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Ear Mites in Dogs

Ear Mites in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Dog ear mites are scarcely visible but highly infectious parasites in the ear canals. Ear mites are among the most common causes of ear infections in dogs. 

Dogs acquire ear mites through contact with infected dogs or from contaminated environments. Low immune systems increase the risk of infestations. 

Ear scratching, head shaking, ear discharge, foul odor, redness and inflammation, visible mites, behavioral changes, scratches or scabs, hair loss, and secondary infections are standard signs of ear mites.  

Dog ear mites are treated with topical, oral, or injectable antiparasitics. Inspect the dog’s ears weekly or every two weeks for early detection of ear mites. 

Untreated mite infestations cause permanent ear damage and hearing loss in dogs in severe cases. Contact the veterinarian immediately for signs of ear mites or sudden deafness in dogs

What are Ear Mites in Dogs?

Ear mites in dogs are highly contagious, pinhead-sized parasites that infest the ear canal. The parasites live on the skin's surface and feed on ear wax and skin cells.  

The dog ear mite, Otodected cynotis, belongs to the Psoroptidae family. The mite grows in five stages, occurring on the host’s body. Eggs take three weeks to hatch into adults, and adult mites live for roughly two months, continuously reproducing. 

Dog ear mites do not bite, burrow, or spread diseases, unlike other external parasites. Ear mites are known for causing severely itchy and parasitic otitis. 

Ear infections in dogs caused by mites occur in around 50% of the cases, reports “Veterinary Ectoparasites: Biology, Pathology and Control,” published by Blackwell Sciences in 2001.  

The mites periodically inhabit the surface of the dog’s skin outside the ear canals, triggering general pruritus and alopecia that resemble flea allergy dermatitis. Otodected cynotis outside of the ears is called ectopic ear mites. 

Are Dogs with Ear Mites Contagious?

Yes, dogs with ear mites are contagious. Ear mites are highly infectious parasites and spread easily. Dogs with ear mites transmit the parasites to other dogs and cats. 

Dog ear mites are transmissible to humans, but infection is rare, and mites are not considered a significant zoonotic risk.    

Pet owners who ask, “How do dogs get ear mites?” must know that close physical contact is the most common transmission mode. Another form of spread is through indirect contact with a contaminated environment. 

What are the Causes of Ear Mites in Dogs?

The causes of ear mites in dogs are listed below. 

  • Otodectes Cynotis: Tiny ear mite bugs, scientifically known as Otodected cynotis, are the main culprits for ear mite infestations in dogs. 
  • Direct Contact: Ear mites are highly contagious and easily transmitted through direct contact from infected dogs to other dogs and cats. 
  • Contaminated Environment: Dogs become infected with ear mites from contaminated tools and objects, such as dog toys, blankets, and bedding. 
  • Poor Hygiene: Poor hygiene in the dog’s environment contributes to mites spreading and supports infestations through indirect contact. 
  • Weakened Immune System: Dogs with weak immune systems are more prone to mite infestations. Puppies, seniors, and immune-compromised dogs are at the highest risk of contracting mites. 
  • Stress: Stress is an important variable in developing ear mite infections in dogs. Prolonged stress weakens immunity, increasing the chances of ear mites. 

How do I know if my Dog has Ear Mites?

You know if your dog has ear mites based on clinical manifestation. Dogs with ear mite infestations have itchy ears that are red and inflamed. 

Ear mites trigger irritation without bites, causing the dog to scratch its ears and shake its head vigorously. 

The ear canals become dirty, and the flaps get covered with mite discharge. The telltale ear discharge for ear mites is dark brown to black and resembles coffee grounds. 

Do not expect to see ear mites. The parasites are microscopic and almost invisible to the naked eye. Rely on the described signs or use a home test kit. 

The pet marketplace offers home test kits for detecting bacteria, yeast, and mite-caused ear infections in dogs. Purchase a kit, collect a sample following the manufacturer’s guidelines, and send it to a veterinary lab for analysis. 

The home test kit is not a veterinary visit and treatment substitute. Use the test results as an aid and consult a vet once they are ready. 

What Type of Breeds are More Prone to Ear Mites?

All types of breeds are prone to ear mites. Ear mite infestations are not breed-limited, and the dog’s breed is not a predisposing risk factor. 

Breed, sex, and age have not been associated with increased infestation prevalence in dogs,reports a study, “Factors Associated with the Prevalence of Otodectes Cynotis in an Ambulatory Population of Dogs,” published in Pesq. Vet. Bras. in 2008. 

