Ear Mites - Good Dog and Cat Ear Care

Ear mites in dogs and cats cause intense irritation and can lead to otitis externa - i.e. external ear infection. Pet ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are external parasites which can infect dog and cat ear canals. Although ear mite infestations do occur in dogs, cats are more likely to suffer from ear mites.


Ear mites are highly contagious between animals and are not host specific. Adult ear mites live on the surface of the external ear canal and do not burrow. Ear mites may be seen as tiny white dots in the animal's ear but more commonly the owner will identify a dark brown to black debris and discharge in the ear canal. Ear mites can predispose the ear to secondary ear infections with bacterial and yeast overgrowth so the appearance of the ear discharge may be somewhat altered in these cases.

Symptoms of Pet Ear Mites

Ear mites cause severe itchiness (pruritis) in affected animals. The affected animal may scratch at its ear, shake its head, rub its ear on furniture or the floor or exhibit signs of pain associated with the ear. The affected ear and the ear flap (pinna) may become red, have crusts and be prone to bleeding as a result of self-trauma in response to the pruritis. Owners may notice an offensive smell if secondary infection is present.

Many owners will recognise signs of ear discomfort in their dog or cat and may choose to initiate over-the-counter pet medications to treat the disorder. This is not recommended. Accurate diagnosis of the cause of the ear irritation and identification of any secondary infections by a veterinarian is vital to ensure adequate treatment of the disorder. A veterinarian can perform microscopic examination of the ear canal discharge and debris and identify the presence of ear mites, bacteria, yeasts and any other contributing factors. Cat or dog ear treatment can then be tailored to the specific needs of the animal. It is essential to never place any dog ear treatment or car ear care cleaner into the ear canal without first ensuring that the ear drum (tympanic membrane) is intact. Any product which is used in an ear with a damaged ear drum can potentially cause serious side effects in the treated animal, affecting its hearing and balance. Your veterinarian can examine the ear drum with an otoscope to check it is intact prior to any cat or dog ear treatment being instituted.

If ear mites are identified as a cause in the ear irritation, several cat ear care or dog ear care treatment options are available. All affected animals will require their ear canals to be cleaned thoroughly to remove discharges and debris to aid in the application and enhance the effectiveness of any treatments placed into the ear canal. Many effective ear cleaners are available for use in dogs and cats. Removing all discharges from the ear also helps aid in the treatment of any secondary bacterial or yeast infections by making the area less suitable for proliferation of these organisms.

Cat and dog ear treatment options include use of topical formulations applied directly into the ear canal or onto the skin at the back of the neck and systemic treatments. "Because ear mites may survive outside the ear canal, topical products applied dermally and systemic treatments provide more reliable efficacy". Due to the highly contagious nature of ear mites, all in-contact animals should also be treated. Otodectes cynotis are not host-specific ear mites and may infest species other than cats and dogs. Specific treatment protocols for pets other than the affected dog or cat should be discussed with your veterinarian as not all species can safely tolerate the use of the same dog or cat ear care products.

Dog and Cat Ear Care Treatment Options

Following accurate diagnosis of ear mite infestation, your veterinarian will prescribe the relevant cat or dog ear treatment for your animal. The cat or dog ear treatment protocols vary depending on the medication chosen, the tolerance of the animal to receiving ear drops, the presence of other infections and the owner's budget. Numerous dog and cat ear care products are available as both prescription and non prescription treatments.

Ear drops containing ingredients such as pyrethrins are effective at killing adult mites but are often not effective against any eggs or immature stages of mite. Due to the length of the ear mite life cycle treatment may need to continue for 3-4 weeks to ensure success. Owner compliance and the temperament of the animal being treated may make this a difficult protocol to adopt in some cases. Many of these preparations also offer some bactericidal and/or fungicidal activity to help with secondary infections.

Some spot-on medications have effects against ear mites in dogs and cats. Advocate (imidacloprid/moxidectin) is available in formulations for dogs and cat ear care and is effective as a treatment of ear mites in a single dose and in the subsequent control of ear mite re-infestation. Revolution Flea Control (selamectin) is another spot on formulation which is used in the treatment and control of ear mites and is available in both cat and dog ear care formulations. Revolution can be effective against ear mites in a single dose or may require a second dose in some animals. The ease of application of these products and the reduced treatment time compared with ear drops make these products very attractive in the treatment and prevention of ear mites. These products also have a wide spectrum of activity against other parasites.

Your veterinarian may choose an "off-label" use of medication but these protocols are less commonly used these days due to the availability of effective registered products.

Your veterinarian may also need to implement dog or cat ear care treatment for any secondary infection in the ear or any skin irritation and damage due to self trauma.

Ear mites in dogs and cats can cause severe irritation, leading to self trauma and secondary bacterial and yeast infections of the external ear. Proper diagnosis and veterinary treatment is advised in all cases where an animal is exhibiting signs of ear discomfort. Failure to accurately diagnose ear mites and treat them effectively can lead to ongoing re-infestations, continual ear infections and long term damage to the animal's ear canal. Whilst numerous over the counter medications exist to help with ear mite treatment and control, no cat or dog ear care treatment should ever be placed in an animal's ear without a veterinarian first examining it to ensure that the ear drum is intact. The use of topical ear mite control therapies such as Advocate or Revolution may be an effective way of managing ear mites in your home.