How to Treat Ear Mites in Dogs

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    Dr. Amanda Jondle

    Dr. Amanda Jondle is an experienced veterinary who helping pets and educating clients through writing and editing articles to inform pet owners on how to best care for their pets. Amanda graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She and her husband currently have 4 rescue dogs and 3 cats of their own and are often fostering pets with health issues until they find their forever homes.

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  • Updated on: 12/07/2020

ear mites in dogs

What Causes ear mites in Dogs?

Ear mites are tiny pesky little bugs that appear similar to a microscopic tick or spider. This tiny bug is called Otodectes cynotis, which in Greek means “a beggar of the dog”. [1] They are most commonly known as simply ear mites.

Ear mites are most commonly found in cats but can also be found in dogs, ferrets, and foxes. In dogs, they are found to be more common in puppies than adult dogs.

They are incredibly contagious between pets, so it is crucial that if one dog in the house has been diagnosed with ear mites, all other dogs (and cats) in the house are checked for them.

The Otodectes cynotis mite is a hardy critter and has 5 life stages, including egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and adult. The entire life cycle from an egg to an adult takes about 3 weeks. [2]

The miniscule adult ear mite can live on the skin, but more frequently it crawls into your dog’s ear where it feeds on ear wax, skin oil, and debris found in the ears.

How can you tell if your Dog has ear mites?

Signs of an ear mite infection vary, but typically involve the dog showing that it is bothered by something in the ear. You might witness them shaking their head, flopping their ears around, or scratching and itching at and around the ears.

There is often evidence of an ear mite infection when you look into the dog’s ear. One will usually see dark brown or black debris similar to coffee grounds. The waste is often dry and crusty, and the self-trauma can lead to redness of the outside or inside of the ear. In severe infections, the ear canal often swells up and sometimes there are scabs or irritations in and around the ear. Some dogs will shake their heads so much they develop an aural hematoma which is swelling of the ear pinna (flap) with blood from broken blood vessels in the ear.

While an owner might see tiny pin prick white specks in their dog’s ear or in the debris from the ear, these pests are very difficult to see with the naked eye. Because they are so small, ear mites are typically diagnosed by a veterinarian during a microscopic exam of a small sample of wax and debris from the ear canal or on an otoscopic exam (exam of the ear canal using an otoscope). The mites, larva, and eggs are visible under the microscope and can be seen crawling around! It is important to bring your dog to see your veterinarian if you think there are ear mites because while ear mites are occasionally diagnosed in dogs, they much more commonly get bacterial or yeast infections and it is very important to differentiate between the two as they require different types of medications to treat.

how can you tell if your dog has ear mitesImage from FreePik

How do you Treat ear mites?

If your veterinarian has diagnosed ear mites in your dog, the first step is thoroughly cleaning the dog’s ears to get rid of the wax, debris, and as many mites as possible from the ear canal. In most cases, your veterinarian will advise you to continue cleaning your dog’s ears daily at home with a veterinarian-approved ear cleaner. Then, the veterinarian will prescribe a medication to kill the ear mites.

Ear mite treatment is directed at the adult and larval forms of ear mites since no product currently treats the egg or pupae stages [3] . Medicine courses may need to be repeated due to this hardy ear mite life cycle. There are a few different medication options with some being more effective than others:

1. Single-use topical treatment

For dogs, Revolution is the only single-use topical treatment on the market. This spot-on treatment also prevents heartworm disease, flea infestation, and several types of intestinal parasites. It is meant to be a monthly preventative. Since the life cycle of the ear mite can cause recurrence to be a problem, it is recommended that dogs have at least a few months of treatment with Revolution.

2. Single-use oral treatment

There are a few oral flea and tick preventatives on the market that will also treat ear mites. These are off-label use and should be directed by your veterinarian.

3. Multiple-use topical treatment

Some topical ear drops are meant to be applied daily to the ears for anywhere between 10-14 days. These medications are most effective after the ears have been cleaned.

4. Injections

Your veterinarian may choose to give Ivermectin infections as an off-label treatment. This requires shots every 2-4 weeks.

5. Long-term topical treatment

There are many over the counter ear mite medications that can be found at pet stores or farm supply stores. These are typically not effective and can take a really long time to work if they work at all. While using one of these over the counter treatments may seem more cost-effective, they really just prolong getting your dog the appropriate, effective treatment from the veterinarian right away.

6. Treat secondary infections

Many times, a dog’s ear mite infection can actually lead to a secondary bacterial or yeast infection in the ear. If this is the case, the dog will need another type of topical ear medication to treat the infection. Sometimes, the swelling and inflammation is so severe that oral anti-inflammatory drugs and antihistamines are necessary to treat the dog’s symptoms.

7. Treat the environment

Don’t forget the importance of treating the dog’s environment. Vacuum carpets, sweep or vacuum hard floors, and wash any bedding the dog comes into contact with.

8. Treat other pets

If there are other pets in the house (specifically dogs or cats), they should also be checked for ear mites. Keep in mind that ear mites are contagious between pets so if one pet has them, others in the household may also have them.

how to treat ear mites in dogsPhoto by Pauline Loroy on Unsplash

Can you treat ear mites at home?

As mentioned above, ear mite treatments can be purchased over the counter, but they typically require a much longer treatment length, should be applied more frequently, and are not as effective as the single-use veterinarian prescribed treatments.

Cleaning your dog’s ears will help the treatment process and is something easily done at home.

Can humans get ear mites from Dogs?

Ear mites are transmitted by direct contact, meaning they can jump or crawl from an infected animal onto another animal and cause an infection. They are extremely contagious and are commonly transmitted between dogs and other dogs, cats, and other cats. Humans rarely get ear mites [3]. If a human does get ear mites, they typically cause more skin rash type symptoms.

Article Sources:

  1. “How Do I Get Rid of Dog Ear Mites?” Hill’s Pet Nutrition, 30 Oct. 2019, hillspet.com/dog-care/healthcare/ear-mites-in-dogs.
  2. Yang, Ching. “Evidence-Based Veterinary Dermatology: A Review of Published Studies of Treatments for Otodectes Cynotis (Ear Mite) Infestation in Cats – PubMed.” PubMed, 20 June 2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27324289/.
  3. “Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats.” Veterinary Partner, veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951535.

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