Ear Mites: Itchy and Easy to Treat

Ear issues in dogs and cats are one of the most common problems that people take their pets into the veterinarian’s office. Ear problems can be caused my many factors — the most common is an allergy to pollen known as atopy. It’s a condition that can lead to red, angry and itchy ears and a lifetime of misery. The infections that dogs get are usually on top of the inflammation and redness, which are caused by the allergy. This one-two punch of allergy-induced inflammation and infection (usually with bacteria and yeast) can lead to hearing loss and chronic pain and suffering. In some cases, the ears are so badly damaged that the ear canals have to be surgically removed; a costly and painful procedure.

Another common cause of chronic (lasting longer than two weeks) ear problems in dogs and cats is ear mites. These tiny little bugs are related to spiders and live in the ear canal and suck blood. Similar to fleas, their saliva can set up an immune system reaction that results in the four cardinal signs of inflammation — redness, swelling, pain and heat. Ear mites can affect both dogs and cats, but are more common in cats. People, thankfully, are immune to ear mites. One vet even went to so far as to purposefully infect his own ears with mites — talk about taking one for the team! He said he could actually hear them in there, munching away at his ears and that the itchiness was almost unbearable. His infection cleared up after a few weeks of the same itchiness and misery that we see in pets with ear mite infestations.

Signs of an ear mite infestation include:

  • Crusty, black, crumbly discharge (this is the dried blood pooped out by the mites)
  • Head shaking
  • Red, angry, painful ears
  • Crying when the ears are touched
  • Smelly ears
  • Thick and hot floppy parts of the ear (known as the pinna) if a hematoma develops (this is when a blood vessels bursts in the pinna as a result of chronic head shaking)

Your vet can usually diagnose ear mites easily with a simple ear swab: a sample of the black crusty stuff is obtained with a cotton swab and put on a slide. Sometimes you can actually see the mites crawling about with the naked eye! You can always find them with a microscope as they are not usually too shy. One of my favorite things to do in the vet clinic is to show pet owners the little white specks that are ear mites — if you sit for a minute you can see them move around. They are usually thoroughly creeped out and want to get treatment started right away!

Treatment for ear mites can be simple, but reinfection can happen. Your vet will carry medication that will safely and effectively kill the mites, and if you prefer a pet store option, try PetArmor ear mite and tick treatment for dogs. (It will also aid in relief from itching because it contains aloe, which will help soothe your dog’s ears.)

If you ignore an ear mite problem and let it go on too long, the ear can be permanently damaged, so don’t delay. Have your vet check for ear mites if your dog or cat is shaking their head and treat ear mites right away. Your dog or cat will thank you!

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