Overview of Ear Mites in Dogs

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 of Dog Ear Mites

    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 of Dog Ear Mites

    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 for Dogs with Ear Mites

    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.

    Information In-depth for Dogs with Ear Mites

    Ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, are common parasites that live in the ear canal of dogs. These microscopic white insects can occur at any age but are more common in younger dogs. The most common signs of ear mites are itching at the ear area and discharge of black exudate. Mites can also spread to the skin and when this happens dogs will “itch” all over their backs, necks and tail areas.

    Ear mites spend their entire life on the host. The female lays her eggs in the ear and in the surrounding fur. The eggs hatch after a four-day incubation period, and the larva feeds on ear wax and skin oils for about one week. It then molts into a “protonymph,” which in turn molts into a “deutonymph.” This deutonymph does not develop a gender until it mates with an adult male. If the result is a female, she will be laden with eggs.

    Diagnosis In-depth for Canine Ear Mites

    Your veterinarian will be able to diagnosis the presence of ear mites if your dog is young, his ears are full of wax or a black, crusty exudate and the insides of the ears have an unpleasant odor.

    Ear mites are contagious! You should have all your pets checked for ear mites and, if necessary, treated.

  • A complete medical history and physical examination, with special attention to the ears and skin, is important in determining the cause of the discharge, scratching or head shaking. Ear mites are most often diagnosed by your veterinarian looking into the ear with a lighted otoscope that magnifies the mites so they can be seen.
  • Cytology Exam. This involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and examining it under a microscope. A swab is mixed with mineral oil and placed on a microscope slide. The ear mites can often be observed.
  • A skin scraping may also be performed if your dog shows general skin lesions.

    Some pets may require additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the ear abnormalities. Pets with recurrent ear infections, those who respond poorly to treatment, pets with generalized skin abnormalities, or those with other health problems,
    may need additional diagnostic tests. These tests are not typical with simple ear mite infections. These additional tests may include:

  • Culture and sensitivity. This test is helpful in diagnosing bacterial infections. The procedure involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and sending it to a laboratory to identify the specific bacteria present. The bacteria are exposed to multiple antibiotic samples to determine what will kill them most effectively.
  • Radiographs (X-rays) or CT scans. These may be done to determine the health of the ear canal and bone, and may be used to evaluate the extent of involvement.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) and biochemical profile. Blood tests may be completed to check for contributing factors to the infection as well as to determine the presence of a concurrent disease.
  • Skin tests.
  • Allergy tests. Your veterinarian may want to determine if your pet has allergies that may irritate the ears, as well as the skin.
  • Treatment In-depth

    Ear mites should only be treated after a veterinarian has made an expert diagnosis. If there are no mites, using anti-mite preparations may aggravate an infection in the ear. Full treatment consists of the following:

  • Cleaning the ear. Cleaning is the mandatory first step in treatment. If the exudate is not removed it will keep the drops from affecting the mites directly. Moderate to severe infections may require sedation and in-hospital flushing. Do not use cotton swabs in your dog’s ear; these may push infection and discharge deeper into the ear canal.
  • Applying medication to infected ears. Topical therapy usually consists of medication that you place in your pet’s ear once or twice daily to weekly in the form of drops. The specific medicine and directions will depend on the product used. Tresaderm® brand of thiabendazole and Acarexx® brand of ivermectin are the most commonly used products. Be sure to have your veterinarian show you how to place medication into your dog’s ears.
  • Applying medication to infected areas of skin. If the mites are causing skin problems, the skin is often treated with a flea product topically as the product directs for fleas.
  • Return to your veterinarian for follow-up examinations. All other pets that have come in contact with the infected pet should also be treated.
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