Ear Mite Infections in Dogs, Cats, Ferrets – Signs and Treatments

Otodectes cynotis, aka ear mites, are tiny parasites that primarily infest the skin of the outer ear canal in animals. Infestations are very common in young animals, especially young kittens.

The mites often cause an allergic reaction which results in the animal's intense itching (pruritis) of the ear. Secondary infections from the scratching can result.

Signs and symptoms of ear mites

  • violent head shaking
  • rubbing head and ears
  • scratching at the ears
  • red, inflamed ear
  • excessive wax and discharge in ears
  • sores behind and in the ears
  • ear infections

The dried blood that the mites leave behind look like coffee grounds which is visible when looking in the ears.

Treatment and Remedies

Treatment for ear mites will depend on the animal and its age. Treatment normally includes cleaning the ears with a liquid solution to remove ear wax and applying ear drops containing an parasiticide. The parasiticidal medication is applied inside the ears for one to three weeks. (Ear mites have a three week life cycle.)

Pyrethrin, which is derived from the seed of Pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium aka chrysanthemum) plants, is a commonly used insecticide.

Some vets choose to use the fungicide and parasiticide thiabendazole (brand name product Tresaderm®). Along with containing thiabendazole which kills yeast and mites, Tresaderm® contains an antibiotic as well for treating secondary bacterial infections and a cortisone derivative for the associated inflammation. The use of Tresaderm® supposedly shortens the treatment time in most cases.

Some claim that ear mites have built up a resistance to pyrethins, thiabendazole and sevin, and support the use of ivermectin instead.

It is said that earmites are most active at night and that you should apply the remedy before bedtime.

Mites can also be found on the feet, neck, rump, tail, and face, so it is important to treat the whole animal. Most flea and tick products will kill ear mites on the skin. If you have more than one animal, treatment should be given to all simultaneously as the mites are highly transmittable.

Loss of hearing can result if left untreated. Hematomas, blood filled blisters, on the ear flap from scratching at the ear or vigorous shaking of the head and/or secondary bacterial infections can also result.

Herbalists advise the following herbal remedy for ear mites — adding nine drops of yellow dock tincture to a tablespoon of water and dropping in ears every three days for six weeks. Olive oil used every other day is also recommended as a natural home remedy for ear mites. (Yellow Dock is also known as Curly / Curled Dock, Sour Dock, and Narrow Dock.)

See your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your specific pet and its age. Your vet can do a ear wax smear, a yeast culture, and examination to determine the cause of your pet's distress.

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