If your dogs his shaking his head and scratching at his ears, you may suspect he has fleas, or possibly even an ear infection. Unfortunately, the culprit may be far more sinister- deep inside the canal of your dogs ear, ear mites may be the cause of the problems within.
Ear mites in dogs, or Otodectes Cynotis are microscopic parasites that live deep within the ears of affected animals. While the mites are just big enough to sometimes be seen by the naked eye, most times microscopic examination is necessary to diagnose the presence of mites.
Considered an external parasite, ear mites can live their whole lives within the ear. They appear as tick or spider like insects, with eight legs and a head with teeth’ feed substances within the ear. The mites lay eggs within the ear, which incubate for only four days, then hatch and begin their evolution into an adult by feeding on earwax, blood and the oils of the skin. The mites have a relatively long lifespan of two months, and their rapid reproduction, as well as ability to live for periods of time outside of the dogs body, make them highly contagious to other animals, including cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and birds.
There are several signs and symptoms that can point to a possible infestation of ear mites in dogs. The most common sign of a mite problem in the ears is shaking of the head and ears, scratching at the ears, and rubbing them on the ground, furniture and even you in an attempt to get away from the severe itching the mites cause.
In affected dogs, a telltale dark, chocolate-like discharge may be present, noticeable when you look into the ear or try to clean the ears at home. Severe inflammation may also be present, the ear canal may appear reddened or swollen, as well as a foul smell from the ear, and the ear being painful for the dog.
However, not all dogs affected with ear mites will display symptoms, and this can be the more insidious form of an infestation, one the pet owner has no idea is occurring until it has progressed to a more serious stage, or caused other, secondary problems with the ear.
Because many of the symptoms of ear mites in dogs are the same as those for other ear problems, it is important that your veterinarian be the one to make a diagnosis of the source of your pets ear problems. Other sources of ear discomfort and scratching can include :
Primary ear infections and yeast infections caused by the presence and growth of debris, bacteria and evan fungal infections in the ears. Characterized by a foul smell, an infection can be caused by any number of pathogens, and identification of the bacteria is necessary to identify the proper medication for treatment.
Foreign bodies in the ear, such as foxtails, are another common cause of ear discomfort, scratching and discharge. Left untreated, foxtails and other foreign bodies that make their way into the ear can cause secondary infection, as well as damage the dogs inner ear and ear drum, in addition to causing severe pain.
To diagnose your dogs ear problem, your veterinarian will first examine the ear canal with an otoscope, checking for foreign bodies, taking note of any abnormalities within the ear, and obtain a sample of the discharge within the ear. The sample is looked at under the microscope, and if present, mites can be easily observed. In addition, if a secondary bacterial infection is present in the ear, your vet can determine this at this time.
Treating a Dog with Ear Mites
The first step of treating a dog with ear mites is to thoroughly clean the ear. This is best accomplished with a specific pet ear wash. A small amount of ear wash is flushed into the ear, and the canals are massaged to help loosen up the wax and debris within. The dog can then be allowed to shake his head, hopefully dislodging and expelling much of the debris within the canal. What is left can be carefully wiped out using cotton balls, and avoiding the use of Q-tips whenever possible, as used incorrectly they can cause serious damage to the dogs ear drum.
Once the ear has been thoroughly cleaned, an ear mite preparation will be prescribed for use. Depending on the type of medication your vet prefers, treatment may include a one time oral administration of a dewormer and or eardrops to be administered over several days. In addition, if a secondary bacterial infection was identified in the ear, an antibiotic or antifungal medication may be prescribed to treat that problem as well.’ Throughout the course of treatment, your veterinarian may also recommend frequent ear cleanings to ensure continued eradication of the mites.
While many over-the-counter preparations are available to treat ear mites, it is always advisable to consult your vet before using anything from the pet store. In many cases a pet can be treated for weeks with no improvement in the condition, because the ear is suffering from another problem other than the one the medication is for. Working closely with your vet, ear mites can be eradicated with one easy visit to the office, and your dog can more quickly become comfortable and mite-free.
Because ear mites are highly contagious and can be easily passed from dog to dog, it is necessary examine all pets in the household for the presence of mites, and teat those affected in order to prevent the ‘cured’ dog from being re-infected from his housemates. At the same time the dogs are treated, it is imperative to wash all of the pets bedding, vacuum the floors and try to ensure that all of the ear mites have been removed from the environment.
In dogs or households where ear mites have been a problem, the use of topical flea medications, such as Frontline, can help to prevent recurrence of mites in the home. These medications kill mites, and are especially advised for dogs who come into contact with other dogs such as in kennels, the park or the groomers, where mites may be transmitted.