination – he or she can contract ear mites.
A single ear mite can be tough to see because they are so small. You might seem them as tiny white dogs on your dog, especially if they crawl out of the ear and are on the surface of your dog’s face.
When you take your dog to the vet, he or she will look into your dog’s ear with a magnifying device and be able to see the tiny bugs. It’s also possible to confirm a diagnosis of ear mites through a wax sample test.
Chances are what will let you know your dog has ear mites are the debris they leave behind and the behavior of your dog. You’ll notice scratching, rubbing, and head shaking, as well as a general attitude of malaise in most dogs. Some dogs aren’t drastically affected, but most feel some discomfort and you’ll note annoyance and frustration. Some dogs tend to develop some anxiety when they are dealing with a mild to moderate health condition and might pace, be restless, or have a change in appetite or sleeping habits when battling an ear mite infestation.
Some dogs display no symptoms at all. This is especially true early on in an infestation. Shaking, scratching, and irritation get worse over time, as more and more mites hatch. The buildup of “coffee ground looking” wax can also be an indication of a problem, as well as ears that are red and inflamed.
Symptoms of ear mites include:
Keep in mind, nearly all ear problems in dogs present with similar symptoms, so no matter whether you think the problem could be serious or not, it’s important to see a vet.
All dogs can contract an ear mite infestation, but some are more at risk than others. The darker and warmer the ears the higher the risk. This means dogs with long, floppy ears have a higher risk. Dogs that do not get their ears cleaned on a regular basis also face a higher risk.
Some of the breeds with long floppy ears that don’t get good airflow into their ear canals that face a higher risk include:
There are plenty of health issues that are not interspecies, meaning a dog could not pass their health condition to a cat or human. Ear mites are not one of them.
If your dog has ear mites, he or she could pass an infestation along to another pet or person in your home.
Ear mites are more common in cats than in dogs, so if you bring an infested cat into your home the problem can easily pass to your dog. The same is true for other small domesticated animals, too.
You could even catch ear mites from your dog, but the risk is very low. Keeping your hands and ears clean when you know your dog has a mite infestation will likely be enough to prevent a problem. Make sure you wash your hands after petting your dog or treating his or her ears.
You might be able to diagnose a problem with ear mites at home, especially if you’ve dealt with an infestation before. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t contact your vet though. Even if your dog’s ears are sore and sensitive, it’s still important to have a vet check things out. An examination will confirm the problem is ear mites and not something more serious. It also helps the vet to determine the severity of the infestation and recommend the appropriate treatment course for your pet. An examination can also help you determine if a secondary infection has developed in addition to the problem with ear mites.
Ear mites are not a serious health concern in general, but they can develop into something serious if not treated properly. They are also uncomfortable for your dog, so unless you want to make your beloved pet miserable, you need to commit to an appropriate course of treatment for ear mites.
Furthermore, scratching the ears can lead to infections that could eventually become serious and affect your dog’s balance and overall health and well-being. Over time, a dog’s ears can be permanently damaged by an ear mite infestation, including the loss of hearing. Treating ear mites is an essential part of caring for your pet properly.
Treating ear mites effectively begins with an ear cleaning. Chances are your vet will do the initial cleaning after the examination. There are specially formulated liquids that break down waxy build up and freshen up the ears. This solution can be used at home, too.
The best way to clean your pup’s ears is with a piece of tissue or paper towel, twisted into a piece that fits into the ear canal, or a piece of cotton that is unwound and twisted in the same manner. Avoid using buds or Q-tips because they can damage the dog’s ears unless you know exactly what you are doing.
There are over-the-counter and prescription solutions available for cleaning your dog’s ears. Soap and water are unlikely to be enough to break down the waxy buildup and if not rinsed properly, can lead to itching and irritation. You can also use vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solutions for cleaning. Keep in mind, these solutions do not kill ear mites. Some dog owners have also had luck cleaning their dog’s ears with witch hazel or green tea, both of which should be diluted.
Once the ears are cleaned, they are ready for medication.
Several ear mite medications are available and your vet will determine which will serve your dog the best. In some cases, medications are available that do not need to be administered on a daily basis, which means you can apply the treatment one time and it will last a long time and cover the various cycles in the life of an ear mite. Some vets even recommend whole-body treatments, in addition to the ear drops, just in case mites have traveled to other parts of your dog’s body.
Make sure you speak to your vet about any side effects associated with ear mite drugs and anything else your dog takes. Ear mite medication tends to be safe, but it’s always a good idea to know the potential side effects. Some dogs are sensitive and can react, even to safe medications, so you should know what to look for before giving your dog the medication.
In severe cases, your dog might also be given medication to relieve the itching and discomfort that accompanies an ear mite infestation. Sometimes this is in the form of antibiotic ear drops but could include soothing shampoos and topical sprays, as well.
And finally, it might be a good idea to treat other animals in your home for ear mites even if they are not yet showing symptoms of an infestation. They could be in the early stages of an infestation and if one springs up after you’ve eliminated it in the original host, you could have an ongoing outbreak on your hands. It’s better to just treat everyone in one go and avoid a long-term, recurring problem.
Treating ear mite infections with at-home remedies is usually not all that effective for combating the problem long-term and this treatment alone can lead to secondary fungal or bacterial infections. If you want to try an at-home remedy, it’s important to still consult with your vet. Many of these treatments are often used in conjunction with treatments provided by a veterinarian.
If you opt to try an at-home treatment, it’s important to:
You should never use at-home remedies if your dog has already developed sores or other ear problems.
In addition to the medicine given to you by your vet and any at-home remedies you want to try, you might want to consider an oil treatment. Dropping oil into your pup’s ears – baby, olive, mineral, or grapeseed oil – suffocates ear mites. This needs to be done on a daily basis for at least one month. It might also be helpful to add a drop of certain essential oils such as lavender to the oil because it has soothing, anti-itch properties that can make your dog more comfortable.
You should see improvement in a few days with an at-home oil treatment, but you should not stop performing the treatment for at least a month. Just because you’ve killed the living adult ear mites doesn’t mean that you’ve taken care of the eggs. If you stop treatment, a new batch of hatchlings will spring up a few days later and you’ll be back to square one. You must commit to at least 30 days of daily treatments to truly eradicate the problem.
If you don’t see any improvement in a few days with oil treatment or your dog’s ears bleed or become more inflamed, see your vet immediately.
The best way to deal with ear mites is to prevent an infestation in the first place. If you suspect your dog has been exposed to ear mites, it’s a good idea to take preventative action to prevent a full-blown infestation. You can do this by using natural remedies such as an oil treatment. You should also wash all bedding in hot water, possibly with bleach. Also, wash toys and anything else your pet comes into contact with such as throw blankets or your own personal bedding.
Clean the areas where your dog spends most of his or her time and vacuum your carpets on a daily basis or more for at least a month.
Finally, clean your dog’s ears frequently and check them on a daily basis. Keeping the hair inside of the ears trimmed makes it easier to clean the ears and to keep air flowing so the area doesn’t get moist.
Any dog can contract ear mites and having a dog with ear mites doesn’t mean you are a bad or neglectful owner. However, keeping your dog’s ears clean and healthy in general is the best line of defense against contracting ear mites.