By Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM
Otodectes cynotis mites, commonly called ear mites, are a common parasitic infection that can affect your dog. Symptoms typically include some combination of:
- Scratching around the ears, head, and neck
- Head shaking
- Discharge from the ears that can be dark and waxy and sometimes resemble coffee grounds
- A foul odor from the ears
If you suspect that your dog might have ear mites, here are the next steps you should take to ensure a quick recovery.
Diagnosing Ear Mites in Dogs
If your dog exhibits the common symptoms of ear mites, your vet will perform a complete physical exam and a thorough dermatologic (skin) and otic (ear) exam. Your vet may take skin scrapings for laboratory analysis, take ear swabs and place them in mineral oil to identify the mites under the microscope, and/or use an otoscope (an instrument used to look inside the ear) to look for mites in your dog’s ear canals.
If you want to check for mites at home, place a chunk of debris collected from the outer ear canal on a dark background. Live mites look like white, moving specks about the size of a pin head. If you see them (using a magnifying glass helps), you know your dog has ear mites. If not, you can’t completely rule them out because the sample you took may not have contained live mites.
Treating Ear Mites in Dogs
Ear mites can be treated on an outpatient basis. Older and over-the-counter ear mite treatments involve putting medication in your dog’s ears once a day for 10 to 30 days, depending on the product you use. If you try to treat your dog’s ear mites with one of these medications, follow the label instructions closely. Missing just a dose or two can result in your dog still having mites after you are “done” with the treatment.
Newer ear medications for dogs can kill ear mites with a single dose applied to a dog’s skin. These simple treatments for ear mites are only available through veterinarians. Single dose medications made to be applied to the ears are available through veterinarians for cats, but veterinarians may sometimes recommend their “off-label” use in dogs.
Regardless of the type of ear mite medication a dog receives, cleaning out all the debris from within a dog’s ear canals is an important part of treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend that he or she thoroughly flush out your dog’s ears or provide you with an appropriate product and instruct you on how to clean your dog’s ears at home.
One month after the beginning of the treatment, your veterinarian may schedule a followup appointment to determine whether the mites have been eradicated and to clean out your dog’s ears again, if necessary. Call your veterinarian at any time if you have questions about your dog’s recovery.
Managing and Preventing Ear Mites at Home
After beginning treatment, your dog should quickly start to feel relief. The excessive scratching, head shaking, and ear discharge should begin to subside after a few days.
Ear mites are highly contagious and can be easily transmitted to other dogs or pets, including cats, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice, and ferrets. They do not spread to people under normal circumstances. Ear mites are transmitted through social interaction, such as sleeping or playing together. For this reason, all animals in a household must be treated for ear mites, even if only one or two have symptoms of an active infection.
The environment should also be cleaned. Wash items like pet bedding in hot water and then run them through a hot dryer until they are completely dry. Thoroughly vacuum areas where pets spend a lot of time.
After the conclusion of treatment, continue to check your dog’s ears regularly for signs of ear mites or other problems. Look for discharge or redness within the ear canal and headshaking or scratching around the ears.
Question to Ask Your Vet About Ear Mites
Since ear mites are so contagious, all pets in a household will require treatment. Keep in mind that treatments are species specific—medications that are formulated for dogs, for example, can be deadly to cats. Consult your veterinarian about appropriate treatments specific to each of your pets.
Possible Complications of Ear Mites
If your dog has a hypersensitivity reaction to ear mites (an immune reaction to the mites that is stronger than normal), it can result in intense irritation of the external ear and surrounding tissues. In this case, your vet will prescribe more aggressive measures to treat the infestation.
If left untreated, ear mites can severely damage the ear canals and eardrum and result in permanent hearing loss.
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