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Ear Mites in Dogs

Veterinarian checking a dog for ear mites
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Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All
  • Ear mites are tiny arachnids that cannot be seen by the human eye.
  • They can spread quickly from dog to dog and cause itching and discomfort.
  • Symptoms of ear mites include head shaking, scratching at the ears, and waxy build up that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Ear mite treatment often consists of ear drops or oral medications. This condition is relatively easy to treat.
  • Using a flea and tick medication that also protects against ear mites is the best way to prevent an infection.

Ear mites are a common cause of an ear infection (otitis externa) in young dogs. They’re less common in older dogs and may be a sign of an underlying health issue. 

Ear mites are itchy, irritating, and they quickly spread from dog-to-dog, or between other animals in the house. Luckily, ear mites are easily treated and simple to prevent. 

What are Ear Mites?

Ear mites are very small arachnids, meaning they have eight legs and are in the same class as ticks and spiders. They can affect dogs, cats, ferrets, and wild animals including foxes, wolves, polecats, and wildcats.

The most common type of ear mite that affects dogs is Otodectes cynotis. These mites are too small to see with the naked eye. 

Although some mites burrow into the skin, ear mites stay on the surface, feeding on dead skin and secretions. 

Ear mites are obligate parasites—meaning they require a host to complete their life cycle and reproduce. In fact, the entire life cycle of the ear mite is completed in the ear canal. 

Despite spending most of the time deep within the ear canal, ear mites in dogs are contagious and can quickly spread between animals. Transmission of ear mites to humans is, thankfully, rare. 

Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs

Symptoms of ear mites in dogs

Ear mites are very itchy, and cause symptoms of irritation such as head shaking or scratching at the ears. This scratching may be severe, and may result in wounds over a dog’s head and neck. Severe head shaking cause an aural hematoma—a swelling of the ear flap. 

On closer examination of ear mites in dogs, pet parents may see a dark, waxy discharge, usually described as looking like coffee grounds. 

The ear may also have an unusual smell, although this is usually caused by a secondary bacterial infection rather than the mites themselves. The inside of the ear flap and area around the ear canal often looks red and irritated, too. 

The main symptoms of ear mites in dogs are:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Rubbing ears along the ground
  • Head tilting
  • Scratch wounds to head, neck, and ears
  • Dark, waxy discharge that looks like coffee grounds
  • Redness around the ear canal
  • Smelly ears
  • Swollen ear flaps

What Causes Dog Ear Mites?

Since ear mites in dogs are contagious, they spread to your dog by direct contact with an infected animal. Usually, this is from a mother dog to puppies, making ear mites common in puppies and young dogs. 

Older dogs may get ear mites from a playmate or another animal in the house. Ear mites are more common in cats than dogs and may be brought into the house by a feline family member. 

As dogs age, they mount an immune response to ear mites, meaning they can often keep the mites to very small numbers that do not cause symptoms of an infection. Because of this, an adult dog can unknowingly pass ear mites to young dogs and puppies. Since puppies don’t have strong immune systems, they often get the full extent of the disease.

Although rare, it is possible for contaminated brushes or grooming products to spread ear mites to dogs. In order for this to happen, a brush or product infected with mites would need to be used on a healthy dog almost immediately after contamination, since ear mites cannot survive for long without a host. 

Diagnosing Ear Mites in Dogs

Vet diagnosing dog ear mites

If you suspect your dog has ear mites, the best thing to do is to take him to your veterinarian, who will do a physical exam of your dog’s skin and ears. 

Your veterinarian will also look into the ear canal with an otoscope and take a sample of your dog’s ear wax with a swab. Once spread onto a slide and viewed with a microscope, this allows your veterinarian to see the ear mites and confirm their presence.  

Ear Mite Treatment for Dogs

Treatment for ear mites should be prescribed by your veterinarian. 

Ear Mite Medication for Dogs

Common ear mite treatments for dogs include:

  • Multi-pharmaceutical ear drops 
  • Oral anti-parasite treatments such as fluralaner or sarolaner 
  • Spot-on anti-parasite treatments such as moxidectin or selamectin
  • Injectable anti-parasite treatments such as ivermectin

Ear Drops: Medicated ear drops are a common form of treatment for ear mites in dogs and can fix the problem quickly. Ear drops are usually multi-pharmaceutical, meaning they contain antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties in addition to the mite treatment. This is important if your pet has a secondary bacterial infection. 

Ear drops for mite treatment are usually prescribed twice daily for 7-10 days, and a repeat course a week later is usually needed. 

Oral and Spot-On Medications: Some oral and spot-on flea and tick medications are also effective in treating ear mites in dogs. These often require only one dose to clear the problem. Sometimes your veterinarian will prescribe an anti-inflammatory, anti-itch or antibiotic, depending on your dog’s other symptoms. 

Getting rid of dog ear mites

Cost to Treat Ear Mites in Dogs

You can expect ear mite treatment to cost $40-$80 depending on the treatment chosen and your veterinarian’s consultation fees. In severe infestations and multi-pet households, the treatment may cost more, especially if there are complicating factors such as an aural hematoma or a secondary bacterial infection.

Precautions During Treatment

Since ear mites are contagious, it’s important to get treatment for all the animals in the house, otherwise they’ll continue to pass mites back and forth. 

It’s also a good idea to wash all bedding that your dog uses. Although the mites cannot live for very long off your dog, if some have fallen into the bedding, they could climb back on. 

Similarly, all grooming equipment should be soaked in cleaning solution for a few hours to ensure no mites have survived.

Home Remedies for Ear Mites in Dogs

Unfortunately, there are no proven home remedies for ear mites in dogs. 

Vinegar is often suggested, but can cause soreness and irritation on an already uncomfortable ear and is not recommended. Tea tree oil has been shown to have good mite-killing capabilities but hasn’t been safety tested on the eardrum and inner ear. 

Some people also suggest using olive oil, mineral oil, or corn oil as a natural remedy for ear mites, as a way to drown the mites. Although this is considered fairly safe, it takes a long time to drown ear mites in oil, and you will need to repeat treatment daily for several weeks. This method may be harmful if your dog has a damaged eardrum due to the mites or an infection, so getting a veterinarian to take a look with a scope first is a good idea.

You can also try to boost your dog’s immune system to help fight off the mites naturally. Using a dog skin supplement will also improve general skin health, but talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog any kind of supplements.

Prevention of Canine Ear Mites 

Pet owner preventing ear mites in dogs

The only way to prevent ear mites from entering your home is to check all other animals your pet comes into contact with for signs of infection. 

Since this isn’t practical, using a monthly flea and tick preventative that also protects against ear-mites is recommended.

In addition, ensuring that your dog has a good immune system that isn’t weakened by illness or stress is important. Keeping on top of any allergies to ensure optimum skin health can help reduce the likelihood of a mite infestation. 

Regular inspection of the ears and, when necessary, ear cleaning is a good way to catch ear-mite infestations early.

Related Conditions

  • Otitis externa (outer ear infection)
  • Otitis media (middle ear infection)
  • Aural hematoma
  • Atopic dermatitis (allergies)