Ear mites, scientific name Otodectes cynotis, are more common in outdoor cats than dogs, but dogs can also be infested by the tiny parasites. While there are many over the counter ear mite removal products, their effectiveness is limited, and an ear mite infestation should always receive veterinary care.

Transmission of Ear Mites

While Otodectes favor outdoor cats, ear mites will happily infest canine ears, as well. Transmission of ear mites occurs through physical contact with an infected animal.

Although ear mites, as their name implies, prefer to live in an animal’s ears, they can also be found on the head or anywhere else on the body. Physically, Otodectes resemble tiny ticks. Ear mites can be easily seen with a microscope and may sometimes be visible to the naked eye as miniscule white dots.

Symptoms of Ear Mites

Ear mites can cause serious ear inflammation and itching. Itching causes dogs to shake their heads, scratch at their ears and rub their faces on the floor. The itching caused by ear mites may be a hypersensitive response to the little invaders.

Along with itching, brown or black debris will be present on the inside of the dog’s ear. This debris, often described as “coffee grounds,” is a combination of earwax, inflammation byproducts, blood and, of course, ear mites. The white specks within the debris are the actual mites.

If itching is severe, dogs can develop bleeding sores behind their ears. Ear mites that colonize skin outside the ears can cause sores and other skin disease.

Inflammation caused by ear mites makes ears vulnerable to secondary infections. A bacterial or yeast infection often accompanies an ear mite infection.

Ear Mite Removal

A veterinary examination is necessary to confirm ear mites. Other conditions can result in ear infections, and these conditions will not respond to ear mite removal medication. However, never assume that ear itching and inflammation is the result of Otodectes cynotis.

Once a veterinarian confirms the presence of ear mites (usually through microscopic examination of ear debris), ear mite removal medication may be administered. Fortunately, ear mites can be treated effectively with a number of medications, including:

  • fibronil
  • ivermectin
  • pyrethrins
  • rotenone
  • thiabendazole.

Ear mite treatment requires that medication be administered into the ear canal daily for three or four weeks. Keep in mind that medication kills adult ear mites, but not ear mite eggs. A three to four week regimen of ear mite removal medication will kill ear mites as they hatch out of the remaining eggs.

Secondary ear infections caused by ear mites generally require an additional prescription medication to treat the infection.

One option for severe infections is ivermectin. This ear mite removal medication may be given by injection, or topically administered to the ears. However, ivermectin is considered a last resort when all other options fail. Because it is typically used for larger animals, like sheep and cattle, it can often be too strong for dogs. In particular, Collies have severe reactions to ivermectin, which includes possible coma or even death. Be sure to weigh the extreme consequences of administering ivermectin with your vet.

Multi-Dog Homes and Otodectes cynotis

Even if only one dog in a multi-dog household shows evidence of ear mites, all dogs should receive treatment for ear mite removal. Dog blankets and kennels will need to be disinfected, or possibly replaced to avoid recurrent infestations.