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6 min read

The What, Why, and How of Dog Ear Mites

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Ashley Vanselow, DVM

Occasional itching and scratching is normal behavior for most dogs. But if your dog constantly struggles with itchy ears, you may wonder if your dog has ear mites.

In this article, we'll cover what dog ear mites are and why dogs get them. Plus, symptoms of ear mites, how to prevent and treat them, and frequently asked questions from pet parents.


What are ear mites in dogs

What are ear mites in dogs

The ear mite is a surface mite that lives on dogs and cats. Ear mites are typically found inside your pet's ear canal, but they can also live on the outer surface of your dog's skin and ears.

Ear mites look like little white dots moving quickly in your dog's ear canal or outer ear. While nesting in the ear canals, the ear mites breed and lay eggs. Over time, an ear mite problem can quickly turn into an infestation.

Why do dogs get ear mites

Why do dogs get ear mites

Ear mites are highly contagious and travel from dog to dog. Dogs typically contract ear mites after coming in contact with other infected animals.

When one dog has mites in their ears, they can end up in other places like:

  • Bedding
  • Furniture
  • Toys
  • Carpets

They can also transfer directly to other dogs through playtime and socialization. After mites jump from your furry friend to another surface, they move to a new host.


5 symptoms of ear mites

The clinical signs of ear mites typically look the same in puppies and adult dogs. Here are 5 signs of ear mites in dogs for pet parents to look out for.

1. Excessive scratching and hair loss

Dog ear mites eat the ear wax and skin oils in your dog's ear, causing irritation and an itchy ear. While occasional ear scratching is normal for dogs, constant scratching, red ears, skin lesions, and hair loss can be clinical signs of ear mites.

2. Head shaking

Head shaking is another way dogs show signs of ear irritation. Similar to scratching, shaking their head is one way dogs try to relieve itchiness.

3. Mite debris

Mite debris in your dog's ear looks similar to coffee grounds or dirt. Pet parents can clean out mite debris with an ear wipe or cotton swab.

4. Ear discharge in the ear canal

If your dog has a serious ear infection due to ear mites, they may have discharge in the ear canal. Ear discharge typically has an unpleasant smell and is dark brown in color.

5. Ear infections

Ear infections, known as "otitis externa," is a common condition in household pets. Ear infections are typically caused by excessive moisture and allergies that lead to yeast (malassezia) growth.

When ear mites go untreated for long periods, it can cause an ear infection. It is not recommended to treat an ear infection at home. Instead, visit your veterinarian for effective ear infection treatment options.

Dog ear yeast infection vs. ear mites

Ear mite infestations and ear infections have similar symptoms. But, there are two other symptoms of ear mites that are the difference between these ear conditions:

  • Dark brown mite debris that resembles coffee grounds in your pet's ears is a tell-tale sign of ear mites. But, it's possible to find dark brown debris without mites. Mite debris is not present in ear yeast infections.
  • Itching, head shaking, and other symptoms spread between pets are other signs of ear mites. Ear infections are not contagious — if your other pets start to show clinical signs, they are likely struggling with ear mites.

However, it's important to know that serious ear mite infestations can cause dog ear infections. So it's common for these conditions to be present at the same time.

5 ways to prevent ear mites in dogs

Ear mites are highly contagious. But, they are preventable if you take the right approach. Here are five ways to prevent pesky mites from ending up in your dog's ear canal.

1. Use monthly flea and tick protection.

Use monthly flea and tick protection

Flea and tick medication may help prevent ear mites. Consider choosing a flea prevention that also covers ear mites when choosing the best flea treatment for your dog.


2. Clean your dog's ears with pet wipes.

Clean your dog's ears with pet wipes

Regular ear cleaning with pet wipes helps prevent wax buildup. Use a moist wipe to clean out the inside of your dog's ears regularly to help prevent ear irritation and yeast infections.

3. Keep your home tidy.

Keep your home tidy

Ear mites, like fleas, nest in soft, warm environments (such as your dog's ears). Sometimes, mites can end up in your dog's bedding, kennel, and toys.

Use a chemical-free cleaning solution or warm, soapy water to disinfect contaminated surfaces. Clean all bedding and toys, kennels, and carpets if you suspect your dog is struggling with ear mites.

4. Avoid direct contact with other infected pets.

Avoid direct contact with other infected pets

The easiest way to contract ear mites is through contact with another infected dog or cat. If you know another animal may be infected, avoid contact with them.

5. Visit your vet for regular check-ups.

Visit your vet for regular check-ups

At your dog’s check-up, your vet may look in your pup's ears with an otoscope and take an ear swab to look for adult mites and mite eggs under a microscope. These tiny parasites are tricky to spot with the naked eye, so visiting your vet for a second opinion can be helpful.

How to treat dogs' ear mites

Treating ear mites may seem intimidating for pet parents, but there are plenty of options for effective treatment to soothe your dog's condition. Ear mite treatment plans vary from dog to dog.

To treat ear mites, visit your veterinarian for a thorough check-up and diagnosis. Treatment for severe cases of ear infections and ear mites usually requires antibiotic ear drops from your vet. Topical medications and creams are also available for skin infections from constant itching.


Frequently asked questions about ear mites

Facing an ear mite problem head-on doesn’t have to be scary. Here are some ear mites in dogs FAQs for curious pet parents.

What’s the difference between dog ear mites vs. ear wax?

Ear wax is normal in dogs, as long as it is light brown in color and odorless. Mite debris is dark brown and can look like dirt or coffee grounds in your dog's ears. If you're unsure what you're seeing in your dog's ear, visit your veterinarian for a check-up.

What do ear mites look like?

Ear mites are tiny white pests with eight legs. They move across your dog's skin quickly, so it's almost impossible to see them with the naked eye.

How do I get rid of ear mites in my home?

Use a chemical-free cleaning solution or warm, soapy water to clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces in your home. Make sure you also deep clean these items:

  • Your pet's bedding
  • Toys
  • Kennels
  • Furniture
  • Carpets
  • Area rugs

After cleaning your home, use a household spray with an Insect Growth Regulator to keep ear mites from coming back. Spray all contaminated surfaces with a light mist. Do not spray your pet directly.

How long does it take for ear mites to go away?

Depending on your dog's condition and treatment plan, it can take up to three weeks for ear mites to go away completely. But, effective treatments should relieve your dog's symptoms in just a few days.

Ear mites in dogs are an intimidating condition. But, there are plenty of options for pet parents to treat and prevent pesky mites from invading their pet's ears.

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