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How to spot and treat ear mites in dogs

Brown and white whippet advice
© Shutterstock

Wondering why your dog is shaking its head furiously and scratching its ears like crazy? It could be ear mites. If left untreated, this common yet irritating pet problem can cause irritation and severe infections. Here’s how to spot and treat ear mites in dogs

By Alice Lang

What are ear mites in dogs?

Ear mites in dogs is an issue caused by tiny parasites or mites called otodectes cynotis - which basically make your dog’s ears their new humble abode. The eight-legged mites nuzzle into the outer part of the year or the internal canal, feeding on ear wax. This type of mite loves nothing more than a warm, dark, moist area - making a dog’s ear the perfect spot to hang out.

How do dogs get ear mites and are they contagious?

Ear mites are normally caught through exposure, so there’s no sur fire way to avoid them completely. The most annoying thing about ear mites is how contagious they are. They’re super easy for dogs to pick up. Puppies are particularly prone to ear mites because the otodectes cynotis is sometimes transmitted from the mother to her entire litter. However, dogs of any age can pick up ear mites.

Dogs often pick mites up from feline friends through quick, casual contact - outdoor cats are a prominent carrier of this type of parasite. If you have other small pets such as hamsters, mice or gerbils, they’re prone to ear mites, too. It’s relatively easy for the infection to pass quickly between all the animals in the family - eek! Ear mites can also be picked up when a dog brushes past an object which has lurking ear mites waiting for the next victim, or from an unclean environment.

What happens when a dog catches ear mites?

Once a dog picks up ear mites, an adult mite will lay her eggs within the pup’s ear canal. Larva from each egg will hatch a few days later. Once the larvae have become adults - another few days later - they’ll be ready to breed. Mites will continue to develop, breed and lay more eggs until a significant colony is present. This makes it easy for a pretty bad infestation to develop in a relatively short time if left untreated.

Signs and symptoms of ear mites in dogs

A severe infestation will cause pain and a terrible itch for your dog. It’s important to be aware of the first signs of ear mites in dogs, so you and your vet are able to treat it before it develops. “Ear mites irritate the lining of the ear canal, stimulating wax production, causing head shaking and ear scratching” Bruce Fogle explains in the ASPCA Complete Dog Care Manual, “Infection of the ear or ear mites often produces discharges - which is black and grainy when caused by mites”. Some of the most common symptoms of ear mites in dogs include:

  • Intense scratching or rubbing of the ears and head area
  • Constant shaking of the head
  • Dark brown or black discharge from the ears with an unpleasant smell
  • Inflamed ear canal with wounds, sores, or redness
  • Dried blood in or around the ear area
  • Hair loss from excessive scratching
  • Distress or apparent pain when the dog’s ear is touched

How to treat ear mites in dogs

Ear mites in dogs are an irritating but treatable problem Redness and inflammation can be seen inside the ear of a dog with ear mites ©Shuttershock
 

The signs and symptoms mentioned above could also be down to bacterial infections or other conditions - so it’s essential to head to the vet to get a formal diagnosis before attempting to treat ear mites in dogs. A vet will carry out a thorough physical, skin, and ear exam, and may take skin scrapings or ear swabs to identify mites under a laboratory analysis. Ear mites will normally be treated on an outpatient basis. This means you’ll receive medication to administer to your dog at home, which could include:

  • Parasite medications that are applied topically to the affected area
  • Canine ear cleansers
  • Anti-inflammatory prescriptions to clear up secondary infections

The Blue Cross advise that “Some medications require at least three weeks of treatment as the medication cannot kill the eggs of the parasites, which take 21 days to develop into adult mites." “If using these treatments, it’s therefore crucial that you use them, as prescribed, for the recommended time period. Other topical treatments only need to be used for 10 to 14 days and are much stronger, so kill the eggs as well as the adult mites and include medication to tackle the infection caused by the parasites.”

How to stop ear mites in dogs from coming back

Once you’ve cleared your dog of ear mites and they’re back to their happy, healthy, self, you’ll need to take preventative measures to stop the ear mites from causing havoc once again. Your dog might pick up mites from an infected cat, hamster or other pet quickly, even after successful treatment. Therefore, you’ll need to treat your other pets for ear mites too.

Pet bedding and other household items can also be a breeding ground for ear mites. Washing all pet bedding, throws and sheets in hot water and carrying out a thorough clean and hoover of the house should kill them off. Ear mites hate living in clean, dry environments - so you can take preventative measures by cleaning your dog’s ears regularly with a commercial canine ear cleaner.

Make sure you continuously check for signs of ear mites (redness, discharge, head shaking) and carry out another course of treatment at the first opportunity if they reoccur.