If you’ve had cats or dogs living with you, chances are you’ve seen them
scratching at their ears or shaking their head. Now, everyone itches on occasion, even animals. But if your pet seems to be really irritated by an itch in their ear that just doesn’t seem to go away, they could have ear mites. Mites are fairly common in pets. They are so small that you can’t see them with the naked eye. Therefore, it’s sometimes hard to diagnose an infestation without taking your pet to the vet.
You can make a ‘quick and dirty’ diagnosis at home by checking the inside of your pet’s ears. Since the mites eat sloughed off skin cell debris and the secretions in the ear canal, their feeding irritates the sensitive canal, thus causing the itching. When the skin is irritated, it tends to become inflamed, trapping the waste products from the mites. The appearance of the waste from the mites is said to look like coffee grounds, but I’ve found that it looks like moist, oily dirt. Maybe that’s because I don’t drink coffee and have seldom been around coffee grounds. But whatever you think it looks like, if there is dark material inside your pet’s ears, it’s likely to be caused by mites, especially if they’re scratching as well.
Left untreated, ear mites can eventually cause hearing loss in your pet. By continued irritation of the ear canal, a secondary bacterial infection can occur or in some very severe cases, the infection can puncture the ear drum. Once this happens, the middle ear becomes infected and will cause the animal to lose its balance and could be in significant pain. If you’ve ever had an ear infection, you know how miserable and painful it is.
What are Mites?There are several different kinds of mites, but the vet won’t bother identifying which kind because it’s not important for treatment. The Otodectes cynotis is the most common. I’d always assumed the ear mite was restricted to the ear, but it isn’t. It can live anywhere else on the body. And while it makes pets scratch at their ears, it might not irritate other areas. If mites are on other parts of the body, it’ll be even easier to spread the infestation from animal to animal. Ear mites are very contagious so if you have one pet infected, chances are your other pets will also be infected. Luckily, the mites don’t appear to be transmitted to humans.
Stages of a Mite
Mites hatch from eggs. To go from an egg to an adult mite takes around three weeks. During this time, there are four stages. The first is obvious, the egg is laid by the female on the surface of the ear canal. A female will only lay around 4 or 5 eggs in her entire life, which is a good thing, but they hatch quickly, within 4 days. I’ve had several cats who’ve had ear mites and it always starts off slowly with just a little scratching, but within a couple of days, they’re going crazy. So don’t be complacent if you notice your pet scratching around their ears.
The second stage is the larval stage. This is a quick stage because the larvae will feed for about 4 days and then in a day they’ll transition into the next stage, the nymph. This is also fairly fast, about 3 to 5 days. Like the larvae, the nymph goes through a molt, but this time it becomes an adult mite. When a vet uses the otoscope to look into an animal’s ears, it’s the adults that are mostly visible. They look white and round.
Thankfully, treating ear mites isn’t very difficult. There are several medications that the vet will prescribe that work very effectively. The most difficult part of treatment will be putting the drops in the ears and getting out of the way when the animal shakes its head furiously to get the drops back out! The drops are put into the ear and then you massage the ear gently to make sure the drops get down into the canal. Most animals won’t fuss too much when you massage the ear because it’ll feel good, but they won’t like the feeling of the drops. The medication will hopefully work within about a week, but it’s essential to take the pet back to the vet for a follow up visit just to make sure the mites are all gone. This is especially critical if you have more than one pet in the household. They all need treatment at the same time if they’re all infected.
If you have a healthy pet without ear mites, be extra cautious if you let the animal outside where it might come in contact with other animals. Since cats will jump fences and roam out of the yard, it’s very easy for them to meet up with infected neighborhood cats. If you have a dog and take it to a dog park or board it at a kennel, make sure to watch carefully for the signs of mites afterwards. The good thing is that if you catch an infestation early, there should be no damage to your pet’s ears or hearing.