Ear Mites in Dogs: What They Are and How to Get Rid of Them

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This article explains what ear mites in dogs are, what causes them and how you can get rid of them.

One of the most difficult challenges as a dog owner is figuring out why your dog may be feeling unwell especially when it comes to a condition like ear mites. 

Fortunately, there are several ways to combat ear mites in dogs. This article explains more about what ear mites are and how you can treat them.

What are ear mites?

Scientifically known as Otodectes cynotis, ear mites are eight-legged parasites which feed on the wax and oil in your dog’s ears. They aren’t easily visible to the human eye, and they live on the surface of your dog’s skin.  

However, if your dog has ear mites they can be contagious and move very quickly. 

Ear mites are more common in puppies, strays and senior dogs, but they can affect dogs of any age and lead to irritation, discomfort and, if left untreated, ear and skin infections. Irritation can lead dogs to scratch, causing damage to their skin and ears. 

How do dogs get ear mites?

Common causes of infection include: 

  • Dogs sleeping or playing together: Few things are cuter than seeing dogs cuddle with each other, but close contact provides an easy way for ear mites to travel from dog to dog. 
  • Contact with infected objects: Shared grooming equipment, brushes and even cages can also serve as a source for infection. 
  • Being outdoors: Coming into contact with stray cats or infected wildlife may lead to an ear mite infection. 
  • Owning a cat: Cats more commonly harbour ear mites than dogs and can easily transfer them through close contact or contaminated objects. This is especially a concern for cats which spend time outdoors. 

How can I tell if my dog has ear mites?

Ear mites are microscopic and often hide in ear discharge, so it is unlikely you will ever see them with the naked eye. However, because dogs infected with ear mites commonly have ear infections as well, you may notice your dog displaying one or more signs, including: 

  • Dark brown discharge 
  • Strong ear odour 
  • Redness or swelling 
  • Intense head shaking or scratching at the ear 
  • Cuts or hair loss above the eyes or on the top of their head 

 In rare cases, ear mites can be found around the tail. 

How can I get rid of ear mites in my dog?

First make an appointment with your vet clinic to find out whether your dog has ear mites.  
Putting off a visit to the vet could result in potential complications for your dog such as: 

  • Scarring and thickening of the skin lining of the ear 
  • Increased ear folds 
  • Ear hematoma, in which the ear flap fills with blood 
  • Long-term hearing loss and  
  • Loss of balance 

Ear mites often trigger a secondary infection in the ear canal and if your dog has ear mites your veterinarian will focus on eliminating the mites and treating the infection by: 

  • Thoroughly cleaning and flushing the ears 
  • Applying ear medication to treat the secondary ear infection, typically in the form of medicated drops that need to be applied daily at home, or a one-time dose applied in the clinic which lasts 30 days 
  • Prescribing a monthly topical product to the skin to kill the ear mites 
  • Advising you to clean your dog’s bedding, cages and brushes to eradicate any ear mites still in your home 
  • Reminding you to treat your other pets too; ear mites are highly contagious, so if your dog has them, your other pets may have them, too. 

How can I prevent ear mites in my dog?

To help prevent future ear mite infections it is recommended to follow these steps 

  • Check your dog’s ears on a bi-weekly basis for redness, irritation and other signs of ear mites 
  • Regularly wash all bedding and soft fabrics your dog frequently comes into contact with 
  • If your dog is regularly groomed, check with your groomer to make sure they are disinfecting and maintaining their equipment.  
  • Finally, follow any additional at-home steps your vet clinic may give you for treating and preventing these parasites. 

Ear mites are an annoyance for both dogs and their owners, but early treatment will help prevent further damage to their ears and their overall health. 

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