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Ear Mites in Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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If you see your dog shaking his head and scratching his ears excessively, or if there is an abnormal odor emanating from his ears, he may be suffering from ear mites. Ear mites are the most common mite to infest dogs and they are very contagious, usually spreading to most dogs in the household.

Ear mites are tiny crab-like parasites that live in the ear canals and head of dogs, and sometimes their bodies. Imagine thousands of these tiny insects crawling around in your dog's ears. The mites live on the surface of the skin in the ear canal, where they feed on tissue debris and tissue fluids, but they can also spread to the skin. When this happens, your dog's back, neck and tail areas will itch. The presence of mites can cause severe inflammation in your affected dog's ears.

Although they can occur at any age, ear mites are more common in puppies and younger dogs because they haven't built up an immunity. The mites have a three week cycle and can survive off the host for several weeks. Unlike fleas, they do not pierce the skin or suck blood.

What to Watch For

  • Irritation and scratching
  • Increased earwax
  • Thick, black crusty ear discharge
  • Scratching ears
  • Shaking his head

    Diagnosis

    Symptoms of ear mites often mimic other ear diseases. For example, a yeast infection might also produce a black exudate in your dog's ears. Since using anti-mite preparations may aggravate an ear infection, an accurate diagnosis is imperative. But that's fairly easy for your veterinarian. Ear mites are visible by using a lighted otoscope that magnifies the mites; the light from the otoscope draws the mites out of the ear wax and causes them to move around on the wax. If mites do not show up on examination, your veterinarian will examine the exudates under a microscope.

    Ear mites are highly contagious. All other pets – mites can be also be transferred to your cat – should be examined and treated simultaneously.

    Treatment

    Your veterinarian will begin treatment by cleaning out your dog's ears before applying medication. The exudates must be removed or the medication will merely sit on the waxy substance where it is of no benefit. Your veterinarian will then prescribe medication. If necessary, he or she will instruct you how to clean your dog's ears and apply the medication at home, probably once or twice a day.

    If your dog's skin is also affected, you will have to apply a topical medication to the skin. After following the prescribed course of treatment, you will need to return to your veterinarian for follow-up examinations.

    Home Care and Prevention

    You can prevent ear mites by drying your pet's ears after bathing, checking his ears for foreign matter and promptly visiting the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble.

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