Ear mites are itchy little buggers. Highly contagious, and highly common – if you own a dog, you will almost definitely have to deal with your canine's ear mites at some point. The good news is that these parasites are easy to diagnose and treat. If you have to deal with ear mites in dogs, it's best to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for some professional help.
Most commonly, ear mites in dogs (or ear canker mites) are caused by the Otodectes cynotis mite, an eight-legged, white arachnid that isn’t visible to the naked eye.
Studies show that usually it's passed on by another infected animal, with the most common culprit for contamination being a cat (1, 2); it's less likely to be a human or other dogs. Surprisingly, cats are far more likely to suffer from this parasite than dogs.
Of course, the most common symptom of ear mites in dogs is your pet incessantly scratching one or both ears. Other symptoms include:
- Head shaking
- Brown discharge
- Reddening of the ear
- Irritability when you handle his ears
Depending on the severity of the ear canker mite infestation, you may be able to treat this problem fully at home. There are several types of antiseptic dog ear cleaners available, but in some cases, ear mites in dogs can be treated with home remedies that include honey, vinegar and mineral oil. I'll get into that more in just a moment.
When your dog is in the throes of a more serious issue, for example, a skin, or ear infection – then medical treatment will likely be needed. Your veterinarian may decide to put your dog on a round of antibiotics or conduct a deep clean of his ears under sedation.
Now, let's discuss ear mites in dogs in more detail and talk about some of the specific scientifically proven treatments and preventative measures that are available.
MORE INFORMATION: What Are Dog Ear Mites and How To Get Rid of Them
Ear Mites in Dogs
Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention
What are Ear Mites in Dogs, and What Do They Do?
There are many types of dog ear canker mite that can take up residence in your dog’s ear (3). Any and all of these parasites are grouped together under the name “ear mites.” However, this is not just one type of mite. The Otodectes cynotis mite is most commonly the culprit responsible for this highly common, yet reasonably mild condition.
The otodectes cynotis mite lives off of the wax and oil secretions within your dog’s ear canal. They are highly contagious (3, 4, 5). By themselves they rarely cause more than a tickling of the ear for your dog. But, in more hypersensitive canines, the dog's immune system can overreact and cause inflammation of the ear canal itself.
This inflammation can lead to ear infections and skin infections. The greatest danger if this occurs is a ruptured blood vessel. Not caused by the mite itself, but from the incessant scratching of the ear by your dog and his very sharp claws.
A swab of the ear canal, which should be conducted by a licensed veterinarian only, will often display a number of these white, slow moving, eight-legged parasites. Not visible to the naked eye, it would take 400x magnification to see them properly.
The life cycle of an ear mite in dogs is anywhere between two to five weeks while it survives off of the host (the dog's ear wax and/or ear oil). The female mite will also lay eggs inside of the ear, which will later hatch into new mites after approx. 2 months (1, 6).
Who Can Suffer from Ear Mites?
Unfortunately, all dogs of all breeds and all ages can suffer from this condition (1).
The likelihood of your dogs contracting ear mites at some point in their lifetime is incredibly high, studies show. Especially common in felines, the most common reason that a dog will contract these eight-legged mites is through contact with an infected cat.
However, this doesn’t mean that only feline owning households are at risk. Just one sniff of a neighbor's cat can be enough to pass mites along onto your dog.
Once one dog in the house has ear mites, there is an almost inevitable domino effect and the rest will likely follow suit. Ear mites are highly contagious among dogs (3, 4, 5). Other animals that can pass on ear mites are rabbits, foxes and cows.
Luckily, this parasite isn’t contagious to humans.
It's important to note that ear mites in dogs are most prevalent (and most dangerous) for young puppies. Their still developing immune system often has a far more adverse reaction to this horrible parasite. On average, an infected dog or puppy may have 1,000 of these little buggers hiding in each ear without any visible sign to the naked eye.
Common Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs
The most obvious sign of ear mites in dogs is a pup that scratches his ears relentlessly, but you might not know that the coffee brown discharge coming from your dog’s ear isn’t merely excess earwax. In fact, this discharge is the symptom of an infection.
Other common symptoms include:
- Head shaking
- Foul odor coming from the ear
- Inflammation of the ear
- Reddening of the inner ear
- Bleeding of the ear
- Small bumps in the ear canal
- Irritability when trying to handle the ears
If you spot any of these symptoms, immediately isolate your dog away from all other pets. After washing your hands thoroughly, you can check the others for symptoms before calling your vet to seek treatment for the affected animals.
Life Cycle of an Ear Canker Mite
The mite has a reasonably short lifespan, with only a three to five week life expectancy. Female mites unfortunately mature at three weeks and are able to lay eggs before they die. These eggs are attached to the wall of the ear canal by a secretion produced by the female mite.
The eggs take three to four days of incubation prior to hatching. Then they go through a series of cycles starting as larvae, then progress to protonymph and deutonymph – with each cycle taking approximately five days to complete. In total, from egg to producing an egg, this process will take anywhere from eighteen to twenty eight days.
Conditions and Transferal of Ear Mites
Ear mites in dogs have been shown to thrive in hot, and humid conditions (7). Therefore, ear mites are more prevalent in warm, humid countries.
