Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats: Q&A

by VetDepot on January 2, 2014

ear mite blog editedEar mites are parasites that affect the ears of both dogs and cats. They are the most common cause of ear disease in cats.

What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites are eight-legged arachnids. Though often mistakenly referred to as insects, they are actually more closely related to ticks and spiders.

There are many different types of mites. The ear mites that infect dogs and cats are known as Otodectes cynotis. They are found most commonly in the ears, but can also live on the fur and skin of the infected pet. They are more common in cats, but can infect dogs as well.

How Do Pets Get Ear Mites?

Ear mites are contagious and can easily be passed from one pet to another. Kittens and puppies can be infected directly from their mother. Ear mites can also be passed between species and cats often serve as a source of infection for the family dog.

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats?

Symptoms expected in infected pets include:

  • A brown to black discharge in the ear canal
  • Scratching at the ears, face, or head
  • Scabs and abrasions around the ears, face, or head
  • Excessive head shaking
  • Hair loss around the ears, face, or head

A potential complication sometimes seen in pets with ear mites is an aural hematoma. An aural hematoma is easily recognized by the presence of a fluctuant swelling encompassing part or all of the ear flap. This swelling is actually the result of an accumulation of blood between the skin surfaces of the ear flap and results from trauma to the ear caused by shaking the head and scratching at the ears.

How Are Ear Mites Diagnosed?

In some cases, a veterinarian may be able to see the tiny mites moving within the ear canal with the aid of an otoscope (a special piece of equipment that allows your veterinarian to closely examine your pet’s ears). In other cases, your veterinarian may need to collect a sample of the debris from the ear canal to examine microscopically, looking for adult mites or eggs. When found, their presence is confirmation of an ear mite infection.

Though ear mites are not difficult to diagnose, there are other ear diseases that can cause similar symptoms. An ear mite infection should be confirmed by your veterinarian before beginning treatment.

How Are Ear Mites Treated?

There are several potential treatment options. Some of the monthly topical medications used for flea and/or heartworm control are also effective in treating ear mites. Examples include Revolution for dogs and cats and Advantage Multi for cats. Acarexx is an ivermectin-based solution that is applied directly to the ears and is another option for treatment of ear mites.

In some cases, your pet may also need to have the discharge cleaned from the ears, may need ointments or drops for use inside the ear canals, and/or may need antibiotics to treat wounds resulting from scratching at the ears.

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