Ear Mites in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are a contagious parasite that live in the ears of their hosts. This parasite resembles a small tick, but is much smaller; too small to distinguish with the naked eye. 

• Common clinical signs of ear mites include head shaking, itchiness of the ears, dry black ear discharge that resembles coffee grounds, and inflammation of the ears

Otodectes is more commonly diagnosed in cats than it is in dogs, but it is important to note that mites can be transmitted between cats and dogs by physical contact

• Diagnosis of ear mites is straightforward as they are easily identified during microscopic examination of debris from an affected ear

• Elimination of ear mites requires treating all pets in the household with an appropriate parasiticide for at least 6 weeks

A Closer Look: What are Ear Mites in Dogs?

Dogs become infected with ear mites following direct physical contact with another infected animal, usually another dog or cat. Mites are very easily transmitted between pets so all animals in the household should be treated when a diagnosis of ear mites is made. One or both ears may be affected. 

Itchiness can vary between pets, and can be intense. Animals that are heavily infested with Otodectes can have infections that spread to the head and other parts of the body, resulting in inflammation and itchiness in locations other than the ears. 

When the population of ear mites is large, the lining of the ears becomes thickened, disfigured, and discolored. Secondary bacterial and/or fungal infections are common, resulting in the appearance of foul-smelling discharge and worsening of existing symptoms.    Several mite-killing treatments are available, making the overall prognosis good as long as the treatment and therapeutic protocol is followed as prescribed by a veterinarian.

Risk Factors

Ear mites are commonly diagnosed in new pets, as the risks for exposure are greater in places with large, transient animal populations like shelters, kennels, and pet stores. Large populations of ear mites can cause severe irritation and pain. Secondary bacterial or fungal infections may develop as a result of the scratching and inflammation associated with ear mites.

Bacterial and fungal infections along with allergies are much more common causes of ear inflammation in dogs than ear mites. These common causes of ear inflammation have different treatments, so determining a correct diagnosis from a veterinarian is necessary for successful treatment and relief.

Possible Causes

The parasitic arachnid Otodectes cynotis is the cause of ear mites in dogs.

Main Symptoms

The primary symptoms of ear mites in dogs are:

• Head shaking • Pruritus (itchiness) • Dry black ear discharge • Inflammation of the ears

Testing and Diagnosis

The dry, black, crusty discharge produced from ear mite infection is characteristic, and a diagnosis is often suggested based on its presence alone. Diagnosis is confirmed by examining the discharge under a microscope.

Steps to Recovery

There are several over-the-counter and prescription products available to treat mite infections in dogs. Depending on the product of choice, treatment can range from a single application, to daily month-long treatments. Long-term treatment is necessary to fully clear the infection, as the current generation of medications do not kill the mite eggs. All animals in the household need to be treated simultaneously. 

Cleaning the ears improves the response to treatment by dramatically reducing the number of mites and eggs present in the ears and increasing coverage of the product during application.

Prevention

Ear mites are contagious to other cats and dogs. Otodectes is transmitted from direct physical contact with an infected dog or cat. Recurrence of transmission is preventable by treating all cats and dogs in the household and completing the full course of treatment as recommended by a veterinarian. These mites do not survive well in the environment and bedding, furniture, etc. does not play a significant role in transmission.

Are Ear Mites Common in Dogs?

Ear mites are not diagnosed in dogs as frequently as they are in cats. More common causes for ear infections in dogs include bacterial or fungal organisms.

Typical Treatment

• Antiparasitics • Ear cleaning

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