What Are Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats?

Cleaning dog ears.

If constant head twitching and ear scratching has the fur flying in your house, ear mites could be to blame. These teeny weeny creepy crawlies feast on ear wax (ew!) and are highly contagious between dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets. Your pet can pick up this pest outdoors, at the kennel or groomer, or from another pet in the house. Read on for the nitty gritty on ear mites, plus treatment tips from our team at Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital. 

Ear Mites Up Close

If you could keep your cat from squirming long enough to hold a powerful magnifying glass up to her ear, you might be able to spot an ear mite—the most common of which is called Otodectes cyanotis. These tiny creatures are virtually invisible to the naked eye and may look like white dots. A definitive diagnosis requires a microscope, but there are many telltale signs to watch for.

Symptoms of Ear Mites

Ear mites make pets extremely uncomfortable, which results in many outward symptoms of ear mites in dogs and cats.

Watch for these signs that your pet is having ear problems:

  • Constant scratching at the ear
  • Head shaking or twitching
  • Holding an ear in an unnatural position
  • Red, inflamed ears
  • Dark, dry discharge that resembles coffee grounds
  • A foul odor coming from the ear
  • Open wounds around the ears from scratching

Diagnosing Ear Mites

The first thing to do if you suspect that your pet has ear mites is to schedule a veterinary checkup to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Ear mites aren’t always the culprit. Your pet’s ear problems could stem from a bacterial or yeast infection, allergies, an injury, or some other condition.  

Ear mites are readily visible under a microscope, so we will simply swab your pet’s ear and take a look. 

How to Treat Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs

Ear mite treatment for dogs and cats begins with first cleaning the pet’s ears to remove debris and discharge caused by the ear mites. This will help your pet feel more comfortable and enable medications to be more effective. We are happy to demonstrate how to properly clean your pet’s ears at home to make it part of your pet’s regular grooming routine.

Depending upon the severity of your pet’s infestation and discomfort, treatment options include:

  • Topical medication for inside the ears
  • Anti-parasitic ear drops
  • Injections
  • Single-use parasitic preventives like Revolution or Bravecto

Because ear mites are easily transmissible among pets, you will likely need to treat other pets in your home. 

Prevention is the Best Medicine

To keep ear mites from recurring, stay up-to-date with your pet’s wellness visits and year round parasite prevention. Itchy ears are no fun, so please contact us right away if you suspect ear mites in your pet.