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What Are Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats?

what are ear mites

via iStock.com/SoumenNath

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What are ear mites and why should we, as pet parents, be concerned about them? Ear mites are insects commonly found in the ears of dogs, cats and other pets.

Because pets easily can get ear mites from other infested animals in common places, like the breeder, pet stores, dog parks, shelters or previously contaminated bedding, it’s important for pet parents to know about ear mites, their common causes, signs and symptoms, and how to treat ear mites in dogs and cats.

What Are Ear Mites?

Mites are insects in the arachnid family, like spiders and ticks. Ear mites are the variety that prefers to live in the ears of cats, dogs and other pets.

Some pets carry very small numbers of mites with few or no signs of problems. The ear mites may only become an issue when the pet experiences stress, such as a move, or a minor illness weakens the animal’s natural immune system. Then the ear mites might take advantage of the opportunity for infestation.

Signs and Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs

Ear mites in dogs and cats typically cause itching in one or both ears, which results in the pet scratching at the affected ear(s). The scratching often results in scabs at the back or base of the ear, which is caused by abrasion of the skin. Inflammation in the ear also stimulates the production of a very dark-colored ear wax, which looks like used coffee grounds.

Depending on the severity of the infestation and the animal’s sensitivity, pets can develop secondary bacterial infections due to the self-trauma of the skin. If the skin lesions do not appear to be recovering following mite treatment(s), additional medications—either topical or systemic, may be indicated.

If the ear mite treatment for cats or dogs does not work and possible secondary infections do not heal, then further testing, such as skin biopsies, may be warranted to check for other diseases or allergies.

Ear Mite Treatment for Cats and Dogs

In the past, one of the most common treatments for ear mites in cats, dogs and other pets was Ivermectin. This medication requires precise dosing based on the pet’s exact weight and considering his physical well-being. Because of this, I recommend this treatment be given only by a veterinarian experienced in treating small mammals. The drug’s administration may be oral, topical or injectable and often requires repeated treatments based on the status of the mite infestation at scheduled recheck visits.

Because Ivermectin is not completely effective in all cases, we are experiencing great success with a newer medication called Revolution (selamectin). A single topical treatment of Revolution lasts about 30 days, and veterinarians usually schedule rechecks to assess the pet’s recovery from infestation and potential need for additional treatments.

All infested animals must get treated and be dosed at the same time to prevent a recycle of the infestation. Talk to your vet about prescription ear medication for pets.

Along with treating your cats, dogs and other pets for ear mites, you must clean and treat the environments they live in, including your home and other areas where affected pets have resided, play or visited. This crucial step protects from adult eggs and mites that may have fallen off your pet and infested these areas.

Make sure to treat your pet and the environment long enough to get the very last mite that hatches from the final mite egg present to effectively stop the lifecycle. Knowledgeable veterinarians may also recommend premise sprays or professional pest exterminators that are safe for you and your pet(s).

Use caution when using ear mite treatment for cats or dogs. I recommend avoiding any type of collar, organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays or permethrin spot-on treatments on your pets.

I have been very successful in treating ear mites in dogs and cats, but it is a team effort. We must treat the pet, his cage and the home environment to achieve victory over these creepy crawly insects.

When in doubt, do not jeopardize your pet’s safety; consult a veterinarian who is experienced in working with cats, dogs and other pets.


By: Dr. Byron J.S. de la Navarre

Featured Image: via iStock.com/SoumenNath