Ear mites are an external parasite that can infect dogs, cats and more rarely, humans. The mite's name is Otodectes cynotis. Otodectes mites are large enough that they can sometimes be seen with the naked eye and are easy to see with magnification.
Ear mites live in the ears and on the skin of pets infected with them. The mite lives its entire life on the pet and it takes about 3 weeks for a mite egg to develop into an adult mite. The adult mites are very mobile and can live for some time off of a dog or cat, which enables it to be fairly contagious.
The most common sign of ear mite infection is shaking of the head and ears. Dogs may also scratch at their ears, rub their face and in severe cases may even cause bleeding sores behind their ears in their effort to relieve the discomfort from the mites. The intense itching associated with these mites is thought to be due to a hypersensitivity reaction, which is similar to an allergy. Some pets can be infected without showing signs of itching or head shaking, apparently because they don't develop the hypersensivity reaction.
Ear mites are more commonly diagnosed in cats than they are in dogs but they are a significant cause of ear infections in dogs, too. Dark brown to black debris accumulates in the ears of infected pets and the mites may be visible as small moving white specks on the debris. Secondary infection with bacteria or yeast is common in ear mite infections and may complicate the diagnosis. The mites can live on the skin and some dogs and cats appear to have infections that affect only the skin, causing small sores to develop in affected areas. It is important to treat the ears for mites and the whole pet with a product that is capable of killing the mites. Most flea and tick products will kill ear mites on the skin.
In multiple pet households it is important to treat all the pets and to clean the environment, considering the use of premise control insecticides in persistent cases. Ear mites are susceptible to many medications, including pyrethrins, rotenone, fibronil, thiabendazole and ivermectins. It is necessary to treat for at least three to four weeks in most instances to be sure to kill the adult mites and any eggs that may hatch later.
Many veterinary clients treat their dog's ears with over the counter products for ear mites based on the presence of ear inflammation or exudate in the ears, doing this for weeks or months prior to giving up and having their dog's ears examined. There are a number of causes of ear infection in dogs and it is best to have your vet examine your dog's ears to determine if the cause of ear irritation is ear mites or another infection. Doing this can save your dog from weeks of pain or discomfort.