How to spot ear mites in pets and what to do about them

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How to spot ear mites in pets and what to do about them

Many things cause itchy ears in dogs and cats. One of the causes, particularly in younger animals, and especially in kittens, are ear mites. Find what you need to know about ear mites in our article!

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What are ear mites and where are they coming from?

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are tiny parasites found virtually everywhere, so they can be easily picked up in gardens, parks or wherever your pet is exploring outside. They are also quickly transmitted between animals in close contact, so if you have more than one pet, it’s worth checking them all. On your pet, as the name suggests, they prefer to live in the warm, sheltered environment of the ear canal where they can feed on wax and skin debris. In cats, they occasionally venture on the skin of the neck, back and tail.

What are the symptoms of ear mites’ presence?

The mites are very small, only around 0.5 mm, barely visible with the naked eye unless they move, but the irritation they cause can make your pet:

  • have itchy ears, sometimes red and sore, that they scratch at a lot,

  • shake their head much more often or intensely than usual,

  • build up a lot of very dark brown, dry and crumbly ear wax (like ground coffee, though nowhere that nice-smelling).

Should you take your pet to the vet if you suspect or have seen ear mites?

There are a lot of reasons besides ear mites that can give your dog or cat irritated ears. But the very dark, dry and crumbly wax is rather typical for ear mites and if you see it, it’s a good idea to book a visit with your vet.

How do vets diagnose and treat the ear mites?

Vets have a handy tool called an otoscope, with a magnifier and a light, that makes ear canal inspection much easier and more accurate than the exam that you can do at home, including spotting the pesky little mites.

If there are too few of them to be seen directly, a swab of the ear wax diluted in liquid paraffin and examined under the microscope will show eggs, developing and adult mites. Your vet might show you the slides, but beware, the mites are not pretty at all!

The treatment is rather straightforward and usually very effective. Most prescription spot-ons against fleas also kill ear mites. Please keep in mind that this must be applied at the back of the neck, not in the ear. All pets in the house must be treated, even if their ears are fine. The sensitivity to parasites varies a lot between animals and those that don’t have symptoms may act as a carrier and a source of mites for your parasite-sensitive pet.

The other thing to deal with, after using the spot-on to kill the mites, is to get rid of the wax build-up that the ear has produced because of their presence. Because it is a rather dry and hard wax, your vet might dispense you a special ear cleaner to break it down easier and tell you for how long to use it. If you’ve never cleaned your pet’s ears before, see our articles on how to clean your dogs’ or cats’ ears.

If there are signs of a secondary ear infection in your dog or cat, or the pet is very painful or itchy, your vet might prescribe other medication as described in our articles about otitis externa.

If the mites are the only problem, then the situation is easily remedied. Ear mites are very easy to treat with a single spot-on application. Very rarely, a second one will be needed in 30 days. Your vet might want to have a look at your pet’s ears a short while later to see that the wax is gone and the ear back to normal.

What can you do at home?

You can always try cleaning your dog's or cat's ears properly first, but odds are that the mite infestation will persist despite the ear cleaning if the mites are not killed with an effective product.

Please keep in mind not to use an ear cleaner the day before and on the day of the vet visit, otherwise it will be difficult for your vet to see the inside of the ear very well.

If you’re not entirely sure if your pet’s dealing with ear mites or how to proceed, use the button to the right of this article to book a consultation with us and within 30 min, one of our friendly vets will help you determine what is most likely to be the cause of your pet’s ear problem and if it needs to be seen by your registered vet.

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