If you're a pet parent, chances are you've heard of ear mites. Ear mites are a common and contagious parasite in both cats and dogs. However, care must be taken to distinguish an ear mite infestation from an ear infection. I often see pets whose parents swear that they have ear mites and have tried over the counter preparations to combat them (unsuccessfully), only to later discover a bacterial or fungal ear infection.
So, how can you tell the difference? The short answer is, you can’t. But your veterinarian can.
Ear mites are tiny creatures that look like little six-legged spiders. They are so tiny that you can’t see them with your naked eye. You can, however, see evidence of their presence. Ear mite infestations are extremely itchy. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have tiny bugs crawling in your ear canal! In addition, ear mites come with a lot of “baggage”, which shows up as dry black discharge from your pet’s ear. This discharge resembles coffee grounds, and is composed of ear wax, some blood, ear mites and their waste.
If your veterinarian suspects ear mites, she will probably take a swab of the discharge to view it under a microscope. If you’re really lucky your veterinarian will have a video scope. With this, you will be able to see the mites yourself (strong stomachs recommended!). One of my favorite things to do is show owners the inside of their pet’s ears just teeming with mites. Kids especially find this show super cool and gross!
The majority of cases of ear mites are seen in cats, though dogs can catch them, too. Ear mites are spread through contact with another infected animal, so if one pet has ear mites, we should treat all the pets in the household. It is important to treat ear mites because (besides being gross) their presence can lead to bacterial or fungal ear infections. Rest assured, though--ear mites are not zoonotic, meaning that they cannot be passed to you or anyone in your two-legged family.
Thankfully, treatment is relatively simple. First and foremost, the ears must be cleaned. This is best done by a veterinarian or veterinary technician. All of those ear mites and their “baggage” must be completely cleared from the ear canals before treatment starts. As for the specific treatment, your veterinarian probably has a favorite. Topical medications that go directly in the ear are quite effective at stopping ear mites in their tracks. Additionally, topical spot-on treatments, like Revolution and Advantage Multi, help control ear mites as well as heartworms, fleas and some intestinal parasites. Ask your veterinarian for the best option for your pet.