As a caring pet owner, your dog and cat companions are an important part of your life. Watching your pet shake his or her head in distress, combined with frequent scratching, should not be taken lightly. It can be a sign of ear mites or other more serious conditions.
Though ear mites aren’t necessarily life threatening, they can lead to ear disease and complications like hearing loss. Your pet’s ear health plays a vital role in the overall veterinarian care plan for your pet. If you’re not familiar with ear mites or have concerns about them with your dog or cat, we’ve answered some of the more pressing questions.
What Are Ear Mites?
First of all, ear mites are very common. They’re actually tiny parasites that take up residence inside your pet’s ear canal. Once inside the ear, the mites lay eggs and the reproduction cycle begins. An adult female ear mite continues to reproduce throughout her life, which is usually around two months.
Once in place, the mite population in your pet’s ear grows, typically causing severe itchiness and discomfort for your dog or cat. On occasion, ear mites migrate outside of the ear and onto the skin. The result is the same — considerable itchiness and irritation — on your pet’s skin.
Since they’re tiny parasites, it’s very difficult to see mites. They survive by feeding on dead skin. Ear mites easily spread from animal to animal by casual contact. In addition to significant ear inflammation for your dog or cat, mites can also contribute to ear infections.
It’s not typical for mites to cause problems for humans. But if you do have sensitive skin, you may experience some temporary itching if you come in contact with ear mites.
Common Symptoms of Ear Mites in Pets
One of the telltale signs of ear mites is head shaking. Your dog or cat may also spend time tilting his or her head and engage in frequent ear scratching. If you look inside the ear, you may readily see dark and crusty wax and discharge. In severe cases with significant scratching, blood blisters can appear on the ear. If the mites have spread onto other areas on your pet’s body, you may notice scratching of the irritated skin.
Puppies and kittens are more vulnerable to infestations though pets of all ages can contract mites.
Diagnosing Ear Mites
Though your pet may show signs of the common symptoms of ear mites, other ear diseases or issues can present with similar behaviors. For example, a foxtail (spear grass) seed lodged in your dog’s ear can cause many of the same symptoms — head shaking, discomfort and scratching.
To diagnose ear mites, your veterinarian will examine the ear with an instrument called an otoscope. If you’ve ever had your ears examined by your doctor, you’re familiar with this device. Your veterinarian may also decide to diagnose by a microscopic examination and collect ear discharge. On occasion to complete the examination, your veterinarian may need to sedate your pet if his or her ears are painful from the infestation.
As part of the diagnosis, your veterinarian will also get a history of your pet’s activities, such as contact with other pets who might have ear mite infestations. Pets that spend time outside, especially cats, are at a higher risk for an ear mite infestation.
Treatment of Ear Mites
Once the diagnosis is made, your veterinarian will review treatment options with you based on your pet, the severity of the infestation and your preferences. Since the mites are parasites, the products for treatment are usually insecticidal in nature. They range from topical solutions to injections. Flea medications are sometimes recommended for mite infestations on your pet’s skin.
Your veterinarian will most likely want a follow-up visit with your pet. This is to ensure that the treatment was effective. Further treatment may be necessary to completely eradicate the ear mites.
To prevent future ear mite infestations, your veterinarian may give you tips on keeping your pet’s ear canal clean. Avoiding contact with other dogs or cats with known infestations is also recommended.
When to Call Us
If you’re concerned about your pet — and you’ve noticed behaviors that might indicate ear mites — it’s important to take your dog or cat for an examination. A proper diagnosis is necessary to determine the best treatment. If you’re pet has or develops an untreated ear issue, such as an infection, it can lead to deafness or other serious complications. Proper veterinarian care can prevent more severe consequences from an ear mite infestation. For more information about ear care for your pets or to make an appointment, contact our team at Longview Animal Hospital. Our team of dedicated professionals would be happy to help you care for your furry friends.