Ear mites in cats and dogs

The ear mite, Otodectes Cynotis, is a mite that lives on dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets. It is typically found in the ear canal but can also live on the skin of your pet. Ear mites are caught through direct contact with another carrier animal. The mite may be seen as a white speck, about the size of a pinhead, moving against a dark background.

Ear mites are a common cause of ear disease and infection in pets. They are the second most common external parasite found on pets; the top spot belongs to fleas. Infestation is very common in puppies and kittens, but the signs of infestation can be seen at any age. Symptoms vary in severity from one pet to another and may include:

  • Irritation of the ears causing head shaking and scratching
  • A crusty rash around or in the ear
  • Skin lesions near the ear and surrounding skin
  • A discharge from the ear
  • Hair loss resulting from excessive scratching or grooming
  • In heavy infestations, ear mites may start to invade other parts of your pet’s body.

Your vet will make a diagnosis by looking for signs of mite infestation. This may be done either by examining the pet’s ears with an otoscope or examining discharge from the ear. They are usually detectable by the mess they make inside an infested animal’s ear canal—a dark, foul-smelling accumulation of wax and mite debris in which the ear mites thrive.

If one animal in a household is diagnosed with mites, all pets should be treated simultaneously. Prompt veterinary care can prevent a serious ear disease called otitis externa—an infection of the outer ear that, if untreated, can lead to more serious problems, permanently affecting the animal’s hearing and sense of balance.

A variety of different treatment options are available to your pet. Some are topical medications, while others may be spot-on treatments or tablets. Your vet will determine the most appropriate treatment for your pet. Prevention is a matter of monthly topical anti-parasite application and keeping your pet’s ears clean.