Ear mites are part of the family of mites which are parasites living on our pets. They are commonly found deeper in the ear canal but if there is no space they can spread to other parts of their hosts’ bodies. The life cycle of a single mite is approximately 4 weeks.
The female mite can lay eggs every three weeks and it only takes four days for eggs to hatch. They feed on the ear wax and also the epidermal debris of an ear. They like to burrow into the ear, causing itchiness and inflammation to which the body responds by producing more wax.
This is a mild enough complication, but the complications giving more cause to worry are a secondary result of ear mite infestation.
Dogs that are afflicted with ear mites will typically scratch at the ears excessively and shake their heads, even pulling out their own hair leaving bald patches behind as they scratch.
Some dogs will shake their heads so hard and vigorously that a hematoma of the ear will form (with blood pooling in the ear due to breakage of a blood vessel), almost like the cauliflower ear that rugby players get. This will need surgery to correct.
Also, a concern is when dogs will scratch at their ears to the point that damage is done to the ear canals or ear drums which can in severe cases cause permanent deafness.
Ear mites are highly contagious and are often carried forward from parent to offspring and interspecies. It is not contagious to humans and you do not need to take any special care to protect your children or family members from an animal infected with ear mites.
Dogs with long floppy ears are more prone to ear problems than others with short or upright ears. The reason for this is that the floppy ears create a dark, closed environment that does not get the opportunity to dry out and air.
This is the perfect breeding ground for bacterial infections and sometimes leads to chronic ear problems and infections.
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What Are Ear Mites?
- As the name suggests, ear mites are a tiny spider-like parasitic mite that infects the ears of dogs and also cats. They usually live in the ear canals but can live on other parts of the dog or cat’s body. They are more commonly found in cats than dogs.
- Ear mites feed on epidermal debris & ear wax. They burrow into the ear, causing inflammation which the body responds to by producing more wax.
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Ear mites are not visible to the naked eye; your animal caregiver will have to use an otoscope and examine the inside of the ear to see if they can find any mites. An easier way is to take a sample of the skin and send it off to the laboratory for analysis.
Do not self-diagnose or fall for a flippant diagnosis without proper investigation as some other infections can mimic the symptoms of ear mites.
Classic symptoms of ear mites can include any or all of the following:
- Head shaking or carrying the head tilted to one side
- Excessive scratching at the ears (there may be sores and bleeding around the ears)
- Dark brown to blackish crusty gel-like discharge in the ears
- Difficulty hearing – especially if combined with other signs.
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Your veterinarian will prescribe medication for you to use on your dog. Some will prescribe an ointment to be placed directly in the ear canal, others give a spot that goes directly onto the skin whilst other veterinarians give a prescription for a combination of both.
If there is a big build-up of debris and dirty ear wax, you will also get a veterinary-grade ear cleaner to flush out the ear before applying any medication. Most dogs do not mind getting their ears cleaned out as this brings them immense relief and even the most aggressive dogs I’ve come across are just too happy to be relieved from the constant itch.
Some veterinarians will also give an anti-inflammatory drug for quick relief of the itch and an antibiotic if any infections have already set in.
Your dog will start to feel relieved soon after treatment has started, most of the time within the first two to three days. Be sure to continue the treatment for as long as it is prescribed to make sure you fully get rid of the infestation.
- Effective “spot-on” – some vets use it and some don’t. (advanta, frontline)
- Ear cleaner – loosens the wax for easy cleaning. (ubavet)
- Antibiotic ear gel – kills mites and cures symptoms. (canaural, orydermyl)
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- I recommend flushing your dog’s ears at regular intervals for good ear hygiene and plucking hairs away for optimum air circulation for dogs that have excess hair in the ear cavities. Special ear powder is available that absorbs the wax of the ear to facilitate easy grip.
- Pluck, flush and wipe
- Use tweezers or groomer’s chalk/ear powder for plucking
- Flush with a good ear cleaner. Caution with dogs already suffering from infections. If their ears are not dirty, leave the flushing to go. Remember you want to keep the ear as dry as possible.
- Wipe with cotton wool
- You may use Thornit or ear gel for any infections.