Ear mites infest dogs with upright ears, such as the Belgian Malinoa and Chihuahua, as much as they target droopy-eared breeds like the Basset Hound and Weimaraner. 

An important risk factor for ear mites in dogs is immunity. Weakened dog immunity results in a higher incidence of ear mite infestations. 

Ear mites are more common in young puppies with underdeveloped immune systems than adults with robust dog immunity

What are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs?

The symptoms of ear mites in dogs are listed below. 

  • Ear Scratching: Ear mites cause itchy otitis. Affected dogs are obsessed with ear scratching and rubbing to relieve the itchiness. 
  • Head Shaking: The itchiness associated with mite activity inside the ear canals makes dogs shake their heads to eliminate the source of irritation. 
  • Ear Discharge: Ear mites cause a foul-smelling discharge that is dark brown to black and has a texture similar to coffee grounds. 
  • Foul Odor: The ear discharge is foul-smelling and repelling. The foul smell is pungent and easy to detect on the dog. 
  • Redness and Inflammation: Redness and inflammation are two hallmark signs of inflammation. The symptoms are visible in the ear canal and flap in dogs with ear mites. 
  • Visible Mites: Female ear mites are larger than males and sometimes visible to the naked eye as white specks moving against a dark background. 
  • Behavioral Changes: Mite presence causes discomfort and affects the dog’s behavior, making it reluctant to eat, lethargic, and easily irritable. 
  • Scratches or Scabs: Scratches or scabs develop due to itchiness and occur around the ears or elsewhere on the body in cases of ectopic ear mites. 
  • Hair Loss: Patchy hair loss is present around the bases of the ears. Hair loss is one of the secondary ear mite symptoms due to constant scratching.  
  • Secondary Infections: Ear mites trigger secondary bacterial or fungal infections from the canal to the middle and inner ear due to the ear’s dog anatomy

1. Ear Scratching

Ear scratching is repetitive rubbing of the ears due to itchiness. Ear mites cause severe itchiness or pruritus. The scratching is the dog’s attempt to experience temporary relief. 

Excessive ear scratching damages the skin barrier, increasing the risk of secondary infections and self-inflicted trauma. Scratching is among the symptoms of ear mites in dogs, which diminishes as the mite presence is removed. 

2. Head Shaking

Head shaking is repeated head bobbing due to pain or discomfort. The presence of mites in the ear canals is aggravating. The dog shakes its head to eliminate the source of irritation and seek relief. 

Head shaking irritates the dog and the owner, especially dogs with long and floppy ears. Treating the infection resolves these symptoms of ear mites in dogs

3. Ear Discharge

Ear discharge is a substance from a dog’s ear. The medical term for ear discharge is otorrhoea. The ear produces discharge to naturally clean it and eliminate irritants. 

Ear mite infestations are associated with a specific type of discharge. Mite discharge is brown to dark and resembles coffee grounds. The unique discharge is one of the telltale symptoms of ear mites in dogs

4. Foul Odor

A foul odor is an unpleasant scent emanating from the dog’s ear canals. Mite infestations trigger ear discharge with a malodorous scent. The smell is pungent and radiates from the dog. 

Ear mites' foul odor does not require special attention, and it is among the benign symptoms of ear mites in dogs. Treating the ear mites helps remove the smell.

5. Redness and Inflammation

Redness and swelling are standard signs of inflammation in dogs. The redness and swelling are easily visible when the interior of the dog’s ear is inspected. 

The ear canal and inside of the pinna are strikingly red and swollen. Reducing the inflammation helps manage redness and swelling. Inflammatory symptoms of ear mites in dogs need several days of treatment to heal. 

6. Visible Mites

Ear mites are less than half a millimeter long and are difficult to see with the naked eye. Female mites are periodically visible because they are larger than males. Using an otoscope (handheld tool for ear inspection) helps with visualization. 

The mites look like white specks and are easier to spot when mixed with the dark cerumen. The parasites are observable under a microscope, which is the basis of diagnosis with the symptoms of ear mites in dogs.  

7. Behavioral Changes

Behavioral changes are unusual alterations in the dog’s behavior caused by the mites. Common examples include loss of appetite, lethargy, and irritability. 

Continuous discomfort and itchiness lead to a loss of appetite and lethargy. The situation renders the dog nervous and prone to mood swings and snapping. Controlling the ear mites improves the behavioral symptoms of ear mites in dogs

8. Scratches or Scabs

Scratches and scabs are secondary skin lesions. The lesions occur due to the dog’s constant scratching. The dog’s ear flaps and the area around the ears are most affected by scratches and scabs. 

