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Dog Ear Mites: Symptoms and Treatment

Mites are extremely common in pets, since these parasites latch on to the fur of the animal and breed there. Ear mites for example, prefer breeding inside the ear but they can also live on other parts of the pet's body. This parasite is usually transferred from the mother to her newborn puppies or from other dogs or cats.
Reshma Jirage
Last Updated: May 20, 2018
Ear mites, also known as Otodectes cynotis are crab-like, eight-legged, infectious, microscopic parasites which unlike other mites do not burrow into the skin. They have a life cycle of approximately 4 weeks and can survive for several weeks outside the host. Female mites lay eggs in the surrounding area of the ear or fur.
They are very small in size and you can see them using a magnifying glass. Since a dog's ear is generally dark, warm and moist, it provides a conducive environment for the growth of such parasites along with yeast and bacteria. These mites look like tiny white dots that keep themselves hidden amongst the dark earwax and debris.
Tell-Tale Signs
Dark Discharge: Ear mites live inside the ear canal and they feed on earwax and tissue, because of which their waste is accumulated in the dog's ears. This type of mange discharges a toxic byproduct which makes the earwax appear reddish-brown or black.

Foul Odor: An infestation of ear mites will also make the dog's ear smell bad. The earwax will have a pungent and foul odor, which must be taken note of as an obvious sign of infection.

Hematoma: Sometimes when the condition is left unresolved for weeks, the inner skin of the ear can develop another condition known as hematoma, wherein blood collects and dries up under the skin. This discoloration is often found on the ear flaps of the pet because of the repeated friction being inflicted from the paws during scratching.

Ear Sores: Look out for eruptions behind the ear flap and inside the ears of the pet. These eruptions will look like blisters or scabbed sores. Since the parasite feeds on the skin tissue, such sores are common and can be seen on the pet's face and neck as well. The infestation of this mange can increase the risk of secondary bacterial or yeast infection and thus must be treated with rapidity.

Frequent Head Shaking: Dogs especially, tend to shake their heads back and forth when trying to get rid of something that's irritating their ear, neck, or face. It is one of the behavior which aims at getting rid of the intrusion in the ear or affected area.

Intense Itching: Dogs suffering from mites will tend to rub their head and ears against objects, in order to relieve some of the itching and their frustration. They tend to lick the parts of their body where the mites may have spread, in which case the owner will need to pay more attention to the area where the dog is scratching or chewing its fur the most.

Excruciating Pain: Along with intense itching, the pet will also experience a lot of pain as a result of the infestation. The ears become sensitive to touch, because when these mites bite the skin it gives rise to an allergic reaction which causes the affected area to swell, redden and sometimes ooze a foul-smelling discharge.

Hearing Lapse: Hearing lapse must not be confused with permanent damage. Sometimes, when the infection persists or keeps recurring, the pet's hearing may be temporarily weakened. However, if the condition is left untreated, the mites can eat into the blood vessels within the ear and harm the eardrum. In such a situation, the middle ear might be severely infected and may result in some damage.
There are many other ear conditions which can cause dogs to portray a similar behavior. Hence, an accurate diagnosis of ear mites is very important for appropriate treatment. Ear mites can be seen with the help of otoscope or auriscope. They can be examined with the help of cell structure analysis using microscope (cytology), radiographs (X-ray), CT scan, and skin tests.
Veterinary Treatment
While treating ear mites, the veterinarian cleanses the dog's ears before applying medications. Cleaning the ears is a mandatory step in treatment, after which the prescribed medication such as ivermectin or selamectin is applied. In case the skin is also infected, a topical medication is applied on the skin. Secondary infections, often require a course of antibiotics in order to treat the condition.
Home Treatment
An ideal way to keep ear mites at bay or to repress the infestation is to clean the pet's ear once or twice a week, depending on the extent of itching. Mineral oil is excellent for removing the buildup of earwax from the dog's ear and killing the mites. You may do so by dabbing the oil on a small cotton ball and gently placing it into the pet's ear. Use your thumb to gently squeeze the cotton into the ear, so that it goes in as it naturally would. Do not try to apply any force whatsoever.

Allow the oil-soaked cotton to absorb the dirt within the ear of the pet. Your dog may try to shake off the cotton but that will only help the oil to spread deeper into the ear, which is the main objective. Remove the cotton after 15-20 minutes and clean the area with a new cotton ball. Repeat this process if needed.
Prevention is always better than cure. Therefore, it is better to prevent a mite infection rather than treating it. Keeping the dog's ears dry after bathing, frequently checking for foreign material and regularly visiting a veterinarian is very essential for maintaining the health of your pet. Also, since these mites can survive without a host, it becomes imperative that the pet's belongings are washed and disinfected regularly in order to prevent a relapse.