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What Are Ear Mites in Dogs?

Ear mites in dogs are highly contagious parasites that live on skin surfaces and in ear canals.

The dog ear mite belongs to the Psoroptidae family, which is a group of parasitic mites that live on the surface of the skin rather than burrowing into it, as some families of mites do.

Their scientific name is Otodectes cynotis, and they tend to be 1-2 millimeters long and can be seen under a microscope. These mites affect various species, including dogs, cats, rabbits, and livestock.1

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs?

Ear mites in dogs cause an intense itch. The most common symptoms of ear mite infection include scratching at the ears, shaking the head, and dark discharge or odor from the ears.

Small bumps and scratches can develop around the ear, neck, rump, and tail from the scratching and shaking, as well as secondary skin infection. Other ear infections can look like ear mite infections, including bacterial infections and yeast infections.

What Are the Causes of Ear Mites in Dogs?

Dogs can get ear mites by being around other animals that are infected, especially if they sleep in the same area or bed.

The mite life cycle is important to understanding how dogs get ear mites. Eggs are laid, and then over the next three weeks, they turn into adult mites as they progress through various growth stages.2 Adult mites can live for approximately two months.

The mites feed on your dog’s skin and ear surface debris, which causes inflammation and irritation. Since this mite is contagious, it is transmitted from one animal to another through physical contact.

Since ear mites are so contagious, when your dog is diagnosed, you have to also treat all of your other pets at the same time to eliminate them completely.

How Do Vets Diagnose Ear Mites?

A dog with an ear infection can have the same symptoms—scratching and ear discharge—as a dog with ear mites. That’s why it’s important to see your veterinarian for help with diagnosis and treatment.

Making a diagnosis allows for appropriate medication for treatment. Using the wrong medication can be dangerous and/or cause discomfort to your pet, and it’s a waste of time and money.

Another reason to see your vet is the health of your dog’s eardrum. If the eardrum is ruptured, only certain medications can be used.

For an official diagnosis, your veterinarian will typically take an ear swab and run several tests.

An ear mite smear test allows the vet to see mite eggs and adult mites under the microscope. With an ear cytology, the vet looks for secondary or concurrent bacterial or yeast infections. Sometimes a skin scrape will also reveal the mite.

Treatment for Ear Mites in Dogs

Treatment for ear mites in dogs involves both cleaning and giving medication.

Cleaning your dog’s ear canal removes debris and buildup, allows medication to be better absorbed, and returns the ear canal to normal, healthy tissue. Your vet will clean your dog’s ear and can show you how to properly clean your dog’s ear if needed.

Medication can include:

  • A topical product for inside the ear

  • A topical product applied to your dog’s skin and absorbed throughout their body

  • An oral pill

  • A series of injections

While some of the topical medications for your dog’s ear canal can be single-use, others must be applied daily for 7 to 30 days. Your veterinarian will make a medication decision based on your pet’s individual situation.

Treatment also requires all household pets receive medicine so that they do not continue to reinfect each other. Ask your veterinarian about appropriate treatments specific to each of your pets.

Recovery and Management of Dog Ear Mites

Most dogs make a relatively quick, uneventful recovery from ear mites, although some dogs might have an ongoing battle with the pesky mites. These dogs may need another trip to the veterinarian.

Sometimes there’s residual debris in your dog’s ear canal that needs to be flushed. And if there’s also a bacterial or yeast infection, your vet may need to prescribe additional medication or a different medication to address the infection.

If there is a stray neighborhood cat that carries ear mites and interacts with your dog regularly, preventive products (such as Simparica, Nexgard, Bravecto, Revolution, or Credelio) can help ensure that they are not reinfected.3

In addition to eradicating adult mites, you need to eliminate the eggs that will hatch and later turn into adult mites. Wash items like pet bedding in hot water and then run them through a hot dryer until they are completely dry. Thoroughly vacuum areas where pets spend a lot of time.

After treatment, continue to check your dog’s ears regularly for signs of ear mites or other problems. Look for discharge or redness within the ear canal and headshaking or scratching around the ears.

Ear Mites in Dogs FAQs

Can humans get ear mites from dogs?

Yes, humans can get ear mites from an infected dog. It’s not common, but it’s possible. More frequently, other pets in the home get infected with the ear mites from a contagious dog.

What home remedy kills ear mites in dogs?

No research has been done to examine the effectiveness of home remedies for dog ear mites. Since there are effective medications readily available, you should always see your veterinarian to prescribe a medication for treatment.

Will tea tree oil kill ear mites in dogs?

Do not use tea tree oil on your dog or put it in their ear.

Although tea tree oil is thought to have some antibacterial and antifungal properties, it can cause burning and stinging in an inflamed ear, and your dog’s eardrum may also be damaged.

 

Tea tree oil should also not be taken internally. 

Since there are safe, proven products available to treat ear mites in dogs, you should have your veterinarian prescribe one of those instead.

Does hydrogen peroxide kill ear mites in dogs?

Hydrogen peroxide can be very painful when used in inflamed ears. It can also slow healing.5

Since there is no animal research on hydrogen peroxide’s disinfectant properties, do not use it to treat dog ear mites.

What medication kills ear mites in dogs?

There are many products known to kill ear mites in dogs, including Milbemite, Acarex, Tresaderm, Frontline, Ivermectin, Selamectin, Advantage Multi, Simparica, and Bravecto.2

References

Rothrock, K., DVM, & Morgan, R., DVM, DAVIM, DACVO. (2018, April 3). Ear Mites (Zoonotic). VINcyclopedia of Diseases.

 

Psoroptidae. (2021, April 12). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psoroptidae

Brooks, W., DVM, DABVP (2020, July 7). Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats. Veterinary Partner. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951535

Tea Tree Oil for Otitis.(2021, April 12). Veterinary Information Network, Vet Boards: Vet to Vet: Alternative Medicine.

Hydrogen Peroxide Use in the Ear. (2021, April 12). Veterinary Information Network, Vet Boards: Vet to Vet: Dermatology.

 

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