Otodectic mites are small insects that live in a dog or cat’s ear passage and they feed by first piecing the skin. Although not contagious to people, they’re extremely contagious to dogs and cats. Ear mites are the single most common cause of ear troubles in puppies and young adult dogs. If the dog has trouble with both ears, ear mites are the most likely cause.
Ear mites aren’t to be confused with other mites that cause Sarcoptic mange. The latter is a different disease but symptoms may include crusty tips of the dog’s ears.
A hypersensitive reaction can happen with only a few ear mites and it can cause intense itchiness, which leads to violent head shaking and scratching. The flaps of the ears get crusted and excoriated, turn red and start to scab. The ear passages may have a dark brown, crumbly, dry, waxy discharge that may resemble coffee grounds. A horrible smell may be caused due to a secondary infection.
To identify ear mites, get some wax from the dog’s ear with a cotton-tipped applicator. Then put it on a black background and look through a magnifying glass. They will appear as white flecks no bigger than a pin’s head.
After ear mites have been diagnosed, every cat and dog in your home MUST be treated so a re-infestation won’t occur. If you have a ferret or a rabbit, their ears must also be checked. It’s crucial that you clean the ears as explained for external otitis. Dirty ears may have cellular debris and wax that mites use as shelter and that makes it more difficult to use medications to kill them off.
Once the ears are clean, use a prescribed miticide ear preparation. Most formulas have thiabendazole and pyrethrins. The most common formulas have an antibiotic, a miticide and a steroid which all helps relieve the itchiness. Make sure you follow strict instructions when using them. Carry out the entire treatment course because if you stop early, the poor dog will be re-infested with a new army of mites.
When the dog is undergoing the treatment, mites will escape from the ears and find a different spot on the dog’s body to live on, causing more itchiness and making him scratch. Apart from treating the ears, the whole dog and ALL animals he has been in contact with must be treated weekly, for four weeks, with a pyrethrins-based flea powder or shampoo.
Ear mite infections are frequently complicated by a secondary bacterial otitis and, if present, must be treated thoroughly as well.
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