Ear mites are not the most pleasant creatures to talk about, but if you own a dog, it’s important for you to know exactly what these little bugs are, as well as how they might cause problems for your four-legged friend. My first introduction to ear mites came by way of first-hand experience, as I once found these creepy little critters hanging out in the ears of my dog, Juno.
She’s an Alaskan Husky and Collie mix, with nice, big ears that can definitely make an ideal home for small bugs like ear mites. After a small freak-out moment, I quickly realized that I had to figure out how to get rid of this little bug community that decided to set up shop in Juno’s ears.
After searching around, I discovered more about ear mites than I ever really wanted to know, but one of the by-products of my research was that I was able to properly treat Juno for her ear mites, and they really haven’t been a problem since then. So in the spirit of “my pain is your gain”, I offer you this compendium of information regarding ear mites in dogs, so that you too can take care of this problem just in case you ever discover ear mites in your pooch.
What Are Ear Mites?
Ear mites are tiny parasitic bugs that belong to the arachnid family, which means they have eight legs. The scientific name for ear mites is Otodectes cynotis, but if I were naming them, it would probably be along the lines of Disgustingus nasty-buggus (sorry for the bad joke). But seriously, the feeding habits of these little critters are enough to make you dry heave.
These tiny parasites feed on the oil and wax found in the ears of your pooch, and they can often go undetected because they’re so small. If there’s any redeeming factor about these bothersome bugs, it would be that although they are classified as parasites, they don’t feed on your dog’s blood. Either way it goes, they’re pretty disgusting creatures, and your dog is obviously much better off without them.
Ear mites rarely travel alone; they are typically found in clusters inside of a dog’s ear canal, which can be a real nuisance to your pup. Although the ear mites themselves are considered to be a relatively mild condition, the problems they cause in terms of your dog’s reaction to their bites is where the real issues can emerge.
Ear mites are highly contagious and can be easily transmitted through contact with another infected dog or cat, so be sure to keep a close eye on any other pets in your house if you notice that your dog has ear mites. Each dog’s tolerance for (and reaction to) ear mites will be different, which means that you may not notice whether or not your dog has contracted ear mites for quite a while.
The important thing to remember is that once you have detected ear mites in your dog, either by inspecting or by observing certain changes in your dog’s behavior, you need to take immediate steps to get rid of them. Again, this is not so much due to the mites themselves, but due rather to what kind of reactions those little critters can produce in your pooch. So let’s talk a little bit about what type of symptoms you can expect your dog to experience when they’re dealing with an ear mite infestation.
How Do I Know Whether My Dog Has Ear Mites?
As your dog starts responding to the presence of mites in its ears, you may observe some of the following symptoms:
- Your pooch will start scratching its ears a lot, and I mean a lot. In my own personal experience, there were times when Juno would just hang out in one spot and start a full-fledged scratching session, hitting the same areas (head, neck and ears) over and over again to try and bring some relief. It was actually kind of heart-wrenching to watch, because I knew that she was terribly uncomfortable.
- Your dog might also shake its head a whole lot, just like it would do if it were just getting out of the bathtub. Unfortunately, some dogs actually injure themselves through excessive head shaking, producing a condition known as hematoma, which is where blood will actually begin to collect or pool in the ear due to a broken blood vessel.
- You might see thick reddish-brown or black crust developing in your dog’s outer ear area, or bumps that look like little coffee grounds in your dog’s ear canal.
- Your dog will often suffer scratches or abrasions on the back side of its ears, or crusting and scales on the neck, tail or rump due to the spread of mites to other parts of the body.
- As you can probably imagine, the more your dog scratches and shakes its head, the more severe the mite infestation probably is. If you’re dealing with an advanced infestation (hopefully not), you may see either fresh or dried blood in your pup’s ear canal due to excessive scratching.
- Although ear mites are far from life-threatening, they can still pose a serious health risk to your dog if left untreated. In fact, some dogs have permanently damaged their ear drums or ear canals due to incessant scratching brought on by ear mite infestations. This can lead to permanent hearing loss, which would definitely be a tough situation for your four-legged friend. In addition, the consistent scratching that your dog has to do to stave off the itching from ear mites can spread yeast and bacteria onto other areas of its skin, which can lead to secondary bacterial infections. Talk about a nightmare!
- You may also notice a strong odor coming from the ears of your dog. Ear mites are nasty creatures, so this is not an uncommon symptom.
Diagnosing Ear Mites In Dogs
Although experiencing any of the above symptoms is definitely a sign that ear mites have found their way into your dog’s ear(s), one of the best ways to be thorough about determining whether or not your dog has ear mites is to take him/her to the veterinarian for a professional diagnosis. Here are some tips and key information points to keep in mind when visiting the vet:
- Your veterinarian will need to be thoroughly informed about your dog’s health history, including when you first detected an onset of ear mite symptoms. You should also let the vet know whether or not your dog has had regular contact with any other animals.
