How do I know if my dog has ear mites and what can I do about it?

How do I know if my dog has ear mites and what can I do about it?  - Dog scratching behind their ear

Ear mites are contagious parasites that live in their hosts' ears. They are similar to ticks but much smaller. They are usually too small to distinguish with the naked eye. Dogs may show several signs of an ear mite infestation. Read on to learn about the signs and symptoms to watch for, how to treat your pup, and ways to prevent mites in dogs.

What are ear mites?

An ear mite is a parasite that burrows into the skin that lines the ear canal of its host. Mitesusually go unseen unless you are looking for them. Even though ear mites do not spread serious diseases the way ticks can, they are still bothersome to your pup. Watch for signs of ear mite infestation so you can treat them immediately or better yet, keep your dog on a veterinarian-recommended form of flea and tick control which often also prevents ear mites. Ear mites can transfer between cats and dogs and fully eliminating them may require up to six weeks of treatment for all pets in the same household.

If you spot any of the symptoms in your furry friends, schedule a veterinarian appointment immediately to get them diagnosed. Dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets can all contract ear mites.

What do ear mites look like in dogs?

If you take a close look at your dog's ears, you may be able to spot the mites, which resemble tiny moving dots in the ear canal. Since the individual mites are so small, you’re more likely to see the results of the infestation, such as sores or a crusty buildup of debris in the ear.  Identifying the parasites is the only way to know if a pet’s irritated ear is the result of ear mites as opposed to a bacterial or fungal infection.

Ear mites spread easily to other animals, especially if they share the same bed. You'll have to treat all pets living in the same household if your dog is diagnosed with ear mites. Home testing kits can be helpful when it comes to skin irritation, including mites. The kits can confirm the presence of ear mites or other types of ear infection and are simple to use. Discuss with an online vet when you should bring a testing kit into the house.

What are the signs and symptoms of an ear mite infestation?

Dogs with ear mites may show signs such as head shaking, itchiness of the ears, dry, dark ear discharge resembling coffee grounds, and ear inflammation. Look for these signs and symptoms of ear mites to catch them as soon as possible. They feed on the dog's skin and ear surface debris, causing inflammation and irritation.

The early stage of an ear mite’s life cycle

Ear mites in the early stage of infection can be challenging to detect. Here are some of the symptoms to watch for:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching around ears
  • Head and neck skin irritation
  • Inflammation of ears
  • Dark and waxy ear discharge that resembles coffee grounds
  • Ear debris

If there are many mites, the ear's lining will be thick and discolored. These symptoms may lead to a secondary ear infection, such as a bacterial or yeast infection, which can make these symptoms even more severe. There are other causes for skin irritation or rash besides an ear mite infection, so consult a vet to get an accurate diagnosis.

What is the treatment for dogs with ear mites?

If you suspect this parasite has invaded your pet and you see multiple symptoms, the first step is to set up an appointment with a vet to get a proper diagnosis and learn about mite treatment options. Give the veterinarian a complete list of symptoms so they can fully understand the problem.

The veterinarian will do an extensive exam, most likely using an otoscope, and may take a sample of ear debris to determine whether your dog has an ear mite infestation.

“Mites usually cause dark, dry debris to accumulate in the ear, whereas bacterial and yeast infections are wet and smelly, but not always,” says Jo Myers, DVM, a vet on Vetster. “The only way to know for sure what’s causing an ear infection is to look at the debris from the ear under a microscope and identify the pathogen that’s there. Home diagnostic kits can be a great way to do this.”

Once the source of an ear infection is diagnosed, a vet can provide you with a treatment plan and send you home with ear medications to administer at home. These can include either ear drops, topical medications such as ointments or creams, or a combination of both. Many modern flea and tick products are also effective for ear mites, so that’s another option. The treatment will likely take several weeks to fully eliminate the population as existing eggs continue to hatch. Follow your veterinarian’s directions closely for the best outcome.

Prevention

Most common parasites, including ear mites, are entirely preventable if you keep your dog on a veterinarian-recommended form of external parasite control all year round.  A variety of flea and tick medications are also effective for preventing ear mites. With regular use of flea and tick products becoming more popular, ear mites in dogs are no longer a common occurrence. Note: always consult a vet before choosing flea and tick medication, and always inform a vet if there are other animals or children living in the household. Some types of flea medication are toxic, especially to cats, even when they are administered only to dogs in the home.

Mite treatments in three easy steps

This parasite only lives in its host’s ears, not the environment. This makes it easier to prevent and treat compared to fleas.

  1. Prevention - Regularly use a flea and tick control product that is also effective against mites.
  2. Signs - If your dog seems irritated by its ears, is scratching, and they are inflamed, it is time to reach out to your vet, especially if there is black discharge similar to coffee grounds in the ear canal.
  3. Treatment - If ear mites are present in your home, treat all your pets with whatever type of care your veterinarian recommends, such as flea pills, ear drops, or ointment.

If you believe your furry friend has contracted this parasite, contact a vet by booking an online virtual care appointment with Vetster and get on top of all your pet’s health concerns today.

FAQ - Signs of ear mites in dogs

Are mites contagious?

Mites are highly contagious among animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets. Therefore, it is crucial to treat all your pets to prevent any ear infestation from transferring.

Can humans get an ear mite infection from dogs?

Ear mites are not contagious to humans. They are only transferable between pets or working animals.

Do home remedies work?

Home remedies such as baking soda, green tea, or olive oil may seem like an easy alternative to treatment for ear mites in your dog. However, they are not proven to work and may even prolong the problem or cause other issues. Consult a veterinarian for a complete treatment and prevention plan.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.

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