Ear mites are a common affliction of dogs, cats, ferrets, and rabbits. They can cause intense irritation and discomfort to your pet. The most frequently found ear mite of dogs, cats and ferrets is Otodectes cynotis. Otodectes mites are microscopic parasites that feed on skin debris and tissue fluids on the surface of the ear canal and skin. Psoroptes cuniculi is a similar mite that is particular to rabbits.
How did my pet become infested with ear mites?
Ear mites are highly contagious parasites. The mites are transmitted via close contact with an infected animal. Furthermore, though ear mites prefer to live on an animal host, they can survive for months in the environment. While ear mite infestations can be seen at any age, they occur most frequently in young animals.
Can pets transmit ear mites to people?
It is possible for animals to transmit ear mites to human, but it is extremely rare and should not be a concern.
What are the signs of an ear mite infestation?
The signs of an ear mite infestation are fairly distinctive:
• Scratching around the ears, head and neck (intense scratching may result in cuts or sores on the ears)
• Thick reddish brown crusts in the ear (they have a “coffee grounds” appearance)
• Crusting and scale on the ears and other locations such as the neck, rump, and tail
• Head shaking
• Redness of the skin lining the ear
• Some animals that carry ear mites show no signs at all
If you suspect your animal has a problem with its ears, make an appointment with a veterinarian. Untreated animals may cause further damage to their ears by excessive scratching, as well as passing on ear mites to any other animals that they come in contact with.
How does the veterinarian diagnose a case of ear mites?
Ear mites are not the only disease of the ears, which is why a thorough examination by a veterinarian is required. The veterinarian will obtain a full history and perform a physical exam, paying particular attention to the ears. A diagnosis is based on either:
1. Direct visualization of mites within the ear using an otoscope (an instrument that allows vets to visualise the inside of ears)
2. Microscopic examination of swabs taken from the ear is also used to identify any mites that may be present. If there are lesions on other parts of the body, the vet may choose to take skin scrapings for microscopic examination.
How are ear mite infestations treated?
There are a number of ear mite treatments currently available, and not all vets will choose to use the same therapy. The first step to treating ear mite infestations is to thoroughly clean the ears with mineral oil or a commercial ear cleaner in order to remove any debris.
Not only will this allow topical medication to penetrate further into the ear, but cleaning the ears will also get rid of a great deal of mites as well. It may take 2-3 days to sufficiently soften crusts in rabbits’ ears with mineral oil so as to avoid damaging the lining of the ear canal.
The next step involves use of a treatment that kills ear mites. This will vary amongst animals. Common medications contain parasiticides such as permethrin, rotenone, selamectin (e.g. Revolution), fipronil (e.g. Frontline), and ivermectin (e.g. ACAREXX).
The life cycle of both the Otodectes and Psoroptes mite is three weeks; thus, it is usually necessary to medicate for at least four weeks in order to break the mites’ life cycle. Furthermore, to prevent reinfestation occurring from the haircoat, your vet may also recommend a shampoo or insect spray that should be used regularly during the treatment period.
Always consult a veterinarian before treating ear mites. Although the presentation of ear mites in your pet may seem obvious, there may be also be a secondary infection with bacteria or yeast (e.g. Malassezia) present. If your pet does have a secondary infection, it may require additional medication.
In multiple pet households, it is always necessary to treat every animal that is in contact with the infected pet. The exception to this rule is that the rabbit ear mite can only be transferred to other rabbits (not cats, dogs, and ferrets), and Otodectes only infects cats, dogs, and ferrets (not rabbits). Thus a household with a dog and rabbit, for example, would not have to worry about cross-contamination.
Thoroughly cleaning and treating the environment is also recommended. Treatment of the environment with a preparation approved for fleas should be done at least twice, two to four weeks apart.