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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.

Ear mites in dogs and cats

Though ear mites aren’t necessarily life threatening, they can lead to ear disease and complications like hearing loss.  Obviously, being able to hear helps keep pets safe from possible danger.  If you’re not familiar with ear mites or have concerns about them with your dog or cat, we’ll attempt to answer some of the more common questions.

What Are Ear Mites? 

First of all, ear mites are very common, especially in cats.  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.

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 inflammation and pain for your dog or cat, mites can also contribute to ear infections.

It’s not typical for mites to cause problems for humans, but they can.  If you do have sensitive skin, you may experience some temporary itching if you come into contact with ear mites.

Common Symptoms of Ear Mites in Pets 

One of the most telltale sign of ear mites is head shaking or scratching furiously around the ears. Your dog or cat may also develop a head tilt.   In severe cases with significant scratching, blood blisters can appear on or around the ear. If the mites have spread onto other areas of your pet, you may notice lesions there as well.

If you look inside the ear, you may see black, chalky debris consistent with ear mites.  Yeast and bacteria may cause debris as well, but it typically has a different look and/or smell.  

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. As stated earlier, yeast and bacteria are common In ears, and are usually associated with allergies.  Anotherxexanple of other issues is a foxtail (grass seed cluster) lodged in your dog’s ear that 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.

As part of the diagnosis, your veterinarian will also get a history of your pet’s activities, such as contact with water, or 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. Topical medications in the ear usually work best.  

After treatment, it’s always best to schedule 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 mites.

To prevent future ear mite infestations, your veterinarian may give you tips on keeping your pet’s mite free.  Some flea and tick medications control ear mites, but keeping the ear canals clean is the best first step. Avoiding contact with other dogs or cats with known infestations is also recommended.

When to See a Veterinarian

If you’re concerned about your pet — and you’ve noticed behaviors that might indicate ear issues — it’s important to take your dog or cat for an examination. A proper diagnosis is necessary to determine the best treatment. If your pet has 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.