Ear Mites in Dogs: What Are They and How Do You Treat Them?

Updated Jun. 11, 2024
A dog with ear mites scratches at his ears.

Ksenia Raykova/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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Summary

What Are Ear Mites in Dogs?

If you’ve ever seen your dog shaking his head or scratching his ears excessively, you may wonder if he has an infection or allergies.

However, ear mites, also referred to as Otodectes cynotis, may be the culprit.

Although ear mites are relatively uncommon in dogs compared to cats, they are still an important parasite for pet parents to be aware of. They are most often seen in puppies and dogs who spend extended time outdoors.

Ear mites are tiny parasites that live in a dog’s ear canals and cause extreme itching, pain, and abnormal discharge. Left untreated, they can lead to secondary infections or hearing loss.

Ear mites are not considered a medical emergency. However, because they cause significant discomfort for dogs, they should be treated soon.

If you think your dog may have ear mites, schedule a veterinary appointment quickly for the right diagnosis.

Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs

Ear mites in dogs can cause the following symptoms:

Causes of Ear Mites in Dogs

Ear mites are mainly spread by close contact with another animal, such as a dog or cat, who already has ear mites.

Since ear mites are highly contagious, all pets who live in the same house are likely to become infected if one animal does. Dogs can also pick up ear mites from the environment or from contaminated bedding or toys.

Dogs of all ages can be affected by ear mites.

Those who do not get monthly flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives are at an increased risk of getting ear mites, since they don’t have parasite protection.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Ear Mites in Dogs

A veterinarian will first examine your dog, paying close attention to his ears. An otoscope is a special tool that is used to investigate your dog’s ear canals to find abnormal discharge or inflammation (swelling).

The veterinarian will ask whether your dog is on any monthly preventatives, when symptoms began, and whether there are any other cats or dogs in the household.

If the veterinarian suspects ear mites, diagnostic testing can be done.

An ear cytology is the preferred test to diagnose ear mites in dogs.

During this test, a veterinarian uses a cotton swab to gently collect a small amount of debris from the dog’s ear canal.

The debris is mixed with a drop of mineral oil on a glass slide and viewed under a microscope to find ear mites or their eggs.

Another sample from the ear canal can be added to a slide, then stained and viewed under a microscope to look for yeast or bacteria.

These could be causing a secondary ear infection, which is very common among dogs with ear mites.

Treatment of Ear Mites in Dogs

To treat ear mites in dogs, the ears must be thoroughly cleaned and medicated.

First, a dog’s ears are cleaned with an ear cleanser.

Epi-Otic® Advanced is commonly used, but if the veterinarian diagnosed a secondary bacterial infection, TrizULTRA™+ Keto Flush, which is an antimicrobial ear cleanser, may be used instead.

Ear cleansers remove debris to allow medication to work better and are used once daily until the mites and infection are gone.

Topical and oral flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives are the main treatment for ear mites.

Although these products are not directly labeled to be used for ear mites, they are highly effective.

The use of these medications for ear mites is considered off-label, but many medications in veterinary medicine are prescribed in this way and are safe under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Topical medications are applied to the dog’s skin in between the shoulder blades, and oral medications are given by mouth.

A single treatment is typically effective at getting rid of the ear mites. Examples of preventatives that are used include Bravecto® and Advantage Multi™.

Topical ointment, such as Animax®, will be prescribed if the dog also has a bacterial or yeast infection.

It’s typically put on the ear canals after cleansing twice daily for a week. Dogs who are in a lot of pain or very itchy may benefit from topical or oral steroids, such as prednisone.

Ear mites are extremely contagious, so if one pet is diagnosed, all pets in your household should be treated for ear mites.

Recovery and Management of Ear Mites in Dogs

Most commonly, a single course of treatment is all that is needed if the ear cleanings and medications were given continuously and as prescribed by the veterinarian.

Dogs typically start feeling better a day or two after starting treatment. Ear mites can take up to 30 days to be fully eliminated from the dog’s ear canals.

Following treatment, pet parents should bring their dog back to the veterinarian for a repeat ear cytology to check that the ear mites are gone.

If the dog is still having symptoms or the ear cytology shows ear mites or infection, another round of treatment may be prescribed.

Prevention of Ear Mites in Dogs

Keeping your dog up to date on flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives year-round will protect him from ear mites.

Cleaning your dog’s ears weekly will remove debris and lower the risk for infections as well.

Ear Mites in Dogs FAQs

Can ear mites infest your house?

Ear mites can be found throughout your house, especially in bedding or toys that an infected animal touched.

However, they do not survive for long in the environment, so with proper cleaning and disinfection, they should be gone quickly.

Can humans get ear mites from dogs?

It’s highly unlikely for a person to get ear mites from their dog.

However, if an ear mite from a dog jumps onto and bites a person, it may cause itchiness or a skin rash.

Do I need to take my dog to the vet for ear mites?

Yes, dogs with ear mites must be treated by a veterinarian. Prescription medications are needed to get rid of the ear mites and reduce inflammation in the ear canal.


Brittany Kleszynski, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers...


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