- The vet will perform a thorough physical exam on your pooch, which will include a handful of standard lab tests such as an electrolyte panel, a chemical blood profile, a urinalysis, and a complete blood count. This is done to ensure that your dog is not dealing with any other types of diseases. I remember when I took Juno to get these tests done; I was so concerned that they might find something majorly wrong with her. Thankfully, they didn’t!
- Another important procedure that will be performed is the dermatologic exam, which basically means a thorough inspection of your dog’s skin. Small skin scrapings will be taken from your dog in order for lab analysis to be done.
- The vet will also swab your dog’s ears for mites, and will possibly place the swabs in mineral oil in order to single out and identify the mites. Your vet may also use an otoscope (a special instrument designed to look into the ear) in order to see if there are any apparently visible ear mites hanging out in your pup’s ear canal. In some cases, dogs can be very hypersensitive to ear mite infestations, which makes it difficult for the vet to perform a deep and thorough examination of their ears. In these cases, diagnoses will often be based around your dog’s response to various medical treatments.
Treating Your Dog For Ear Mites
Okay, now that you know what type of damage those crazy little bugs can cause, as well as what the vet can do to help diagnose an ear mite problem, how can you treat this malady? If you’re like me, you hate seeing your poor pooch go through health issues of any kind, and you want to do something to relieve the pain and aggravation as soon as humanly possible.
Well, the good news is that there are several effective home remedies and medications you can use to treat your dog for ear mites. However, before I go any further, I want to make sure to emphasize how important it is for you to get an accurate diagnosis from your vet before proceeding with any treatments on your own. This will ensure that you’re not using any cleaning solutions or other medications that may make the problem worse. The last thing you would want is to cause your pup any more pain or suffering, so be sure to find out from your vet whether or not the problem you’re dealing with is indeed ear mites!
Best 6 Home Remedies For Ear Mites In Dogs
There are several different home remedies you can use to treat ear mites in your dog, but no matter which treatment you choose, you will actually only need a handful of basic tools and equipment on hand to get the job done. Here’s a list of the basic items you will need for your home remedy treatments:
- An ear dropper
- An eye dropper
- Cotton swabs
- Cotton balls
- A small bowl/dish
- A bulb syringe
- Plenty of tissue for cleanup
Clean Your Dog’s Ears First – Before Any Treatment!
This cannot be emphasized enough – before you perform any treatment on your dog, home remedy or otherwise, be sure to clean its ears first! When cleaning, be sure to be as gentle and thorough as possible, taking great pains to remove any wax buildup or reddish-brown/black debris that may be found inside your pup’s ears. This will ensure that as many mites as possible have been removed from your dog’s ears, which will make the treatment that much more effective. Have plenty of treats on hand to help your dog stay calm and cool, as not all dogs are fond of someone rifling around with their ears. In my own experience, it took a little while for Juno to get used to doing the treatments; she was basically a “wiggle-worm” for a while, so the treats were a lifesaver for me.
Home Remedy 1 – White Vinegar
As you already know, vinegar is an excellent antiseptic and astringent due to its high acidity level. Vinegar is also highly effective in removing debris and dirt that the ear mites have conveniently left behind. The vinegar will kill any adult mites or mite eggs on contact.
Using a ratio of two parts water to one part vinegar, dilute a tablespoon of vinegar in a small bowl of warm water. Notice I didn’t say hot water – you don’t want to scald your dog’s ears! Once you have completely stirred up the mixture, pour it slowly and gently into your dog’s ear, making sure to massage the ear thoroughly immediately after pouring it in. This will work the white vinegar into the various nooks and crannies in your dog’s ear, which will hopefully knock out any residual ear mites that may be trying to cling to power.
Once this has been done, be sure to gently wipe the inside of your dog’s ear using a cotton ball. This home remedy should be performed daily for about one to two weeks. One side benefit that isn’t often talked about is that white vinegar also helps your dog maintain a proper equilibrium.
A word of warning, though: Pay close attention to the condition of your dog’s ears. If your pup has any open sores or severe irritations, the last thing you would want is to apply something as intense as white vinegar on that area! This would cause your pooch some serious pain due to the sting they would feel from the acid in the vinegar. So be mindful of what kind of shape your dog’s ears are in before attempting this home remedy!
Home Remedy 2 – Corn Oil
Only a few drops of this natural elixir are needed to produce effective results in your dog’s ears. Using an eye dropper, squeeze out about three or four drops of corn oil into your dog’s ear, and then gently massage it into the ear, leaving no area uncovered by the oil if possible.
