What Are Dog Ear Mites?
Dog ear mites’ scientific name is otodectes cynotis. These small creatures are arachnids and in the same family as spiders and ticks. They feed on the wax and secretions inside the ear canal and in turn bite the skin. The itching and scratching that follows can result in damage from self-trauma.
Mites can be seen in dogs, cats, ferrets, and in foxes in the wild. It is important if you suspect your pet may have trouble with ear mites or if they are bothering their ears a lot, that they be evaluated by your veterinarian.
Symptoms, How They Spread, and Diagnosis
Ear mites are actually more common in our feline friends, because most dogs are often on monthly heartworm prevention. These monthly preventatives have just enough of the medication to also help prevent ear mites. Most of the time when we find a dog with ear mites, they are not on heartworm prevention and there is a new cat or kitten in the home.
Mites can be picked up outside, spread through physical contact from an infected animal, or a “fomite” such as a towel. Don’t fear though, if you happen to pick up one of these mites on your skin, humans are not their natural host and they will decide to leave on their own.
The most common signs of ear mites are itching and scratching around head and ears. Your dog may shake its head back and forth even if they are not actively scratching. There may be brown flakey discharge in the ears as well. Scratching around the head and ears can cause wounds, infections, or crusting on, in, or near the ear that may also need to be addressed.
The diagnosis of ear mites is pretty routine and can be done easily at your vet’s office while you wait. All they need is a few cotton swabs, mineral oil, and a microscope. They will take a sample from each ear and smear some on a slide to be stained to check for yeast and bacteria and some on another slide with some mineral oil to check for actual mites.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment, other than directly targeting the mites, may consist of medication to resolve a subsequent ear infection with yeast and/or bacteria. This may include medicated ear flush and ear medication that is put directly into the ear. If your pet has caused trauma to the skin around the area, it may also need oral antibiotics or topical treatments. There are other products available but we discuss below the ones most commonly used by veterinarians.
There are many options to kill the ear mites themselves. The most common drugs used are flea, tick and heart worm prevention. Single use products such as Acarexx® or Mibemite® are topical versions of ivermectin and milbemycin oxide respectively that are placed into the ears once to kill the mites. These are prescription only.
For other topical options there are many flea, tick, and heart worm preventions that can also be used to clean an infection. They usually have one of the following ingredients: selemectin, moxidectin, flurilanier, or saralaner in them.
Revolution® is used commonly to treat ear mites in cats and there is a dog version available as well. These medications are monthly applications and can prevent recurrence of mites. They may also cover some intestinal parasites.
Other than oral heart heartworm prevention, there are isoxazaline products for flea and tick prevention such as Nexgard®, Bravecto® and Simparica® that have also been shown to be effective at killing ear mites.
Ear mites are spread through close contact with an infected individual or through fomites such as bedding and toys. While most infections come from contact with another animal, on rare occasions they may pick them up outside if an infected animal was recently there. Keeping your pet on monthly flea, tick and heartworm preventions is the best way to avoid ear mites.
Over the counter products are not recommended as they may not have the appropriate medication or be more likely to cause discomfort. The best place for diagnosis and treatment of ear mite infections is through your veterinarian.
Dog Eat Mites: An Uncommon Problem with Simple Treatment
Unless you recently added a cat to your home or have had your pet off of its monthly preventions, it is unlikely that your dog will contract ear mites. On the rare occasion that your dog may get them, have no fear because they are easily treated with a variety of products. Don’t let an ear mite infection linger though as they can have other consequences. With this brief overview we hope you feel a little more comfortable with the possibility and detection of ear mites in your pet.