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Ear mites in dogs are tiny arachnids that consider the wax and oils in your pup's ear canal a five-star feast. Your dog won't appreciate being the host of this social gathering, however. Ear mites can cause severe itchiness around the ears and can be extremely uncomfortable for dogs.
The bad news? They're highly contagious, and if you have one pet with ear mites it's likely your other pets are infected, too. The good news? Treatment is relatively easy. Since mites don't burrow deep into the ear, they are easier to treat than other parasitic infections. Dig into our advice and find out how.
What Are Ear Mites, Exactly?
The most common kind of ear mite is Otodectes cynotis, which literally translates from Greek to "a beggar of the dog." Along with dogs, the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists says these ear mites can be found in cats, ferrets and foxes.
Ear mites in dogs are teeny tiny, but if you look closely in an infected animal's ear you might see pinprick-sized white spots hurrying about. They are classified as arachnids along with spiders and ticks because they have eight legs, though you won't be able to tell that without a strong magnifying glass.
How Do I Know My Dog Is Infected?
Ear mites are uncomfortable and irritating to dogs. If your dog is scratching at his ears or shaking his head more often, you might be looking at a case of mites. Some dogs with ear mites will scratch themselves so vigorously and frequently that they can cause cuts and scabs around their ears.
You might also be able to identify an ear mite infestation by looking in your dog's ears. The American Kennel Club says that a dark-colored, crumbly, foul-smelling substance made up of dried blood is another sign that ear mites have set up shop in your dog's ear canal.
Where Do Pups Get These Nasty Critters?
Initially, your dog could have picked up ear mites outdoors or from another animal. Ear mites are very contagious, and as soon as one dog has them the rest of the pack is at risk (even your cats). Ear mites travel from pet to pet when an animal shakes his head, or they can transport themselves from loose hair on the ground to other animals nearby. No word on what kind of frequent flyer miles they get.
Once a dog has picked up even a single ear mite, a full-fledged infestation can quickly develop. Female mites can lay five eggs a day, notes Trupanion. These eggs hatch in just four days and the offspring are soon hungry and ready to feast on earwax and oil.
Are There Complications?
In unusually severe cases, dogs whose ear mites aren't treated in a timely manner can experience long-lasting effects like hearing loss and loss of balance, writes Wag!. As long as you take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice an issue, any problems should be minimal.
The most common issue comes from wounds dogs cause themselves while trying to get rid of the itch ear mites cause. Their hind claws can cause raw, painful scratches that need to be cleaned so they don't become infected.
How Do You Treat Ear Mites?
Although you may be tempted to try a home remedy, you should see your veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment for your dog. Your vet might recommend bringing all your pets in to see if the infestation has jumped from animal to animal.
Your vet will clean your dog's ears thoroughly to remove as many ear mites as possible. They will then likely apply an antiparasitic medication to your pup's ears. Trupanion says if the infestation is advanced, the vet might also prescribe antibiotics.
Since loose pet hair can carry parasites, your vet might advise you to frequently bathe your pets for up to a month to remove mites that might still be hanging on. You should also thoroughly clean and disinfect any places that your animal might have shed to reduce the chances of a repeat infection.
With a little help from your vet, you can overcome the creepy crawly ear mites and relieve your dog's itchy ears.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.