How Do Dogs Get Ear Mites?
Does your dog have itchy ears? Are they keeping you up at night scratching and digging at their ears? Are they starting to get painful, causing scabs or even bleeding on their ears? It is possible they could have ear mites causing these symptoms. It is also possible they could have a bacterial or yeast infection in their ears and not ear mites. In this article we will discuss ear mites and why they are actually not the most common cause of itchy ears in dogs.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Dogs
Ear mites cause your dog’s ear to be very itchy. Your dog will scratch constantly at their ears, especially when they are at rest and not doing anything. Your dog may also shake their head quite a bit, or rub their ears on the floor. You may find your dog also rubbing their ears on the sides of furniture. You may notice brown, dry, flakey, crusty discharge coming from your dog’s ears.
If your dog’s ears are painful, they may even yelp out or shy away from you if you touch their ears.
Here is a list of the symptoms of ear mites in dogs:
- Shaking head
- Scratching at ears
- Rubbing ears on the floor or on furniture
- Painful ears
- Dry, crusty, brown debris and discharge in the ears
How Dogs Get Ear Mites
Ear mites are parasitic bugs that infect dogs’ ears. They are contagious dog-to-dog. If your dog has ear mites, they likely got them from coming into contact with another animal who had ear mites. It is more common for puppies or dogs who have been wondering outside on their own to get ear mites.
You will not be able to see them with your naked eye. For your dog to be diagnosed with ear mites, you will need to schedule an appointment with your vet. While your vet will check for ear mites, they will also examine your dog for other causes of itchy ears. This is because the truth is that ear mites are actually not very common in dogs.
Diagnosing Ear Mites
To diagnose ear mites, your vet will use a cotton swab to collect some debris and gunk from inside your dog’s ears. They will press this material onto a slide, mix some mineral oil with it, and look at the sample under a microscope. Ear mites will easily be seen if they are present, and sometimes they will even be seen moving around.
Your vet may also stain the slide of the sample from your dog’s ear with a special stain to look under the microscope for bacteria and yeast. If ear mites are not identified, it is more likely your dog has a bacterial or yeast infection in their ears causing the itchiness, discharge, and discomfort.
Ear Mite Treatments
Ear mites can be killed with anti-parasitic medications, such as Revolution (Selamectin) and Advantage Multi (Moxidectin + Imidacloprid). These medications are actually NOT given into the ears. You apply them topically to the skin of your dog, in between their shoulder blades. These are the same medications that are used to prevent heartworm infection and to treat intestinal parasites. You need a prescription from a veterinarian for these medications.
These are the only medications proven effective to treat ear mites. Even though there are other over-the-counter medications labeled to treat ear mites, most of them do not work effectively. This is why many pet owners may get frustrated buying “ear mite treatments” online and still end up having to take their pet to the vet. Ear cleansers can be used to clean the debris and gunk out of your dog’s ears, but they will not necessarily kill the ear mites.
Also, ear mites only account for a very small percentage of ear problems in dogs. Most dogs with itchy ears actually need ear medications that contain an antibiotic, antifungal, and/or anti-inflammatory product in them. This can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Your vet may also discuss with you about possibilities your dog may have underlying allergies that are contributing to your dog’s itchy ears.
Cost for Ear Mite Treatments
The cost for the prescription treatments will ultimately depend on the weight and size of your dog. One dose of the ear mite treatment may cost between $12-25. If your dog is diagnosed with a bacterial or fungal infection instead of ear mites, the ear drops prescribed may cost anywhere between $15-40.
Finally, if your dog has a lot of discharge and debris build-up down in their ears, your vet may prescribe an ear cleanser to help you clean out your dog’s ears for a few days. Ear cleanser may cost between $10-25 per bottle.
Of course, there will also be the cost associated with your pet being examined by the vet and the diagnostics your vet did to look for ear mites. The cost of the exam and diagnostics will be $45-75.
Home Remedies for Dog Ear Mites
There are many suggested “home remedies” for treating ear mites in dogs all over the internet. We will discuss some of them here, but do not recommend any of these so-called home remedies. Most of them are not effective, and some of them could even harm your dog’s ear canals. It is always best for you to take your dog to the vet, to get the correct diagnosis, and to get the proper, safe, and effective treatment.
You may have read that a home remedy for dog ear mites is olive oil. It is thought to work by drowning the mites. However, you have to apply a small amount of it in the ears for at least six weeks daily, and this may not kill all of the mites. The oil can be soothing to dry, cracked ears, but we don’t know if it could also affect your dog’s hearing or cause other problems.
Some vets who support natural medicine, recommend trying drops of mineral oil in your dog’s ears daily for at least 3 weeks. They recommend using a dropper and only applying a few drops daily, wiping away any excess. This also works by suffocating the mites. However, some mite could be quick and avoid it, and it may not be the most effective way to clear your dog of ear mites.
Hydrogen Peroxide can be damaging to the eyes. If you attempt this method of treating ear mites, you have to be extremely careful to not get any of the peroxide near your dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth. A recommendation is to use a Q-tip to dip into the solution. Mix 1-part hydrogen peroxide to 1-part water. Soak a Q-tip in the mixture, then use the Q-tip to clean your dog’s ear canal. Do this for 10 days.
Again, this method could cause more problems that it is worth, and the mites could evade coming into contact with the hydrogen peroxide. It is best to just stick with what your vet prescribes.
Tea Tree Oil
Some people recommend tea tree oil for treating ear mites. This just works in the same way as the mineral oil and olive oil- suffocating or drowning the mites. It does not do anything else directly to kill the mites. If you choose to use tea tree oil, though, make sure to dilute it properly. If your dog ingests it, it can be toxic to them as well.
The best way to treat ear mites in dogs is with a prescription from your veterinarian. The importance of this is not just to effectively treat ear mites, but to also get the diagnosis right and make sure your dog is actually dealing with ear mites and not a different infection. Otherwise, you may try various home remedies unsuccessfully, prolonging the time your dog is dealing with a worsening ear infection and being in pain.
Leslie Brooks graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation she moved to Indianapolis to do an intensive one-year internship at a specialty practice and then began working as a small animal general practitioner. She ran her own house call practice for three years, visiting pets in people’s homes. Currently, she works part time in clinical practice and volunteering her free time to serve pets of the homeless. Read more about us here.