Is your dog feverishly scratching and shaking his head? If so, the culprit might be teeny tiny insects that are feasting on Fido’s ear wax and oils. Enter: Ear mites.
What Are Ear Mites?
Practically invisible to the naked eye, ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are a type of arthropod that resemble ticks. Since they can only survive for a limited time in the environment without a host, ear mites are extremely eager to set up house in the ear canal of a dog, cat, rabbit, ferrets, and other pets.
Once ear mites have cozied up into your pet’s ear canal, they begin gorging on wax and oils.
Unless treated, ear mites will continue to feast and reproduce. Full-fledge infestations can develop very quickly. Get this:
- It takes approximately 3 weeks for a mite to develop from egg to adult. During this time, the mite goes through 5 life stages.
- Once a mite reaches adulthood, it lives for about 2 months.
- As an adult, mites will continually reproduce. Female mites can lay 5 eggs a day, and eggs hatch in just 4 days.
It’s a vicious and extremely uncomfortable cycle that can lead to ear infection, impaired hearing, and even balance issues if left untreated.
Ear mites are a common problem in puppies and kittens, although infestations can break out in animals of all ages. Some common signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Dark, reddish-brown discharge. This can be crumbly (many say it resembled coffee-grounds), as it’s often composed of dried blood
- The outer ear may also have reddish crustiness
- Ear scratching
- Head shaking
- Skin lesions and inflammation from all the scratching
Ear mites are extremely contagious and usually passed from animal to animal. If your dog likes to play with other dogs, or you have multiple pets in the house, then they likely came from a four-legged friend.
Ear mites can attach themselves to anything from blades of grass to carpet fibers, but, as I mentioned above, they need to find and attach themselves to a host quickly to survive.
Diagnosing Ear Mites
Since ear mites are too small to see with the naked eye, and their symptoms can appear similar to an ear infection, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. Schedule a visit to your vet so he/she can use an otoscope to check your dog’s ear canal for any signs of mites. Your vet may also want to do a microscopic examination of your dog’s ear discharge.
Depending on how sore your pup’s ears are, he may need to be sedated to undergo a proper examination and treatment.
There are a variety of treatment options that your vet may recommend. It’s important to note, while several medications can treat ear mites in pets, they only kill mature mites. According to the experts at VCA Hospitals, no medication can penetrate the eggs or pupae. So, treatment focuses on killing the adult and larval forms. For this reason, it may take a few weeks for your dog to be fully rid of ear mites. But with medication and patience, the symptoms will clear up soon.
Looking for over-the-counter options or chemical-free home remedies?
There are over-the-counter options available through pet supply stores and websites, like 1-800-Petmeds. Before using an over-the-counter option, though, it’s important to get a correct diagnosis.
If you’re after a chemical-free home remedy, here are popular recommendations:
Oil Treatment – Oil reportedly helps suffocate and kill the mites. Plus, it soothes sore ears. Put oil (mineral oil, olive oil, or coconut oil) into a dropper and squeeze 5 or 6 drops into your dog’s ear. Massage the oil into your dog’s ear and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Then, gently wipe the outer ear clean with a cotton ball. Do this every day for a month.
*For a stronger oil treatment, some experts recommend adding crushed garlic to the oil and letting it infuse overnight. Before use, strain the garlic from the oil and follow the steps above. Mites don’t like sulfur and garlic has a lot of it! Garlic also helps reduce bacterial infections.
Green Tea Rinse – Green tea is a natural antiseptic and can help flush out the ears. Steep some green tea leaves in hot water for several minutes and then strain. Let the tea cool completely to room temperature and then flush the ear using a dropper, as outlined above. Use once a day for a month.
It’s important to note that natural remedies take longer to work than traditional medication. Before starting any home remedy, it’s best to clear it with your veterinarian first.
If Your Dog Has Ear Mites
Since ear mites are so contagious, if you have multiple pets in your house, your vet will likely want to treat them all. Additionally, make sure to thoroughly clean bedding, carpets, couches, toys, and other soft surfaces your pet comes into contact with.
Can Dogs Pass Ear Mites To People
According to the VCA Hospital: “Ear mites may cause a temporary itchy rash on susceptible people if there are infested pets in the household, although this is considered to be a rare event.”