Ear mites in dogs – how can you tell if you’re dealing with an infestation, and what should you do about it?
If your dog is shaking their head and scratching their ears, you may be dealing with a case of ear mites. Ear mites are incredibly uncomfortable for your pup. You’ll probably notice intense scratching and head shaking, rather than the mites themselves.
Don’t panic! Otodectes cynotis mites, aka ear mites, are common. With your vet’s help, this issue can easily be resolved. However, these mites are mighty contagious, so if you have any suspicions, it’s best to call your vet right away.
What are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs?
If your dog has ear mites, you may notice some of these telltale symptoms:
- Head shaking
- Dark, waxy, crusty discharge from the ears that resemble dried blood or coffee grounds.
- Intense itching, followed by scratching of the ears, head, and neck.
- Wounds, inflammation, or scratches on the external ear canal, ear flap, or base of the ear. This is caused by a dog’s scratching, rather than the mites themselves.
- An ear hematoma, which is the swelling of an ear flap. Again, this is caused by the intense scratching, rather than the mites themselves.
- Hair loss around the affected ear.
- A foul odor from the ears.1,2
What Are Ear Mites?
Ear mites are microscopic parasites that eat your dog’s skin cells, blood, and earwax. They live primarily in your dog’s ears, but in severe cases, they can spread to other parts of the body. They leave their waste (that dark, crusty debris you may be seeing), and their eggs, in your dog’s ear. This causes irritation.3
Other Types Of Mites
If you read through those symptoms, and they don’t totally match up with what you’re seeing, your dog may have a different type of mite infection.
Here’s a rundown of other common types of mites, and how you can recognize them:
- Scabies Sarcoptic Mange: Skin rash; intense scratching all over the dog’s body, which leads to hair loss.4
- Walking Dandruff (Cheyletiellosis): Scaly skin, intense scratching, and visible mites that look like dandruff walking across the skin.5
- Canine Demodicosis: Itchy, reddish-brown inflamed skin and lesions on the body.6
As you can see, the main difference in symptoms has to do with the focus on your dog’s ears. If your dog is intensely scratching all over, they may have a different type of mite. If you’re seeing the telltale head shaking, or focused scratching on just the ears, suspect ear mites.
How Do Dogs Get Ear Mites?
The most common cause of ear mites in dogs is exposure to another animal who has them. Cats are the most common carriers of ear mites.7 Rabbits, ferrets, cattle, and, of course, other dogs can also carry the parasite.
Ear mites typically infect young dogs, especially dogs who live in shelters or on the street.8 Young or old, your dog can come in contact with them in places like doggie daycares or pet stores.
Can Canine Ear Mites Affect Humans?
Can Fido’s ear mites jump ship and spread to humans? The answer is no, they can’t. Only in extremely rare cases. (Phew!) While humans can get a rash from errant ear mite bites, the mites themselves can’t survive on humans.
Can a Mites Infestation Lead to Secondary Infections?
While ear mites are icky and should be dealt with immediately, the more pressing medical concern is your dog’s reaction to the mites. Canine ear mites itch like crazy, and dogs react accordingly, sometimes scratching with so much force that they damage their skin and ears.9
- Dogs can tear their eardrums and rupture blood vessels with intense scratching.
- A bacterial or yeast infection can develop in the damaged skin.
- Ear mites can cause a secondary ear infection.10
What Should You Do If Your Dog Gets Ear Mites
If you suspect your dog has ear mites, it’s important for your dog’s health to clear them up as soon as possible. Ear mites can easily be spread to other pets.
See your vet right away to get a proper diagnosis. Some of the symptoms of ear mites mimic certain symptoms of ear disease. If you have other pets, make sure you get them checked, too.
Keep in mind that a dog with an ear mite infestation will be agitated and on edge. They may be in pain, and they may resist handling. In severe cases, you may need a vet’s help to move your pet.11
How Your Vet Will Handle Ear Mites
After a diagnosis, a deep ear cleaning can help flush out mites and eggs.12
While an ear cleaner can help kill existing mites, your vet will likely recommend a medication that can treat ear mites at all stages in their life cycle. Daily topical medications, injections, or single-use products that also work on fleas and lice are available.
Natural Remedies for Ear Mites in Dogs
If your pet already has the signs of ear mites, it’s best to talk with your vet for advice. If your dog is just starting to show symptoms, you may want to try a few natural remedies at home.
- Mineral oil can help smother mites and dissolve the ear wax that the mites are feasting on. Soak a cotton ball and thoroughly apply the oil to your dog’s ear flaps.13
- Almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or corn oil can also be used to smother the mites.14Apply these in the same way that you would the mineral oil.
- Yellow Dock Root Extract is a natural itch reliever that can also be used for ear infections.15
If you don’t see signs of improvement within 48 hours, you’ll want to see your veterinarian right away.
How To Make Sure Ear Mites Don’t Come Back
While your dog’s ear mites are being taken care of, make sure you thoroughly clean their environment.
- Wash bedding with soap in scalding hot water, and then let the bedding completely dry. You may take this as an opportunity to buy new bedding!
- Similarly, wash and dry all plush toys.
- Clean all linens, furniture, and flooring.
- Thoroughly vacuum all of the areas where your dog hangs out.16
After the ear mites have cleared up:
- Check your dog’s ears regularly for signs of ear mites or other problems.
- Keep an eye out for any of the original symptoms, like ear discharge, redness in the ear canal, head shaking, or scratching around the ears.
After 2-4 weeks of therapy, your vet will likely schedule a follow-up appointment to swab your dog’s ears and make sure everything is cleared out.