Ear Mites: What Are They, and How Do I Get Rid of Them?

Ear mites, technically known as Otodectes cynotis, are a common and mild parasitic infection that can occur in cats and dogs.

In laymen’s terms, they’re basically microscopic spiders that take up residence inside your pet’s ears. It sounds a little more horrifying than it actually is, but it makes you think twice about cuddling up with your furry friends in bed, doesn’t it?

Luckily, these small parasites are easy to treat if you catch them early. In rare cases, your dog or cat might have a hypersensitivity to the organisms, which can lead to complications like intense irritation in the ear. That’s why it’s important to know how to spot them.

What are the signs of ear mites?

If your pet acquires ear mites, it won’t take long for them to let you know. There are a few easily recognizable symptoms to look out for:

  • Consistent scratching of the ears or shaking of the head
  • Generalized itching around the neck and upper body
  • Thick brown or reddish crust in the outer ear
  • Dark, waxy discharge from the ears that often resembles coffee grounds
  • Foul odors coming from the ears
  • An irritated, inflamed appearance inside the ear
  • Ear mites can also appear on other parts of the body during heavy infestations

What are the causes?

Ear mites are picked up from the outdoors and other animals. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to prevent. The parasites are highly contagious, so if your dog regularly visits the dog park, he can be susceptible to infection. Cats are most likely to pick up ear mites by coming into contact with other animals who live outside, or if the ear mites are brought into your home from other sources.

How do I treat them?

There are several conditions that resemble the symptoms of an ear mite infestation, so it’s important to take your pet to the vet as soon as you suspect that they may be infected. A veterinarian can test for ear mites and provide the proper treatment. The first step in treatment is a deep cleaning of the ear canal to flush out any mites, active or dead. Next, your vet will show you how to apply a topical ointment to help kill the infection. The ointment will need to be applied for up to 30 days in order to eradicate the presence of ear mites. Your veterinarian might also prescribe medication to heal any bacterial infections that could have arisen from open wounds in the ear due to scratching.

Once home, a thorough cleaning of the house is in order. You’ll need to cleanse any area of the home your pet frequents, as well as potentially treating any other animals in the house. After 30 days, your veterinarian will likely want to schedule another appointment to ensure your dog or cat is free of mites.

While frustrating and little creepy to think about, ear mites are generally not a life-threatening illness. However, dogs and cats with hypersensitivity can be at greater risk of infection and inflammation, and living with mites can seriously hinder your pet’s quality of life. It’s important to inspect your pet’s ears on a regular basis to ensure they’re healthy and happy.

Meet the Author: Ben Kerns

Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible. This stuff gets expensive.

Camping with Dogs is So Much Fun (but don't tell the cat)
Tips to Safely Rehome Your Dog