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Ear mites in dogs: What to do and how to help itchy skin

Pit Bull terrier with ear mites itches ears

If your dog is shaking and scratching their head and ears, this could be a sign that your dog has an ear mite infestation. These pesky parasites cause incessant itching and while they don’t actually bite your dog’s skin, the secondary damage they cause by scratching can be severe. 

How do you know if your dog has ear mites? What can pet parents do to help their itchy dogs and prevent ear mite infestations? 

Table of contents 

What are ear mites? 

Ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, are parasites that live on cats, dogs, and other furry mammals. These tiny pests are usually found in the ear canal but can also live on the skin surface, and feed on skin oils and ear wax. 

It takes approximately three weeks for a mite to develop from an egg to an adult. While living on their host, adult ear mites live about two months, during which time they continually reproduce. They can live in the surrounding environment, but only for a limited amount of time (a few weeks).  

Ear mites are highly contagious and can cause quite a bit of discomfort and irritation for your dog, so addressing and preventing ear mites is essential to your pet’s health and happiness. 

What do ear mites look like? 

Ear mites are barely visible to the naked eye at only 1-2 millimeters in length. Members of the arachnid family, they look like light colored ticks with short legs. You may be able to spot ear mites by taking a sample of debris from your dog’s ears and putting it on a dark, brightly lit surface and using a magnifying glass. To properly diagnose an ear mite infestation, veterinarians can easily see them using a microscope or otoscope.  

How do dogs get ear mites? 

Animals become infested with ear mites by direct contact with another infested animal. Kittens are the most frequent target of ear mites, but infections in dogs are also common. Kittens, puppies, and pets with compromised immune systems are often at higher risk for developing ear mite infestations compared to adult pets with mature and healthy immune systems. 

When one puppy or dog is infested, the mites can get onto bedding or transfer directly from dog to dog through play and socializing. As dogs like to play together, the mites find it easy to make their move to a new host. Puppies also tend to spend more time in close contact with their littermates, making the spread of ear mites more likely. 

Symptoms of ear mites 

Because seeing actual mites is so difficult, it’s important for pet parents to be able to identify signs of an ear mite infestation. Ear mites do not bite pets’ skin, but the secondary damage caused by scratching can be serious. Pet parents will often notice that a dog with ear mites exhibits the following symptoms:  

  • Head shaking 
  • Scratching ears and head 
  • Ear discharge – Dark, waxy or crusty, often resembles coffee grounds 
  • Red, swollen, irritated skin around ears 
  • Hair loss around ears
  • Hot spots or lesions around ears 

The symptoms of ear mites in dogs are similar to those seen with other, more common ear problems, like yeast and bacterial ear infections. It’s important to see your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has any sort of ear infection so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.   

Can you get ear mites from your dog? 

A common concern of pet parents faced with a dog ear mite infestation is whether they can also become infested with ear mites. The good news is that the likelihood of ear mites moving from dogs to humans is very small, as people are not the preferred hosts of ear mites.  

There have been occasional but rare reports of ear mites infesting peoples’ ears or bodies. Ear mites may cause a temporary itchy rash on susceptible people if there are infested pets in the household. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have contracted ear mites from your dog. 

How to treat you dog’s ear mites 

Because ear mites can cause serious discomfort and health complications for dogs, and are also highly contagious, it’s important to address ear mites as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will need to examine your dog’s ears and look at a sample under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis and determine whether a secondary ear infection is present. Treatment options for a dog with ear mites may include:  

  • A thorough cleaning at the vet  
  • Prescription ear drops and medications such as Advantage Multi, Simparica, and Bravecto  
  • Ivermectin injections  

Your vet may be able to thoroughly clean your dog’s ears and perform all of the necessary treatments in just a single visit, though sometimes they may send you home with a prescription. Any bacterial or fungal infections should also be treated. 

If one animal in a household is diagnosed with mites, all pets should be treated at the same time. It is also a good idea to wash your pet’s belongings (toys and bedding) in hot water and vacuum floors to eliminate mites from your environment. This prevents ear mites from hiding out on one pet or in your home and then reinfesting others once treatment has stopped. Your veterinarian may want to re-examine your pet to ensure that the mites have been eliminated after the initial treatment has been performed.    

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help with itchy skin? 

Incessant scratching is miserable for pups and difficult for pet parents to watch. Fortunately, while ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can’t get rid of your dog’s ear mites, it is proven effective in providing dogs support for itchy skin by working to improve discomfort and reduce inflammation. 

ElleVet conducted a groundbreaking study in 2020 investigating the efficacy of our CBD + CBDA on dogs with Pruritus, or itchy skin. Results showed that over 65% of dogs enrolled in the study, who had not responded to other commonly used products, had a significant improvement in skin itchiness after using ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA. By modulating dogs’ inflammatory response and perception of discomfort, CBD + CBDA can help eliminate their urge to scratch.   

Ear mite prevention 

As with all parasites, prevention is better than cure when it comes to ear mites. The easiest way to prevent ear mites is to routinely give your dog a flea preventive product that also works against ear mites. Products containing selamectin, moxidectin, fluralaner, and afoxolaner can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you pick the best option based on your dog’s health and needs. 

In addition to giving your dog preventative parasite protection, it is also wise to:  

  • Keep your dog away from other animals that have ear mites   
  • Regularly wash bedding and toys in hot water  
  • Give washed bedding a turn in a tumble dryer to get rid of any pesky mites that might be hanging around 

Take home message 

While dog ear mites are a somewhat common issue for dogs, particularly puppies, the good news is that they are highly treatable and can be prevented. It is crucial for pet parents to be able to spot the signs of ear mites and seek guidance from a veterinarian as soon as possible. While ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA cannot get rid of ear mites, it can be a useful tool for helping to address itching that results from the parasites and can lead to skin irritation and infection.