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Ear mites in dogs: Vet's guide to symptoms and treatment

Groomer cleans the ear of a small mixed breed dog with cotton buds.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nobody wants their furry family member to be unwell or have a health condition, but the idea of an infestation of creepy crawly parasites is downright repulsive! Ear mites in dogs are irritating, painful, and very contagious, so it’s worth understanding the condition.

In this article, we’ll explain what ear mites are, how your dog might get them, and what symptoms they cause. We’ll also let you know how they are treated, and what to do if you think your dog might have some unwanted guests in their ears.

If you'd like to know more about ear mites, other types of mites, and the skin diseases they can cause, be sure to also read our comprehensive vet's guide to mites on dogs.

What are ear mites in dogs? 

Ear mites in dogs are tiny parasites that live in the ear canal and feed on cerumen (ear wax). Their scientific name is Otodectes Canis. They lay eggs and continue to multiply, making your dog very itchy and sometimes leading to infection. 

How do dogs get ear mites? 

So, where do ear mites come from? What are the causes of ear mites in dogs? Well, the truth is that most dogs have low numbers of ear mites, and their immune system fights them to keep the numbers low. This is why young puppies are most commonly affected, and it’s far less common to have an older dog with ear mites. 

However, dogs can easily catch ear mites from other dogs because they are so contagious, so if one puppy from a litter has them, they usually all have them. 

Since ear mites are so contagious, you might be wondering whether humans can catch ear mites from dogs. Thankfully, dog ear mites are species-specific, meaning that they can only infect dogs!

ear mites in dogs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Symptoms of ear mites in dogs 

You probably want to know how to identify ear mites in dogs, so that you can keep a lookout for signs. If your dog has ear mites, you might notice a thick, dark brown waxy discharge in their ears, or that their ears look particularly dirty. You won’t see the mites themselves, though, because they’re so small. 

Dogs with ears mites scratch their ears a lot and shake their heads, and they might even yelp while they’re scratching. 

So, are ear mites painful for dogs? Well, the mites themselves aren’t painful, but the constant scratching and shaking can cause pain and inflammation. If the ears become infected, this will also be painful.

How are ear mites diagnosed? 

If you think your dog or puppy might have ear mites, you should take them to the veterinarian. Because ear mites are super tiny, your vet will need to use a microscope to see them. They will likely look in your dog’s ears with an instrument called an otoscope, then take a swab from each ear to look at in the laboratory. 

Treating ear mites in dogs 

Sadly, there are no home remedies for ear mites in dogs, they require treatment with an anti-parasite medication or medicated ear drops. However, treating ear mites might not be a quick fix. If you’re wondering how long it takes to get rid of ear mites in dogs, the answer might be up to a month. 

This is because some treatments need to be repeated after a week or so, to allow any existing eggs time to hatch. Therefore, recovery from ear mites might take a little longer than you’d expect. 

You’ll also need to clean your dog’s ears regularly as part of the treatment. You can find out how to do this using our guide on how to clean your dog's ears

cleaning dog's ear

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can I use Vaseline for ear mites in dogs? 

There are a few reasons why it’s best not to use Vaseline for ear mites in your dog. Firstly, it’s not a good idea to put anything into your dog’s ear without checking with a vet first. The inner tissues of the ear are very sensitive, and even seemingly safe substances can cause damage. 

Secondly, Vaseline is unlikely to be effective at treating ear mites. Yes, some mites may get stuck in the Vaseline and die. But you’re unlikely to get the Vaseline deep enough to reach every mite, and nor should you try to.

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.

What medication kills ear mites in dogs? 

Two different types of treatment are effective against ear mites. Both types require a prescription from your veterinarian. 

The first type is parasite treatment, which may be a tablet or spot-on. The other type is medicated ear drops, which will clear any infection as well as kill the ear mites.

Summary 

Ear mites can make your canine companion’s ears feel itchy and sore, they can even cause infection or an aural haematoma. So, if you notice that your dog’s ears are mucky, or they’re shaking their head and scratching their ears, it’s time to visit the veterinarian.