Treating and preventing ear mites in cats and dogs - Dr. Marty Becker


Treating and preventing ear mites in cats and dogs

Monday, Jul 20th, 2020 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Does your pet scratch at her ears or shake her head? There isn’t only one cause of the behavior, but if it does turn out to be ear mites, here’s how I told a reader they can be treated.

Q: Do dogs get ear mites? How are they treated?

A: We tend to associate ear mites with cats, but dogs (and ferrets) can and do get them, especially as puppies. Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are tiny parasites that are highly contagious and easily transmitted from animal to animal. Luckily, humans don’t get them.

The classic sign — besides frantic scratching at the ears or shaking of the head — is an accumulation of dark, waxy debris that resembles coffee grounds inside the ears. The ear canals may look red or inflamed. If ear mites are left to do their itchy work — feeding on epidermal skin cells — without treatment, pets can develop raw skin or hair loss around the ears, often complicated by a bacterial infection.

If you had a pet with ear mites back in the bad old days, you might remember having to put drops in the ears daily for a month to get rid of them. You’d have also done the same for all the other dogs and cats in the household to prevent the mites from jumping ship to another host — or moving to another part of the body, such as the base of the tail, until it was safe for them to recolonize the ear. Nowadays we typically give the ears a good cleaning out, and treat puppies or kittens who are old enough with a topical systemic antiparasite medication such as those used against heartworms, fleas or ticks. While some of these products might not be labeled for mites, they are known to have off-label efficacy against them.

So the good news is that ear mites are much easier to treat than they used to be; the bad news is that it’s still a must to treat all the pets in the household to prevent their spread.

There’s more – including suggestions for great dog and cat books to read this summer – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.