Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Ear mites are common in cats and dogs. They cause significant ear itching and inflammation and are contagious between animals.
In cats, ear mites are the most common cause of external ear disease. Ear mites affect dogs too, but external ear disease in dogs is more often caused by allergies.
Ear mites (Otodectes cyanotis) are tiny parasites similar to the mites that cause mange. They live in the ears and are sometimes also found on skin elsewhere on the body. Ear mites feed on natural skin debris like ear wax. They stay on the skin surface and don’t burrow into the skin, unlike some other mites.
Ear mites spread easily through close contact between animals. People are not thought to be at risk from cat and dog ear mites. It’s possible but very rare for ear mites to affect humans.
The signs of ear mites are similar to the signs of ear infections caused by bacteria and yeast. Animals can have ear mites without showing any symptoms, but most animals have these signs:
Bacterial and yeast ear infections cause signs similar to ear mites, so don’t assume that a cat or dog with itchy ears has ear mites. An animal with suspected ear mites should see a veterinarian to look for ear mites and rule out other ear problems that would need a different type of treatment. Some animals have ear mites and a bacterial or yeast ear infection at the same time.
Ear mites are easiest to see with magnification, either in a sample of ear debris under a microscope or through an otoscope inserted into the ear (if the animal’s ears aren’t too painful). Sometimes the mites are visible in ear debris without magnification; they look like pinpoint white specks that move.
In the past, treating ear mites meant instilling an oily liquid into the animal’s ears daily for about 3 weeks. This type of product is still available over the counter without a prescription, but don’t use an over-the-counter remedy without first taking your pet to see a veterinarian. Newer prescription products kill ear mites more quickly, some in only 1 or 2 doses, and some don’t require putting drops directly into the ears. Because ear mites are contagious, it’s best to treat all dogs and cats in the household.
For More Information
See these links for more information and photos of ear mites:
Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.