Ear Mites in Dogs

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Ear Mites in Dogs

Ear mites are highly contagious and spread easily to other dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, mice, and other pets. On a positive note, ear mites do not typically spread to people. Ear mites spread from pet to pet through contact such as playing together or sleeping together. If one pet has ear mites, all pets living in the same household must be treated to prevent ongoing infection and reinfestation. If left untreated, ear mites can cause serious middle and inner ear infections which can lead to damaged eardrums, cause permanent hearing loss and affect balance. Keep reading to learn more about ear mites in dogs!

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What are ear mites?

Ear mites, known scientifically as Otodectes cynotis, are tiny, microscopic bugs or parasites that live in a pet’s ear, feeding on ear wax, oils, cellular debris, and lymph fluid from under the skin.

The mites live and burrow in the outer or external part of the ear canal causing irritation, inflammation, and intense itching. Ear mite infections can occur in puppies and kittens that are just a few weeks old when the mites are transmitted by the puppies’/kittens’ mother.

Imagine being continually bitten by a tiny mosquito inside your ear canal and you can understand how irritating ear mites can be for your pet.

Lifecycle of Ear Mites

The entire life cycle of an ear mite takes only 3 weeks. Adult mites lay eggs inside the ear canal of their host (your pet). The eggs mature in 4 days where they hatch into 6-legged larvae that feed for 3-10 days.

The larvae develop into 8-legged protonymphs which then become immature deutonymphs. Immature deutonymphs attach to a mature male ear mite using suckers on the rear legs. If the deutonymph becomes a female adult, fertilization happens and the female lays eggs.

The cycle begins again until the pet gets treated for ear mites. All stages except the egg stage feed on your pet’s ears causing itching and pain.

How to Tell if Your Dog or Puppy Has Ear Mites

Puppies/dogs with ear mites will have symptoms that include irritation of their ears such as scratching or rubbing/shaking their head, which may even cause them to cry out in pain. If your pet allows you to look inside the ears you may notice redness, soreness, or pain and a large amount of dark brown/black waxy discharge.

Puppies can cause self-inflicted trauma to their ear flap (pinna) trying to relieve the intense itching caused by ear mites. They will scratch and shake their heads which can lead to the ear flap swelling with blood (called an aural hematoma).

Because they are so tiny, you won’t be able to see the mite with your naked eye. They live in the ear canals which are small, dark tunnels and difficult to examine with just our eyes. Ear mites can also infect and live around the toes used to scratch the ears and the skin on the pet’s side when they’re curled up asleep. You may notice hair loss and redness of the skin or feet due to ear mites.

Do not treat your pet for ear mites using over-the-counter medication unless instructed by your vet. Your puppy/dog should be examined and the diagnosis of ear mites confirmed as there may be other ear problems such as a ruptured eardrum requiring a different treatment than ear mite medication.

How are ear mites diagnosed?

Puppies with itchy ears and lots of dark wax very likely have ear mites. Your vet will confirm this diagnosis by examining your pet’s ears using an otoscope which has a light with magnification and a small nozzle to help see down into the tunnel of the ear canal.

Sometimes, vets can see tiny white dots moving around in the ear canal, confirming the diagnosis of ear mites. Puppies and dogs can be squirmy during the exam, making it difficult to see clearly, so your vet may take a sample of the ear wax and look at it under the microscope to confirm the presence of ear mites. This is a quick and inexpensive test.

Other diseases cause similar signs and symptoms such as allergies, otitis externa (ear infection of the outer ear canal), fleas, insect bites, ear polyps, or foreign body such as a foxtail.

Treating Ear Mites in Dogs and Puppies

Puppies’ and dogs’ ears are extremely sensitive, and ear mite infections can be quite painful. Pets with ear mites often won’t allow their owners or the vet to touch or even gently examine their ears. This often means that the pet may need to be sedated for a thorough ear exam. Under sedation, the ears can be thoroughly cleaned and examined, checking the eardrums to make sure they are intact, and treatment is given.

There are many effective treatments for ear mites in dogs and puppies, including prescription treatments such as spot-on drops that also work against fleas, ear drops, injectable medication, and more. Cleaning the ears at the time of the office visit helps decrease the number of live mites and eggs laid in the ear canal.

Applying ear drops can be tricky especially if you have a squirmy active puppy. Ask your veterinary technician for tips, tricks, and a demonstration during the office visit. Most importantly, follow all instructions according to your vet for treating ear mites in your dog or puppy.

Ear mites can live outside the ear, usually on the paws the pet uses to scratch the ears and the skin where the pet rests their head when they curl up. Owners may see skin problems similar to flea bites and these areas of the skin must be treated for ear mites too.

Ear mites have been shown to live in the environment for a few months so it’s important to treat the environment for ear mites, where your pet(s) live, sleep and play. You can follow the same instructions and use the same products in the environment as you would for flea control. Treat your house and yard for at least 4-6 weeks. Wash your pet’s bedding and toys in hot water and allow them to dry in the sun and thoroughly vacuum areas where your pet(s) sleep/lay.

Because ear mites are highly contagious, all pets in the household need to be treated. Not all treatments are safe for all pets - medications labeled for dogs, for example, can be fatal to cats. Talk to your vet about safe and effective ear mite treatment specific to each of your pets. Never apply medications, even over-the-counter medications, to your pets unless instructed to do so by your vet.

Schedule a follow-up appointment for your pet 4 weeks after the first treatment for ear mites to make sure that your dog has cleared the infection. Clean and treat the ears again if needed. Always call your vet if you have questions or concerns during your dog’s recovery.

Read more:

Ear Mites in Cats

Common Ear Problems in Dogs

Examining and Caring for Your Pet’s Ears

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Published: 7/10/2021
Last updated: 7/30/2021
Dr. Denise Michanowicz, Veterinarian

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