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All About Ear Mites in Pets

All About Ear Mites in Pets

Ear mites are a type of parasitic surface mite that live primarily in the outer ear canal of a host animal. The most common variety, otodectes cynotis, can live on dogs, cats, and ferrets. The mite will consume the host's skin and blood, then leave behind a characteristic brown, waxy residue. They are highly contagious; because they are so small and appear mainly within the ear they can easily go undetected by those who are unaware of the threat they pose.Untreated ear mites can cause great discomfort to your pet. They may promote infection as well as constant itching, head-scratching, shaking, and rubbing. This in turn can damage the delicate tissues and structures in the ear, resulting in swelling, open sores, and hair loss. While ear mites themselves are very easy to treat and keep away, the secondary conditions they cause can be extremely painful for your pet.To learn more about these pests and how you can control them, read on.

Where do ear mites come from?

The most likely source of your pet's ear mite infestation will be another animal. Shared bedding or play spaces can be transmission grounds if not cleaned regularly. Young animals are especially susceptible to mites, especially those that live in close contact with parents and littermates. All breeds of dog, cat, and ferret may be affected.Luckily, ear mites cannot survive long without a host, nor can they be transmitted to humans. Once you have treated all your pets you will not have to worry about using chemical sprays or agents around your home to fully eradicate the mites.

What do ear mites look like?

Ear mites are smaller than fleas or lice but not microscopic: if you gently wipe your pet's outer ear canal with a cotton bud, you may see tiny white moving dots in the residue - those specks are the mites. Viewing these dots with a microscope would allow you to see that they have long, protruding legs and round bodies.

How can I tell if my pet has ear mites?

The most obvious clues that your pet has ear mites will be down to the discomfort he expresses as a result of the infestation. Clinical signs of ear mites include:

  • Constant scratching of the ears, neck or head
  • Head shaking
  • Intense odour
  • Pustules or pus-filled discharge in the ear
  • Excessive amount of brown waxy residue or crusting in the ear canal, may resemble coffee grounds

Dogs may suffer an allergic reaction to the mites, causing them to become very uncomfortable and stressed. If your dog seems to be agitated by his ears but you cannot see any obvious signs of trauma, ear mites may be the culprit.Note that some animals, especially cats, may show limited or no symptoms of ear mite infestation. For that reason, any suspicious cases should be presented to a vet. Your vet will confirm the infestation either by swabbing the inner ear and checking for mites under a microscope, or using an otoscope to check inside the ear. He or she may also do a full health check and physical examination to confirm that there are no secondary infections or other health problems at play. If your pet does not allow the vet to perform a conscious examination, he may require sedation in order for the diagnosis to be made and treatment to be performed.

How are ear mites treated?

Treatment is usually carried out at home, and you may be responsible for applying eardrops or topical treatments. If your dog is extremely sensitive or you anticipate significant problems carrying out the treatment yourself, be sure to tell the vet right away. Pets that continuously scratch their ears may be given anti-inflammatory pain-killers, or need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent further damage to the sensitive ear tissues. It is very important that you follow the vet's instructions regarding how often any pain relief should be given at home, or how long the Elizabethan collar must stay on.Be sure to clean any surfaces, bedding or toys that could have been contaminated while your pet was affected. If you have other pets you will need to take protective measures in order to treat or prevent their own infestations. Note that you cannot treat ear mites by simply washing your pet's ears; you will need to medicate them in order to ensure they do not become a host.

What are the complications associated with ear mites?

Skin infections are a common consequence of untreated ear mites, and may require intensive treatment. One of the most serious complications is an aural haematoma:

  • As your pet scratches or shakes his head, one or more blood vessels inside the external ear (or pinna) may rupture;
  • Blood seeps from the vessel into the subcutaneous space between the skin of the pinna, slowly causing a build-up of fluid;
  • The ear will develop a turgid, swollen bulge, and if left for too long may cause permanent disfigurement of the ear.

This condition is extremely painful and may require a lengthy operation to correct. Aural haematoma is nearly always a secondary condition caused by self-inflicted trauma - even if your pets are safe from ear mites, it's a good idea to routinely check their ears for build-up or redness to prevent infection.

How can I prevent future infestations?

Preventing ear mites in most animals is easy. There are several monthly spot-on products on the market that protect both cats and dogs from otodectes cynotis, however they are prescription only. The good news is that these spot-ons are usually highly effective and also protect against fleas and certain types of worms. Certain treatments cannot always be used in baby animals, so you may require a special prescription to treat ear mites in young kittens or puppies.Your pet may also benefit from having his ears cleaned periodically, however you should always speak to your vet about which products or tools are appropriate for use in animals.