Plenty of parasites can harm our canine friends: heartworms, intestinal worms like roundworms and hookworms, fleas, and ticks, just to name a few. Another parasite that can cause trouble for our dogs is the ear mite, known by its scientific name otodectes cynotis.
Ear mite infestations aren't quite as common as other parasitic infestations like fleas or worms, but they still affect plenty of dogs. Ear mites are tiny microscopic creatures — not visible to the naked eye — that feed on the ear wax and oils in your dog's ear canals.
The ear mite is actually an arachnid, related to spiders and ticks, so dealing with an infestation isn't exactly like eradicating an intestinal worm or a flea infestation. Once an ear mite infection is diagnosed, you'll need to work with your veterinarian to get your dog back to full health. Luckily, when you catch an infestation and treat it appropriately, most dogs will make a full recovery without any long-lasting health effects.
Read on to learn more about how dogs contract ear mites, what the symptoms look like, and how to treat ear mites in dogs. That way, you know what to watch out for and how to deal with an infestation if it happens — and how to (hopefully) prevent one in the first place.
How Do Dogs Get Ear Mites?
Dogs get ear mites through direct contact with other infected animals. It's easy for the parasites to reach other hosts when pets are in close quarters.
Ear mite infestations are common among cats, too, so in homes where cats and dogs live together, you might notice everyone getting infestations around the same time. Pets that share grooming equipment, bedding, or other materials could spread the parasites between them.
Additionally, areas where a lot of animals are housed in close quarters present an increased risk of transmission. This includes grooming and boarding facilities, doggie daycares, and dog parks.
What Are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs?
Here are some of the telltale symptoms associated with ear mite infestations in dogs:
- Head shaking: Often, one of the first signs of ear mites is persistent shaking of the head.
- Scratching at the ears: You'll probably see your dog scratching at their ears and head frequently.
- Ear discharge: Made of dried blood, this looks like dark coffee grounds in your dog's ears.
- Redness/inflammation of the outer ear: This occurs because of the itchiness associated with an ear mite infestation and your dog's associated scratching.
- Foul smell coming from the ears: A foul odor coming from the ears is another common sign of ear mite infestations.
It's possible for an ear mite infestation to lead to secondary bacterial infections in the ear or an ear infection. Without treatment, serious health concerns including permanent hearing loss could occur. That's why it's important to let your vet know as soon as you spot the symptoms described above.
How Do You Get Rid of Ear Mites in Dogs?
The first step to resolving a case of dog ear mites is diagnosing the problem. Because some of the symptoms of ear mites mimic other ear problems like ear infections, the proper diagnosis is key.
Your vet will diagnose a case of ear mites using an otoscope (a small tool that shines light into the ear canal) to look for signs of mites. An ear swab may be taken and examined under a microscope. Sometimes, blood work and other diagnostic tests might be needed to rule out other causes of your dog's symptoms.
The ear mite treatment procedure will involve the following:
- Medicated ear drops: You’ll need to put anti-parasitic ear drops into your pet's ear on a regular basis. These kill off the mites living in your dog's ears as well as their eggs. You may need to do this for a few weeks before the infestation is completely cleared up, depending on your vet’s instructions.
- Topical medications: You might need to apply topical antibiotics in the form of ointment or gel to your pet's outer or inner ear. These help treat any bacterial infections.
- Regular ear cleaning: Ongoing ear cleaning will be necessary to prevent re-infestation. Your vet will provide you with an ear cleaning substance and advice on the proper procedure.
Many dogs aren't fond of having medicated drops or cleaning solutions put in their ears. You may need a family member or friend to hold and comfort your dog while you apply the ear drops or clean out your dog’s ears. You can also try distracting your pooch with a tasty treat. Give Native Pet's all-natural Yak Chews a try if you're looking for something delicious and nutritious for your dog.
Can I Prevent Ear Mites in My Dog?
While it may not be possible to prevent every single case of ear mites in dogs, you can take steps to make it very unlikely.
Many standard flea preventatives also offer protection from ear mites. Keeping dogs on a high-quality flea preventative is one of the best ways for dog owners to avoid ear mites entirely.
Additionally, regularly check your dog's ears for discharge, dirt, inflammation. Look for signs of itchy ears like frequent scratching or head shaking. Let your vet know right away if you think something might be wrong.
When your dog has a weakened immune system, it makes it easier for infections and infestations, including ear mites, to take hold. Feed your dog a nutritious diet and consider adding a dietary supplement like Native Pet's Bone Broth Topper to Fido's meals. It's a great way to give your dog a nutritional boost in a great-tasting package. Additionally, Probiotics for Dogs can help gut health, which in turn may strengthen general health.
Last but not least, use caution when your dog is in a space with lots of other pets, like the groomer's office or a kennel. Make sure your pet is up to date on all preventative medications and use trusted, verified businesses for your pet's needs.
Ear Mites in Dogs: What to Keep in Mind
Most ear mite infections can be treated easily if they're caught early. It's when the infestation is left to fester that serious health problems start to arise.
Knowing the common symptoms of ear mites in dogs — head shaking, intense scratching at the head and ears, inflammation in and around the ears, coffee ground-like discharge, and foul odors — is the best way to notice an ear mite infestation early on. Then, you can contact your vet for help right away.
Remember: Ear mites are highly contagious, and can spread from dog to dog and from cats to dogs and vice versa. If your dog is diagnosed with an ear mite infestation, ask your vet about how to keep your pet away from other animals in the house until the infestation is completely cleared up.
Do your part to prevent ear mites in dogs by keeping your pet on a proper flea preventative. Check the ears regularly, and clean them out if necessary with a dog-safe cleaning solution (ask your vet for a recommendation). Keep your dog away from any other known infected dogs or cats, and use trusted, clean grooming and boarding facilities. And maintain your dog's good immune system health with a high-quality diet and supplementation.
Would you like further insights into your dog's health and wellness needs? Take a look at the Native Pet blog for more articles.