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

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Symptoms, treatment and prevention for ear mites in dogs.

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

Fortunately, there are several ways to help combat ear mites in dogs. Read on to learn more about ear mites and how to treat them.

What Are Ear Mites?

Scientifically known as Otodectes cynotis, ear mites are eight-legged parasites that feed on the wax and oil in your dog’s ears. They aren’t visible to the human eye, and they live on the surface of your dog’s skin. Ear mites are more common in puppies, strays and senior dogs, but they can occur in dogs of any age and lead to irritation, discomfort and, if left untreated, ear and skin infections. This irritation leads dogs to scratch, causing damage to the skin and ears.

How Do Dogs Get Ear Mites?

Ear mites are contagious and move very quickly. Common causes of infection include:

  • Dogs sleeping or playing together: Few things are cuter than seeing dogs cuddle with each other, but close contact among animals provides an easy way for mites to travel from dog to dog.
  • Contact with infected objects: Grooming equipment, brushes and even cages can also serve as a source for infection.
  • Being outdoors: Coming in contact with stray cats or infected wildlife like foxes can lead to an ear mite infection.
  • Owning a cat: Cats more commonly harbor ear mites than dogs and can easily transfer them to your dog through close contact or contaminated objects. This is especially a concern for cats that 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. However, because dogs infected with ear mites commonly have ear infections as well, you may notice several signs, including:

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

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

Veterinarian using a swab to check for ear mites in the dog’s ear.

How Can I Get Rid of Ear Mites in My Dog?

Because ear mites often trigger a secondary infection in the ear canal, your vet will likely 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 that 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 mites still in your home
  • Reminding you about your other pets; mites are highly contagious, so if your dog has them, your other pets may have them, too.

What Are the Potential Complications from Ear Mites?

As soon as you suspect your dog has mites, bring them to the vet for an exam and laboratory analysis of the discharge in their ear. Putting off a visit to the vet could result in potential complications 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

How Can I Prevent Ear Mites in My Dog?

To help prevent future ear mite infections, make sure to wash all bedding and soft fabrics your dog regularly comes in contact with, and check your dog’s ears on a biweekly basis for redness, irritation and other signs of ear mites. For dogs that get groomed, check with your groomer to make sure they are disinfecting and maintaining their equipment. Finally, follow any additional at-home steps your vet may give you for treating and preventing these parasites.

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