When you see your dog scratching at his ears or shaking his head excessively, it’s rarely a good sign. In the case of ear mites, this common but extremely uncomfortable infection can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Although there are several types of mites that can take up residence in your dog’s ears, the most common species is known as Otodectes cynotis, an almost microscopic, eight-legged parasite that feeds on the wax, oils, and debris in your dog’s ear canal.
With a life cycle of three weeks, these tiny predators are barely detectable and cause severe irritation and inflammation in dogs. One of the most obvious indicators of infection is a dark discharge from the ear, which has a characteristic appearance of coffee grounds. This article will explore the causes, symptoms and appropriate forms of treatment for ear mites in dogs so that you can help your furry friend the moment you suspect an infestation.
Did You Know…
The life cycle of the ear mite is quite short – in fact, it takes only 3 weeks for a mite to develop from an egg to an adult, going through a total of 5 stages. Adult ear mites live approximately 2 months, reproducing continually throughout this phase.
While the entire ear mite life cycle takes place on the host animal, mites can survive for a short time in the environment. It is therefore important to thoroughly clean your surroundings after an infestation.
What Are the Causes of Canine Ear Mites?
Unfortunately, ear mites are very contagious and easy to pick up, affecting dogs of all breeds and ages; however, they are seen most frequently in puppies, as they can be transmitted from the mother animal to her offspring. Canines are often infected by outdoor cats living in the surrounding areas, as they are the primary carrier of ear mites.
Typically passed between pets through casual contact at home or outside, ear mites are actually an arachnid, which is in the same family as ticks and spiders. Ear mites spread quite rapidly, and can be transmitted during even brief physical contact with other animals. In pets, ear mites commonly affect cats, ferrets, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, mice and dogs to a lesser extent. Fortunately, humans are generally immune to ear mites.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs
The most common symptoms of an ear mite infestation in dogs are wounds or scabs at the base of your dog’s ear, which is the result of him scratching at the area with his hind limb claws. Bacteria can infect the open abrasions, leading to infection.
The ear mite Otodectes cynotis is a surface mite that is typically found in the ear canal; however, it can also live on the skin’s surface. The entire ear mite’s life cycle takes place on the animal. Although it is barely visible to the naked eye, it may be seen as a white speck moving against a dark background.
Clinical symptoms of ear mites in dogs vary from one pet to another, and may include:
- Profuse scratching and rubbing of the ears and head
- Excessive head shaking
- A dark brown or black waxy secretion from the ears accompanied by a foul odor
- Obstruction of your dog’s ear canal with a dark, crumbly reddish-brown discharge that resembles coffee grounds
- Signs of inflammation in the ear canal and surrounding areas, which may include wounds, skin lesions/abrasions, infections and redness (excessive scratching can lead to cuts and ear infections)
- A crusted rash and dried blood around or in the ear canal
- Areas of hair loss resulting from self-trauma (i.e., scratching or acute grooming)
- Dog’s ears may be painful to the touch; he may cry in pain when they are touched or while he is scratching them
- An aural hematoma, which is a large blood blister on the ear – this is caused by small blood vessels between the skin & cartilage which have been ruptured due to severe scratching
- In extreme cases of infestation, ear mites may start to migrate to other parts of the body and result in skin irritations in dogs
Did You Know…
Ear mites are the most common cause of ear infection in dogs. They are the second-most common ectoparasite (external parasite) found on pets, with the first being the flea.
Complications of Ear Mites In Dogs
As mentioned, if left untreated, your dog can suffer from the complications of an ear mite infestation. Incessant head-shaking and scratching of the ears can lead to permanent damage to the external and/or inner ear, as well as ear sensitivity and secondary skin infections.
In more serious cases, aural hematomas can develop. This is when blood vessels inside your dog’s ear flap rupture as the result of chronic scratching and head shaking. The ear flap will appear swollen and is very painful to your pooch, often requiring surgery to correct. In extreme circumstances, ear mites may result in permanent hearing damage or loss in dogs if not treated appropriately.
Did You Know…
In certain instances, ear mites may cause a temporary itchy rash on susceptible people (particularly those with known allergies or skin sensitivities) if there are infested pets in the household. This transient rash of raised red bumps is known as papular dermatitis, which usually develops on the arms of people who come in contact with an infested animal.
