- Ear mites are common in puppies — Though adult dogs can and do get ear mites, younger dogs and puppies are more likely to get them.
- They’re difficult to see — Ear mites are barely visible to the naked eye. Under a microscope, they look like tiny ticks or spiders. To the human eye, ear mites look like white specks.
- Dog ear mites spread quickly — If one of your pets gets ear mites, you’ll need to treat them all. These mites spread very quickly and can cause secondary skin infections, so it’s important to act fast.
Ear mites are tiny parasites that can hop aboard your pet’s sensitive otic area, leading to discomfort and damage if left untreated. They can be incredibly irritating to the host, causing chronic scratching that leads to permanent damage and secondary infections. If you suspect that your dog has ear mites, consult with your vet to determine the best ear mite treatment for their needs.
If you’re not sure where to start or aren’t sure that ear mites are affecting your pet’s ears, we’re here to help. Our vet experts have put together this helpful guide, detailing what ear mites can look like as you work to find the root of your pet’s ear problems.
What are ear mites?
Ear mites are a type of surface mite that lives on dogs, cats, rabbits, and other household pets. They’re a form of mange caused by mites that feed on oil and wax. Since they burrow deep within a dog’s ears and cause intense irritation, affected dogs tend to itch and scratch.
Ear mites can spread quickly and are highly contagious. They need to be treated as quickly as possible, especially if you have more than one pet. Even if you don’t have multiple pets, tackling ear mites early on in the infestation can spare your dog a lot of pain and frustration, and reduce the chances of your dog getting a secondary skin infection.
What do ear mites look like?
Ear mites are very hard to spot with the naked eye, but if you do see them, they’ll look like tiny white specks. While the mites themselves are hard to see, their effects on your dog’s ears will be easy to spot.
Pet parents should look out for the most common signs of ear mites — rather than the presence of mites themselves — and make an appointment with a veterinarian for a full diagnosis.
The lifecycle of ear mites
Ear mites grow from an egg to an adult in about three weeks and continuously reproduce during their two-month lifespan. All the while, they feed on the skin oils and wax inside your dog’s ears, making your pup itchier and itchier.
When you take your pet to the vet to address their ear problem, they often have no way of knowing how long ear mites have been in or around your pet’s ears. Sure, they can see the extent of the damage—but they can’t pinpoint where the mites are in their reproductive cycle.
Because of this, they may have to be treated over several weeks, purging the ear area of mites at every stage of their reproductive cycle. Your vet may prescribe you a secondary treatment option (like an ointment) to apply after acute treatment passes, making your dog’s ears an unfavorable environment for a re-infection.
Common symptoms of ear mites in pups
Dogs get ear mites when they come into contact with other infected animals. A recent trip to a dog park, socializing with other dogs during walks, or playing with the family cat are all ways dogs can get ear mites.
How can you tell if your dog has ear mites? Keep a close eye out for these symptoms and warning signs:
- Head shaking. Frequent head shaking can be a sign of irritation or disorientation in your dog and is often a first signal to pet parents that something is up.
- Rubbing of the head or ears. This rubbing may seem frantic as if they have an itch deep in the ear that they can’t reach. This can be due to the irritating waxy buildup that ear mites can leave behind, which is incredibly difficult for your pet to scratch off.
- Dark, crusty debris in your pup’s ears. This will often look red or brown and might crust in and around your dog’s otic area. It will also smell foul—with many pet parents describing it as a cross between bad garlic and yeast.
- Itching and scratching. Like the rubbing, this will usually be done frantically and frequently. Your pet may also attempt to scratch inside the ear (which can cause lasting damage) rather than around the exterior.
- Secondary ear infections. The frequent scratching associated with ear mites can lead to secondary ear infections. Signs to watch for include disorientation, head shaking, uncharacteristic clumsiness, and lethargy.
- Inflammation, swelling, and redness on or around your dog’s ears. Ear mite-associated scratching can lead to redness and swelling in or around your pet’s ears. Keep an eye out for this and discourage scratching when possible.
If left untreated, ear mites can also spread to other parts of your pup’s body, like their nose. This can cause your dog a greater level of discomfort and may involve more extensive treatment.
Diagnosing and treating ear mites in your pup
Now that we know what ear mites look like, it’s time to cover the diagnosis process and solutions to soothe your pet’s intense itch!
How vets diagnose ear mites
Dogs with ear mites will have a characteristic ear discharge (resembling coffee grounds). This discharge, made up of earwax, blood, inflammatory chemicals, and actual ear mites, should be instantly recognizable to your vet.
To make a formal diagnosis, your pup’s vet will need to look at your dog’s ear under a microscope. They’ll conduct a visual inspection to see if they can physically “see” the ear mites in or on your pet’s ears. These are extremely small and look like white dots—and may more easily be seen on dogs with darker fur and skin.
Treatment for ear mites in dogs can vary depending on what course of action your vet thinks will be best for your pet. A few of the most common treatment options for ear mites in dogs include the following:
Thorough cleaning. Your vet will carefully and completely clean out your dog’s ear canal, removing ear mites, excess wax, and discharge. Ear cleaning is always part of the treatment process, regardless of what type of medicine or antibiotics are used.
