“Ear mites” is a term used to describe an infestation of an animal’s ears by the mite Otodectes cynotis. This is a common parasitic infestation, but it is generally mild in severity. Complications can occur if the animal’s immune system is in some way compromised. In such cases, the mites can cause hypersensitivity and subsequent irritation of the external and middle ear.

Animals that have an infestation typically scratch excessively at the ears, shake their heads and even create bald patches by removing their hair from scratching. A serious consequence of prolonged and vigorous shaking of the head is that some ears will form a hematoma. This is a collection of blood within the tissues of the external ear – usually because the head shaking and scratching has ruptured a blood vessel. Excessive scratching at the ears can also cause damage to the ear canals or ear drums.

Ear mites can occur in animals of any age, although it is particularly common in young cats and dogs. It is highly contagious and is often transmitted from the mother to the newborn soon after birth. It is also transmitted between animals of different species, although it does not affect humans. The mite can often spread from the ear to other parts of the body.

SYMPTOMS

Behavioral
• Itching and scratching – usually the ears, head and neck
• Generalized itching
• Frequent shaking of the head

Physical
• Thick red-brown or black crusts on the inside of the ear
• Bumps in the ear canal which look like coffee grounds
• Scratches and abrasions on the external ear
• Crusting and scaly tissue on various body areas including the neck, rump and tail

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosis will require a detailed history of your pet’s health, when the symptoms started, and details of the regular contact your pet has with other animals. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and then, if needed, standard laboratory tests such as a blood count and blood profile, urinalysis and electrolyte tests to screen for other diseases.

Skin scrapings will be taken for dermatological analysis. Identification of the mites may require ear swabs to be placed in mineral oil. Your veterinarian will use an otoscope to inspect your pet’s ear canals to assess the severity of the infestation. If your pet is hypersensitive to the mites, a deep examination of the ears can be difficult. In such cases, a diagnosis can be made by observing the animal’s response to medical treatment.

TREATMENT

If your pet has ear mites, it is likely he will be treated as an outpatient and you will be provided with medication to eradicate the mites. This infestation is extremely contagious; all pets in the household should be treated and their environment thoroughly cleaned. The mites can not survive for long periods away from the host, so cleaning the environment thoroughly and treating the pets is usually sufficient.

A commercial cleaner should be used to generally clean the insides of ears to remove any debris before beginning topical treatment. The parasiticide should be used for between 7 to 10 days to eradicate mites and eggs, and then a repeat treatment approximately 2 weeks later. Flea treatments should also be applied to eliminate mites on other sites of the body. Some animals, especially cats, sleep in a curled-up position. This means their tail can come into contact with their ears and there is risk of spreading the mite infestation. Therefore, the tail should also be thoroughly cleaned.

LIVING AND MANAGEMENT

Most patients will have a good prognosis. Your veterinarian will schedule a follow up appointment for approximately 30 days after therapy begins. They will swab your pet’s ears and also perform a physical exam to assess the effectiveness of the treatment.

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