Ear Mites in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options · The Wildest

Skip to main content

Ear Mites in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Everything you need to know to keep the pests at bay

by Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM | expert review by Dr Sam Wheelwright BVSc MRCVS
31 October 2023
Woman checking small Chihuahua for ear mites
Jarusha Brown / Stocksy

As many dog parents know, any unusual sound coming from their pup will jolt them right out of the deepest sleep. The worst, naturally, is when you hear a gagging sound and find your dog vomiting all over the duvet. But there are other sounds that can jar us out of any dream.

For instance, no one wants to be woken up through the night with the thump, thump, thump, flap sound of their dog constantly scratching their ears and shaking their head. Dogs can have itchy, irritated ears for a lot of reasons and ear mites are a common cause of the problem. Knowing more about what ear mites are, what symptoms they cause, how they’re transmitted and how they’re treated can help you keep your dog free of these tiny pests.

What are ear mites?

Ear mites are small arthropods that live, lay eggs and grow on the surface of the ear canal. They feed on skin cells and discharge from the ears. Adult female mites are just under half a millimetre in length and may be just barely visible to the naked eye.

How do dogs get ear mites?

Dogs get ear mites through direct contact with another animal with ear mites. These mites are often passed on from a mother to her newborn puppies, but contact with any animal with a mite infestation can spread the disease to your dog.

How do I know if my dog has ear mites?

If your dog is showing any symptoms of ear discomfort or discharge, see your veterinarian to get them checked out. Your vet can do testing to see if your dog has ear mites, an ear infection or both. Mites are commonly diagnosed by swabbing the waxy material from the ears and looking at it under a microscope. The same swab can be used to look for signs of an ear infection as well.

Mites can also be found during video otoscopy, a sedated procedure in which a vet uses a small video camera to see if there are any problems deep in the ear canal. This method is more accurate than looking with the handheld otoscope that your vet uses as part of a routine ear exam. Despite this, video otoscopy isn’t really used to find mites because swabbing is much simpler, costs less and is just as accurate.

What causes ear mites?

Ear mite infestations are caused by spread of the Otodectes cynotis mite from animal to animal. This is why ear mite infestations are also known as otodectic mange. These tiny parasites irritate the skin and ear canals as they feed, resulting in some annoying symptoms for your dog.

What are the symptoms of ear mites in dogs?

Some common symptoms of an ear mite infestation include:

  • ear scratching

  • head shaking

  • head tilt

  • dark discharge from the ears

  • skin lesions around the ears

  • bad odour from the ears

  • irritation and redness in the ears

The symptoms of ear mites in dogs overlap with the symptoms of a bacterial or yeast ear infection. The most obvious signs are often head shaking and scratching at the ears. Many dogs will have a dark, waxy discharge that flies out of their ears when they shake their head. Gross. As mites leave the ear canals, they can cause crusty lesions on the skin around the ears. Also gross.

The trauma and irritation caused by ear mites can result in secondary bacterial or yeast infections in the ears. This can result in a foul odour from the ears in addition to the other signs described above.

How do you treat ear mites in dogs?

Once ear mites are diagnosed, your veterinarian will prescribe treatment to clear the infestation. This treatment will vary based on your dog’s health history and the presence of any secondary problems like a bacterial ear infection or ruptured eardrum.

There are many different medications, both topical and oral, that can treat ear mites. The classic treatment was an anti-parasitic applied in the ears. This worked but was often challenging to do in dogs with very itchy, irritated ears. Fortunately, newer flea and tick medications that are much easier to administer have been shown to also be effective against ear mites.

Spot-on products, such as selamectin (Stronghold) and imidacloprid + moxidectin (Advocate) have been successful in clearing infestations. Oral products, such as flurlaner (Bravecto, which also has a spot-on formula), afoxolaner (NexGard), and sarolaner (Simparica) are also great at clearing ear mites and very easy to give.

Your veterinarian may recommend cleaning the ears to help remove debris, which can allow medications to penetrate better. Only do this under your vet’s instruction – putting cleaning solutions into ears with damage deep in the canal can cause serious problems. A topical medication to control a bacterial or yeast infection may be needed as well if your vet determines a secondary infection is present.

How do I prevent ear mites in dogs?

A foolproof way to prevent ear mites in your dog is to keep them from contacting other animals with ear mites. This also means that if your dog has ear mites, you should keep them away from other animals until given the all-clear by your vet. It’s very rude to spread these horrid little bugs around.

While you could check the ears of every dog at the park for mites before you let your precious baby play with them, this isn’t super-practical and is hopefully a little too helicopter parent-y for you. Instead, trust a monthly flea and tick medication to keep ear mites at bay. It’ll keep you from looking like a weirdo at the park and is also just a part of good overall preventative care.

If ear mites are found in even one pet in the house, it’s important to treat all pets in the house at the same time. This includes cats and ferrets because they can be affected, too. Ear mites can spread back and forth easily if all pets don’t receive treatment at the same time.

Watching your dog’s ears for changes and cleaning them regularly can alert you to any issues early and help head off an infestation before it has time to cause bigger issues for your dog.

What are the potential complications from ear mites?

The most common complication from ear mites is irritation and secondary infection within the ear canal. If treated promptly, these problems should stay in the external part of the ear canal and resolve quickly with treatment. Some dogs with severe infestations can get mites on other areas of their body, most commonly on the head and the paws. Although the mites don’t thrive in these areas, dogs can still develop crusty skin lesions in these spots.

Can ear mites make dogs deaf?

Ear mite infestation by itself should not be able to make a dog deaf. The build-up of debris in the ear canals may cause dull hearing in some dogs, but this should resolve once the ears are cleaned. Some dogs with severe or untreated ear mites can develop ear infections that invade the deep parts of the ear. These deep infections can result in deafness, head tilt or other neurological issues.

Ear mites are nasty little pests that result in itchy, waxy, unhappy ears for your dog. Fortunately, your vet can diagnose them quickly, and easy-to-administer treatments will get your dog feeling great again quickly.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know if my dog has ear mites?

If your dog is showing any signs of ear discomfort or discharge, take them to your vet for testing to see if mites are present.

How to treat ear mites in dogs?

Ear mites can be treated with a variety of topical or oral medications. Many of these medications are the same ones your dog should be on for flea and tick prevention.

What are the symptoms of ear mites in dogs?

Ear mites can cause dark ear discharge, itchy ears, head shaking, redness of the ears, crusty skin around the ears or a foul odour from the ears.

Can ear mites make a dog deaf?

Ear mites do not cause deafness. Dogs with severe debris may have some temporarily dull hearing that should resolve once the ears are clear.

What causes ear mites in dogs?

Ear mites are an arthropod called Otodectes cynotis. These tiny pests live in a dog’s ear canals and cause irritation and discomfort.

How do I prevent ear mites in dogs?

Many flea and tick preventatives will kill ear mites as well. Avoiding contact with animals infested with ear mites is the best way to keep your dog from getting them.

What are the potential complications from ear mites?

Ear mites can cause secondary bacterial or yeast ear infections if left untreated. These infections can cause damage to the ears if allowed to get out of control.

References:

Dr. Bartley Harrison holding his dog

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM is a small animal veterinarian based in North Carolina who has practiced emergency medicine since graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. His primary interest areas include pain management, cardiology, and the treatment of shock.

He is a member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Medical Writers Association. In addition to his clinical work, he writes pet health articles to help provide accurate information for both new and experienced pet parents. When he’s not working, he enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and going on adventures with his dog.


Related articles