A dog’s ears are among its most vital body parts. Studies have shown that dogs are capable of perceiving twice the range of frequencies perceivable by human ears and can hear sounds from up to four times farther away. Thus, when a dog’s ears are compromised by infection or another ailment, it certainly causes for worry. One of the most common ear problems in dogs is an ear mite infestation.
What Are Ear Mites?
Ear mites are tiny, eight-legged parasites that live mostly inside the ear canals of dogs and other mammals. They are arachnids, in the same family as ticks and spiders. The two primary species of mites that cause ear infection are Notoedres and Otodectes. Notoedres only infest cats, while Otodectes can infest dogs, cats, foxes, and ferrets. Each mite has about a three-week life cycle, meaning it takes three weeks from the time eggs are laid in the ear to when they are developed into adult mites that are capable of reproduction. Ear mites are mainly found in the ears, but they can occasionally infest the body as well.
Otodectes Cynotis, the ear mite’s Latin name, translates to “ear beggar of the dog”. The tiny parasites feed on wax, oils, and skin debris in the ear canal of the dog, thus earning them their Latin namesake.
How Do Dogs Get Ear Mites?
Since ear mites have tiny legs with which to move freely on their own, all that has to happen for your dog to get ear mites is for him to come into casual contact with an infected animal or area. Once Otodectes Cynotis has entered the ear canal of a dog, it starts laying eggs and the infestation can begin. The most commonly affected animals are outdoor cats, and since Otodectes Cynotis can be hosted by both dogs and cats, owners should be wary of allowing their dogs to spend too much time around unfamiliar cats.
Furthermore, ear mites tend to infect young pets at a higher rate, meaning your puppy may be more at risk for ear mites than an older dog, who would be somewhat resistant to them. In particular, young dogs in shelters and abandoned/stray dogs are among the animals who are at the highest risk of being infested by ear mites. Unlike fleas, humans are not a natural host for ear mites – meaning that if the infestation spreads to human members of the household, the mites die naturally within a couple of weeks.
The actual damage done by ear mites as they feed on debris in your dog’s ear canals is minimal. However, his activity causes intense itching, which can lead to a host of other issues for your canine friend.
Due to the extreme itching sensation caused by ear mites, dogs usually react by scratching vigorously at the infested area. While this is one of the first signs your dog may be infested, it is also the primary danger ear mites pose to your pet. When dogs scratch their heads, they can open wounds in the ear which are then prone to bacteria, and in turn, infection. Thus, the primary danger of ear mites is not your pups direct activity but the infection of the wounds caused by his reaction to the itching.
In addition to infections in wounds made by scratching, dogs are also prone to what is called an aural hematoma. An aural hematoma occurs in dogs when intense head shaking and scratching causes blood vessels inside a dog’s ear flap to rupture. As a result, the ear flap appears swollen and is painful to the dog. Aural hematomas often require surgery to fix.
How to Prevent Ear Mites In Dogs
To prevent an ear mite infestation in your dog it is recommended that you limit your dog’s contact with animals – namely dogs, cats, and ferrets – that you aren’t entirely sure are free of ear mites. This makes places such as kennels, doggy daycares, and dog parks particularly challenging when it comes to limiting your dog’s exposure to ear mites.
Additionally, regularly cleaning your dog’s ears of any excess wax, oil, and dead skin debris can help to minimize the risk of an infestation.