The best way to do this is by using either a cotton ball or ear swab, because if you’re using your fingers, it may compromise sterility – plus, it’s a gentler way to go! The corn oil will provide soothing relief to your dog’s skin, and it will literally smother those ear mites in order to stop their evil deeds. Repeat this process once per day for a little over a week, and monitor the results accordingly.
Home Remedy 3 – Yellow Dock Root Extract
You’re going to have to hit the health food store for this one. Dilute about 9 drops of yellow dock root extract in one tablespoon of warm (not hot) water. Now mix thoroughly, and then put that mixture in an eye dropper, filling it up only about halfway. Squeeze the full amount of the mixture into your dog’s ear at one time, massaging it in fairly quickly to keep your dog from instinctively shaking it back out.
This treatment may need to be applied once per day, but you can get away with about once every three days without rendering it ineffective.
Home Remedy 4 – Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Notice that I said “food-grade” diatomaceous earth, not the kind that is typically used for pool filtration – this is very important! Diatomaceous earth is a soft and very fine powder that is comprised of fossilized aquatic creatures known as diatoms.
While the powder is very gentle to humans and dogs, it acts like a vicious razor blade on mites, puncturing their tiny exoskeletons and causing them to die from dehydration. Yeah, that does sound a bit harsh, but keep in mind that these greedy mites will never show any mercy on your dog.
Home Remedy 5 – Aloe Vera Gel
It’s hard to beat the soothing powers of aloe vera gel. This gentle substance can be purchased by the bottle, but if you really want to go full-on natural, try using a live aloe plant to do the job.
Should you choose to go with the live plant, you will need to break open its thick, supple leaves in order to get to the gooey goodness of the aloe inside. You can apply the aloe gel with a Q-tip, massaging it gently into the ear as you go. You should see a noticeable improvement within only a few days of applying this remedy.
Home Remedy 6 – Olive or Almond Oil
Both olive and almond oils are well-known for being anti-inflammatory agents, and they can provide helpful soothing relief to a dog whose ears have been ravaged by ear mites.
Mix 1/2 an ounce of almond oil with 400 IU of liquid Vitamin E (which is also good for skin) and place it in an ear dropper. Make sure that these items are room temperature before you administer them to your dog.
Now gently apply this oil to the inside of your dog’s ears with a cotton swab, performing the treatment every other day for a six-day period. The oil will not only smother those nasty ear mites, but it will also help facilitate the healing process in your pooch’s ears.
Medicines For Ear Mites In Dogs
Thankfully, ear mites are not a problem that requires major medical intervention; in fact, highly effective ear mite treatments can be performed on an outpatient basis using medicine designed to kill those pesky ear mites.
Since ear mites are such a highly contagious lot, it’s always good to treat all of the animals in the house just to be on the safe side. In addition, be sure to clean your house thoroughly after treating your dog for ear mites, including any cages and/or bedding.
Be double-sure to clean the various areas of the home where your dog tends to hang out – for example, in my home, Juno loves to hang out on this small area rug in the foyer. I had to be sure to have that rug cleaned, and the floor immediately around (and under) the rug thoroughly cleaned as well, to ensure that no mites could hang out there and catch my dog off guard again.
The good news is that mites can’t survive long after they’ve been separated from a dog’s body, so once you’ve given your living space a good cleaning, you should be mite-free.
Your veterinarian may prescribe a certain pesticide medication that contains thiabendazole (a fungicide and parasiticide) and/or pyrethrins (an organic insecticide) to treat your dog for ear mites. Keep in mind that these medications will only work well when you have already cleaned your dog’s ears first before applying the medicine. You will typically have to apply this medicine once daily, with the treatment usually lasting about a month in duration.
Even though the treatment will wipe out the mites in relatively short order, it’s important for you to continue with the treatment program even after those pesky adult mites are gone. The reason for this is that these little critters are always laying eggs, which means that a whole new gang of ear mites may be “waiting in the wings”, ready to hatch and start the cycle all over again. You don’t want this mite nightmare to turn into a “deja vu”, so be sure to finish the entire treatment program according to your veterinarian’s instructions. This will ensure that every last trace of those bothersome parasites is gone, so that you and your four-legged friend can move on with your lives.
Other Common Medicines For Ear Mites In Dogs
- A one-time treatment applied to the ear (e.g., Acarexx)
- A one-time treatment applied to the skin (e.g., Advantage Multi or Revolution)
- Multiple treatments applied to the ear (e.g., Tresaderm)
- Injectable medicines such as ivermectin
For maximum effectiveness, each of these treatment programs should be carefully followed according to your veterinarian’s instructions.
The Bottom Line
Well, there you have it – all the information you need in order to keep those ear mites away from your dog for good. As I said earlier, these little parasites are not life-threatening or anything, but early detection can save your pup a lot of pain and aggravation. Just be sure to carefully weigh out your options, and only move forward when you have settled on a treatment program that makes sense for your particular dog’s needs.