The dog’s ear canal is capable of providing this environment even in cold weather, but once the mite migrates from the ear they are unable to survive for very long. Even in room temperature they die off pretty quickly.
Prevention of Ear Mites in Dogs
Once your dog has gone through treatment for ear mites, you will, of course, want to make sure that those pesky devils don’t return anytime soon. The best way to do this is by cleaning your pet's ears at least once per month. This will help to diminish his risk of contracting ear mites again.
Also, should the condition return, by having a frequent schedule to check on your dog’s ears, you’ll be able to notice any changes in discharge, inflammation and redness. The faster that you can seek medical treatment for ear mites in dogs, the less likelihood for a ruptured blood vessel – which can be costly and time consuming to repair.
Always clean all of your dog's belongings.
During and after recovery from ear mite infection, clean Fido's dog bed thoroughly several times. If you have a washing machine safe dog bed, you might want to pop it in on a warm or hot cycle to ensure that you kill any leftover mites.
If your dog's bed can't fit or isn't washer-friendly, fill your bathtub with boiling water. Then place the bedding in, and put a brick (or something heavy) to weigh it down. Be careful not to burn yourself! Let the bed soak for a couple of hours.
Now you can give it a good rinse, and hang it up to dry outside. It’s doubtful that any mites will have survived both the scorching and drowning, but if you’re dealing with Rambo-esque arachnids, then being outside in the cool air will definitely finish them off.
Home Treatments for Ear Mites in Dogs
While studies show that the most effective treatments for ear mites in dogs are the medications prescribed by your veterinarian, such as fluranel (8) with 100% efficacy, there's anecdotal evidence that natural homemade ear mite treatments may also work.
1. Mineral Oil
This treatment has been extensively tested in cats suffering from this painful, and uncomfortable condition. There's some anecdotal evidence showing that by using a tiny dropper and gently popping in a few drops of mineral oil straight into the ear canal, it causes those eight-legged baddies to suffocate.
Treatment should be done once per day for at least twenty-one days, after which you should be rid of the problem, but remember it’s also a good idea to use a cotton swab to wipe the areas surrounding the ear to ensure that no mite scurries to safety, and re-attacks once the coast is clear
Instead, combine one part vinegar to two parts water. Now take a pipet and administer the liquid directly into the ear canal.
Treatment with vinegar will be around the same time frame as with mineral oil, so approximately twenty-one days. Again, remember to wipe around the ear canal with a cotton swab covered in the solution.
3. Hydrogen Peroxide
This is definitely an effective cure, but you absolutely have to be careful to not get the hydrogen peroxide anywhere near your dog’s eyes, nose or mouth. Combine one part hydrogen peroxide (which you can buy from your local drug store), with one part water.
Take a Q-Tip, and soak it into the solution. Again, be super careful of your dog’s eyes. Hydrogen peroxide burns and can cause permanent loss of vision with direct contact to the eye. Once the Q-Tip has been soaked, you want to gently use it to clean the ear canal. Be careful not to push gunk further down the ear, but instead extract it.
Treatment is between seven and ten days. It should be done once daily.
If vinegar is the miracle treatment, well so too is honey, and there are many ways to use honey for dogs. When it comes to ear mites in dogs, honey wins because it tastes way better.
With it’s antiseptic properties and consistency ideally designed to suffocate little parasites, honey makes the ideal no-sting treatment for dogs with especially sensitive ear canals or for those suffering from an infection.
With our other remedies, they can cause severe stinging on an open wound. Therefore, if your dog has reddening of the ears or cuts from scratching at them, this is the best option for you.
Combine two teaspoons of honey with twelve teaspoons of water. Mix thoroughly until blended. Taking a pipet, drop two drops into each ear, and use a cotton swab to wipe the solution around the ear canal.
This treatment should be done once or twice daily. Full recovery could be seen anytime from twenty-one to twenty-eight days.
MORE IDEAS: How to Make Homemade Dog Ear Cleaner
Veterinary Treatment for Ear Mites in Dogs
In order to thoroughly clean your dog's ears, your veterinarian may need to sedate your pup to do a deep clean without causing him stress and discomfort. This cleaning will help to reduce the buildup of earwax and residue, which can contribute to ear infections.
Parasiticide is a medication used in humans and animals alike. This treatment comes in many forms, including topical ointments and powders for oral administration. Ear drops may also be used to get rid of ear mites in dogs.
Some of these products can be picked up from your local pet store. But, for severe dog ear mite infestations you will need a prescription from your veterinarian.
If your pet has an ear mite infestation that won't clear up, confirm the diagnosis with your veterinarian. Many pets have allergies that cause intensely itching ears. Pets can also have yeast or bacterial infections, polyps, foreign bodies, cancer or a traumatic injury that causes symptoms similar to those caused by ear mites.
This condition is no fun for your pet and should be taken seriously if it strikes. If left untreated for too long, ear mites in dogs can lead to further complications should an infection or burst blood vessel occur.
Luckily, treatment is readily available and provides relief almost instantaneously. This is also one of the few medical conditions that is safe to treat at home. However, if you're not comfortable treating the condition yourself or the infestation has become severe, be sure to seek help from your vet.
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