Dogs with ectopic ear mites develop scratches and scabs in other body parts. Severe scratches and scabs are symptoms of ear mites in dogs, and they require topical treatment with antiseptics or antimicrobials. 

9. Hair Loss

Hair loss, or alopecia, is a loss of coat coverage. Dogs with ear mites experience patchy and asymmetrical hair loss around the ear bases. 

Dogs with ectopic ear mites develop generalized alopecia. The patchy symptoms of ear mites in dogs are irregularly shaped and distributed across the dog’s body. Eliminating the ear mites helps the skin heal and hair grows back. 

10. Secondary Infections

Bacteria and fungi cause secondary infections in dogs with ear mites. Microorganisms are generally present in the dog’s ears. Mites interrupt the skin barrier and allow harmful germs to proliferate, resulting in infections. 

Bacterial or fungal infection on top of the ear mite infestation complicates the clinical picture. Secondary infection symptoms of ear mites in dogs need topical or oral antibiotics or antifungals, depending on the situation.  

How Often Should I Examine My Dog's Ears for Mites?

You should examine your dog’s ears for mites every one to two weeks. Check for signs of ear mites rather than locating the parasites. 

Ear mites are barely visible to the naked human eye and are easy to overlook, but the signs of mite infestation are distinctive. A dark brownish ear wax resembling coffee grounds is a telltale sign of ear mite infestation. 

Regular ear examination enables early mite detection. Early detection and treatment ensure the best prognosis. 

What is the Most Effective Ear Mite Treatment for Dogs?

The most effective ear mite treatment for dogs is spot-on flea prevention. Most spot-on flea treatments contain acaricides that treat and prevent ear mites in dogs. 

Topical mite treatments are easy to use and protect against other parasites. Spot-on products have active ingredients such as selamectin and moxidectin. 

Other ear mite treatment options include medicated antiparasitic ear drops, oral medications, or injections. Commonly used active ingredients are milbemycin oxime in drops, afoxolaner in oral meds, and ivermectin in injections. 

Topical, oral, or injectable medications only remove adult mites and do not kill eggs. Repeated treatment is necessary to eliminate ear mites. Excessive ear cleaning is not recommended as it worsens the irritation. 

Successful ear mite management involves treating all pets in the household and cleaning the environment to prevent re-infestations. 

Commercially available insecticidal products formulated for dogs kill adult mites instantly. Some pet owners prefer home remedies, which are less reliable than mainstream treatments. 

The most popular home remedy for ear mites in dogs is baby oil. Administering a few drops of baby oil in the affected ear a couple of times a day for up to a month smothers and kills the mites. 

How can the Owner Reduce the Risk of Ear Mite Infestation in Their Dogs?

Owners can reduce the risk of ear mite infestation in their dogs by keeping them up-to-date on veterinarian-recommended external parasite control products all year round. 

Commercial flea and tick products are effective against mites. Other ways of reducing the risk of ear mites include weekly ear inspections, maintaining proper hygiene, and avoiding contact with infected pets.

Owners must not rely on all-natural preventatives and home remedies for ear mites in dogs. Delayed treatment increases the risk of complications and sometimes causes hearing problems in dogs

What Happens if an Ear Mite is Left Untreated in Dogs?

Permanent ear canal and eardrum damage happen if an ear mite is left untreated in dogs. Ear mite infestations are not fatal in dogs but affect quality of life. 

Mite infestations progress and cause ear damage, leading to hearing problems if left untreated. Untreated mites increase the risk of secondary bacterial and fungal ear infections. 

Staphylococcus and Malassezia species are the most commonly identified pathogens causing secondary infections in dogs with ear mites. Ear infections in dogs cause permanent hearing deficits or complete deafness in severe cases. 

Can CBD Oil Reduce the Risks of Ear Mites in Dogs?

No, CBD oil cannot reduce the risks of ear mites in dogs. CBD does not prevent or kill ear mites. Correctly applied CBD for dogs enables symptom relief of ear mite infestations. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, has potent anti-inflammatory properties and helps relieve itchiness and discomfort. Cannabidiol is extracted from hemp and is natural and safe for dogs of all ages. 

Consult the veterinarian about CBD oil vs. traditional medications for dogs with ear mites. Pet CBD is safe to combine with mainstream ear mite treatments.