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Could Ear Mites Be the Reason for Your Dog's or Cat's Itchy Ears?

dog having an ear check-upEar mites are microscopic parasites that infest the ears of dogs, and more commonly, cats.

The ear mite most frequently seen in companion animals is Otodectes cynotis. An infestation is called otodectic mange, and can cause your cat or dog a great deal of discomfort between the itching and irritation.

Kittens and outdoor cats are more commonly affected with ear mites than dogs or felines that live indoors. The infestation is spread when an animal with ear mites comes in direct contact with another cat or dog.

These parasites are most often found in the ear, however, they can also infest other areas of your pet's body.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Otodectes cynotis is a tiny, eight-legged parasite that lives out the majority of its three-week life cycle inside your pet’s ear canals, feeding on wax and oils.

Ear mites infest the external and internal canals and cause itching, irritation, inflammation and infection. A tell-tale sign of an ear mite infection is a dark discharge that looks a lot like coffee grounds.

Ear mites are much more common in cats than dogs and account for about half of all feline ear infections.

Symptoms of an Ear Mite Infection

Symptoms are the same for both cats and dogs and include:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching and rubbing of ears
  • Inflammation of the ear
  • Dark colored waxy secretion
  • Strong odor
  • Hair loss or dermatitis

If your kitty has ear mites you might also see scratches or scabs around her ear.

Left untreated, the coffee ground-like debris can cause complete obstruction of the ear canal.

An ear mite infection can also cause blood vessels inside your pet’s ear to burst from aggressive scratching and head shaking. This condition is called an aural or ear-flap hematoma and results in swelling of the ear flap and pain for your pet. Aural hematomas frequently require surgery to correct.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats

If you suspect your dog or cat has an ear infection, don’t guess at the cause. Take your pet to a holistic veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis. Many ear infections have similar symptoms. It’s important to find out the precise cause of your pet’s ear problem so you can treat it effectively.

Your vet will take a swab of discharge from your dog’s or cat’s ear and examine it under a microscope to confirm the presence of ear mites.

Unless your pet has an advanced ear mite infestation with an infection, or her quality of life has taken a nosedive, I recommend avoiding drug-based anti-mite treatments, antibiotics, corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories or other drugs in favor of natural remedies.

It may take a bit longer to cure an infestation with a natural treatment, but you’ll eliminate the risk of side effects from medication and your pet won’t need a detox agent to recover her health after a course of drug therapy.

Before instituting any treatment protocol, however, you must ensure your pet’s eardrums have not ruptured from the infection. I also recommend you treat both ears for a minimum of a month, even if the infection appears to only be on one side, or you think the infection is gone after two weeks. Daily ear treatments must continue through the mite’s lifecycle (21 days), so I recommend a month to be safe.

There are a number of all natural topical remedies you can use to treat ear mites in dogs and cats, including:

Your holistic veterinarian can guide you in the best choice for your pet.

While you’re treating your cat or dog for ear mites, keeping his ears clean and free of debris is very important.

Some of the cleaning agents I recommend include witch hazel, organic apple cider vinegar diluted with equal parts purified water, hydrogen peroxide, and green tea infusion.

Saturate a cotton ball with cleaning solution and swab out the inside of the ear. Repeat this process until there’s no obvious debris on the cotton. This process may require two cotton balls or a dozen, it just depends on the buildup of residue in your pet’s ears.

If you choose, you can use a small squirt bottle to flush the ear with the cleaning solution, then follow with as many cotton balls as it takes to remove all the debris. This might be a quicker process for you – but it might also be messier if your pet shakes his head and cleaning solution flies out!

If you’ve never cleaned your pet’s ears, you can ask your vet to give you a quick lesson. You can also watch my video on the subject.

If your pet’s condition is quite serious or if he can’t tolerate having his ears handled or cleaned, you may need your vet’s assistance to get the situation under control. Occasionally, pets must be put under general anesthetic to perform a thorough exam and cleaning of an infected ear.

All debris must be removed from the canals before any therapeutic ear drops are instilled.

Preventing Ear Mites

Ear mite infestations are highly contagious, so if you have a multi-pet household, you’ll need to treat all your furry family members simultaneously, even if only one is symptomatic. Otherwise, it’s quite likely they’ll pass the problem back and forth.

Also be sure you clean all pet bedding thoroughly.

Going forward, remember to check your pet’s ears during your regular at-home wellness exams. Catching the problem early will keep infestations in check and eliminate risk of infection.

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