It is not dangerous and will go away once the affected pet receives treatment. If you discover your pet has mites, be sure to wash all bedding thoroughly with hot water and don’t allow him to sleep in your bed until he has been treated and cured of his infestation.
Ear Mite Prevention in Dogs: Helpful Tips
Although ear mites are highly contagious, there are certain preventative measures you can take to control infestations:
- Check Your Pet Often: First, get into the habit of routine examination of your pets – check your dogs and cats for signs of infection, and if possible, clean your dog’s ears regularly to inhibit the incidence of ear mites. If you’re uncomfortable cleaning your dog’s ears yourself or your dog is high-strung and/or resistant to cleaning, your groomer can provide this service for you during his grooming regimen.
- Treat & Isolate: If your pet has been diagnosed with ear mites, be sure to bring him to a vet for a proper diagnosis and start a course of treatment immediately. If feasible, keep the affected pet isolated until he is cured if you have multiple pets in your home.
- Make A Clean Sweep: If your dog or cat has recently recovered from an ear mite infestation, be certain to thoroughly clean all bedding, furnishings and surrounding areas, including any upholstered surfaces where your pet spends the majority of his time.
- Examine All Pets: In the event that one of your pets has had an ear mite infection, be sure to examine other pets in your household for signs of infection. This is a crucial step, as you need to completely eradicate your home from an infestation and break the cycle.
What to Do If You Think Your Dog Has Ear Mites
If you believe your furry companion is suffering from ear mites, it is imperative to get him to your vet’s office right away for a professional diagnosis – it’s best to leave it to the experts and not self-diagnose, as untreated cases can lead to serious health risks. In addition, only your vet will be able to tell if your dog’s condition is in fact due to an ear mite infection or another underlying illness, as other conditions (such as bacterial and/or a yeast infection) can mimic clinical signs and therefore must be ruled out before a course of treatment is started.
Upon arriving at the office, your veterinarian will examine your dog’s ear canal and any discharge to check for mites. He may take a small sample of ear discharge from your dog and evaluate it under a microscope to determine whether or not he has an infestation. He may also use an otoscope to further examine your dog’s ears; this is a medical instrument used by both human and animal physicians to examine ears and nasal passageways. In the event that your dog’s ears are very sore, your pet might require sedation in order to tolerate a proper examination and treatment.
Skin scrapings may also be performed to identify Otodectes mites (especially if the infestation has spread to locations other than the ears), such as the neck or rump, which are easier to sample.
Otodectes mites are among the most common causes of ear irritation in young dogs. They must be distinguished from the Sarcoptes mites that are responsible for generalized mange in dogs. Once your vet has confirmed the presence of mites, he or she will prescribe a course of medication suitable for your dog.
In addition, a thorough ear cleaning is required, which may be provided by your vet, administered at home, or done at a groomer. Speak with your vet to determine the best course of action based on your level of comfort and your dog’s condition and temperament.
Courses of treatment may include:
- Topical parasite medications that are applied directly to the skin
- Gentle cleansing with a specially-formulated canine ear cleaner (depending on your dog’s temperament and the severity of the waxy build-up, your vet may suggest sedation before cleaning his delicate ear canal)
- Anti-inflammatory medications or other prescriptions to clear up secondary skin conditions, including bacterial/fungal infections
Your vet may ask to schedule a follow-up appointment to re-examine your dog and ensure that the ear mites have been eradicated upon the initial course of prescribed treatment. As is the case for any treatment, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions implicitly and ask any questions if you are uncertain as to dosage, frequency of treatment, etc., and be sure to complete the full course of treatment in the event that your dog is prescribed any medications.
Never administer any medications or treatments without the express consent of your vet. Additionally, remember that all pets in your household require treatment to ensure you’ve eradicated the infestation.
Did You Know…
There are a variety of different types of mites, and they live naturally on dogs; however, mites in large quantities can obviously lead to skin problems for your pet. In addition to Otodectes cynotis, two very common types of mites that can cause mange include Demodex canis (demodectic mites which causes demodectic mange) and Sarcoptes scabei (which causes sarcoptic mange). Demodectic mange is primarily found in dogs with compromised immune systems and puppies.