Long-term medications. These easy-to-find medicines kill living mites but not eggs. When using OTC medicines or ear cleaners for ear mites, it’s best to do so regularly for 30 days to ensure all mites hatch and are killed.
Tresaderm. This is a specific topical medication that has been favored by vets for years. It’s applied to a dog’s ears for ten days to kill mites and eggs and soothe inflammation.
Single-use medications. Acarexx and Milbemite are two over-the-counter medicines that can eradicate an ear mite infection in one fell swoop.
Medicine is applied to the skin. Topical medicines such as Selamectin and Moxidectin are applied to dogs’ skin, usually behind their shoulders. The medicine absorbs into the oil glands of the skin and secretes back out, killing the mites. These medicines are very helpful for preventing future infections and should be used on an ongoing basis.
Oral antibiotics. In dogs with damaged skin due to excessive itching, a round of oral antibiotics may be required.
Preventing ear mite infestations
Containment should be one of your top priorities if you think your dog has ear mites. Check every animal in your house for mites, especially cats if you have them. Cats are actually more likely to contract ear mites than dogs, so if you live in a multi-pet household, there’s a strong possibility your dog contracted ear mites from the family cat.
⚠️ Unfortunately, ear mites are so contagious that if one pet in the house has ear mites, they likely all do.
While pet owners dealing with an ear mite infestation typically aren’t at risk of contracting mites, they can develop a skin rash as a result of coming into contact with the parasite. The skin rash is nothing to worry about, and there is no risk of illness or other adverse effects. Removing ear mites from your house will help the rash go away.
Here’s the best way to remove ear mites from your home—giving your dog the clean living space they need to begin proper treatment for their intense ear irritation.
- Find and wash all of your pet’s bedding. This includes any favorite pillows or couch cushions they might frequent around your home. Ear mites can take up residence in any sort of fabric surface, making total eradication your best option. After you’ve collected all of the bedding and slipcovers, toss them in your washer on the highest heat setting you have available. Bonus points if you have a sanitization setting.
- Double up with some heavy-duty vacuuming. The best treatment for these contagious parasites is total and aggressive removal. As the bedding is being washed, schedule some vacuum time on all of your surfaces—whether they’re hard or soft. Anywhere your pet can reach is fair game for infestations, so be sure to get in all of the corners and crannies.
- Treat your surfaces. The best way to do this is with a flea-killing powder that’s pet-safe. Unfortunately, you may need to do monthly flea treatments and mite cleaning around the home for the first few months of eradication, as the life cycle of an ear mite can be longer than other parasites.
- If you don’t have that available to you, try a hydrogen peroxide and hot water mix, following the dilution recommendations on the bottle. This can kill the parasites once the solution makes physical contact, making this a safe and cost-effective method to try.
- Rinse and repeat. Complete another vacuum around the house for good measure, and repeat the cycle once weekly until you notice improvement. We recommend doing this at least 2-3 times over 2-3 weeks for best results, as this gives you a chance to catch mites at all stages of their lifecycle. This can give you a more effective result.
Some topical flea and tick treatments also prevent ear mites. Bravecto, K9 Advantix, and other products make your dog’s skin and fur an inhospitable place for parasites, killing what’s there and preventing new parasites from spreading to your dog.
To prevent another ear mite infection, you should also regularly give your pup a thorough ear cleaning by using cotton balls, gauze, or an ear cleaner made for dogs. This has dual benefits: First, it wipes away any parasites that may be present on your dog’s ears; and second, it rids your dog of the excess ear wax that mites love to feed on.
Get help for your dog’s itchy ears
An ear itch can be more than just an ear itch. Ear mites are common in both indoor and outdoor dogs, and can lead to discomfort and damage over time. We recommend taking your pet to see a vet at the first sign of a chronic itch, as this could be ear mites or a symptom of something more. They can then diagnose and treat your pet, helping them to live as healthily and as happily as possible.
Frequently asked questions
Can humans get ear mites from dogs?
No. If there is a large outbreak of ear mites in your household (with several pets affected at once), you may develop a skin rash. However, it will clear up easily, and there is no risk of illness or need for medical attention. Most of the time, though, pet owners are not affected by ear mites at all.
How can you tell if your dog has ear mites?
If your pup is scratching their ears excessively or you notice inflammation, sores, or wounds on their ears, get them checked for ear mites. The inflammation and sores are usually a result of your dog’s continual scratching, which can lead to secondary infections.
How fast can my dog’s ear mites be treated?
Most cases of ear mites can be treated in less than three weeks. Depending on the severity of your dog’s case and the method of treatment, it may take up to 30 days for the parasites to be completely removed.
What happens if ear mites go untreated in dogs?
Untreated ear mites can lead to lasting ear damage and secondary infections; which can cause a lot of unnecessary discomfort in your pet.
Can ear mites infest your house?
Yes, ear mites can infest your house; as they can live up to six days without feeding from a host. They can easily shed from your pet’s ears into the carpet, reproducing there for later re-infection.