Dog Ear Mites: 
Prevention & Treatment

An ear mite as seen under a microscope. Dog ear mites are not easily seen by the naked eye but are sometimes visible as white specks in the dog's ear wax. ©Copyright Joel Mills

Dog ear mites are tiny organisms that are very difficult to see. They look like white specks if you are able to see them at all.

Symptoms of Dog Ear Mites

A victim of ear mites will usually shake his head and scratch at his ear(s), which will be red and infected. There will be a dark, crumbly discharge in the ear canal that consists of blood, ear wax and mites. You may be able to see the white ear mites against the infected ear wax.

Diagnosis

An ear infection from mites looks very similar to an ear infection caused by bacteria. A dog with allergies may also have goopy stuff in his ears. The difference though is the telltale "coffee grounds" look of the infection when mites are involved. Because many factors can cause runny, inflamed ears, it is essential to take your dog to a veterinarian for diagnosis. The presence of mites can be confirmed by looking at an ear wax sample under a microscope.

Conventional Treatment

The first step your vet will take to stop a dog ear mite infection is to clean the ears. After that, it is a matter of choosing a treatment. The over-the-counter products available at pet stores contain insecticides that kill the adult mites but not the eggs. This limitation means that the product will need to be used on your dog for 21-30 days to cover the full life cycle of the mite. This is a long time to apply a toxin to your dog, even if it works.

Another medication, which is available only from a vet and requires a shorter treatment period, is Tresaderm®. This product has an antibiotic to fight infection, a cortisone product for inflammation and thiabendazole, a pesticide that kills mites at all stages.

The treatment time is usually 10-14 days. While this product has been used for dog ear mite treatment for several decades, you need to be aware that it contains a pesticide, a toxic substance.

Ivermectin, a strong anti-parasite medication used in heartworm preventatives such as Heartgard®, is sometimes used as an alternative treatment for dogs who will not tolerate the vet touching their ears. The Ivermectin is injected weekly or biweekly.

While this can be an effective approach to stopping dog ear mites, Ivermectin causes extreme reactions in some breeds, and can result in death. Breeds at risk are Old English Sheep Dog, English Sheepdog, Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie), Australian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Long-Haired Whippet, Silken Windhound, Skye Terrier and Collie.

Revolution®, which is applied directly to the dog's skin, usually at the shoulders, is used to kill or prevent ear mites as well as prevent fleas. It has an Ivermectin derivative, so it can be deadly if used on the above breeds. This is considered a parasite medication as opposed to a pesticide.

Dog ear mites are very contagious. If you have a dog or cat in the home diagnosed with ear mites, it is important to have the other pets examined because they will likely have ear mites as well.

If an infection from dog ear mites is left untreated, serious health issues can develop such as skin disease in the neck and deafness.

Natural Treatment & Prevention

Parasites, including dog ear mites as well as worms, are opportunistic creatures. They are much more likely to take up residence in an animal in poor health. That's why a nutritious diet is important to preventing parasites or recovering from them. You cannot feed your dog cheap food with by-products and additives and expect him to be healthy. Invest in quality food that contains whole protein like chicken and turkey and quality carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables. Either pay for quality food now or pay the vet later!

It is also important to provide your dog with a small helping of vegetables daily. The vegetables, which provide enzymes important to good health, can be carrots, zucchini, spinach, cucumbers and green beans, to name a few. Since dogs do not digest vegetables as easily as humans, they should either be cooked, chopped into very small pieces or put into a blender before being given to your dog.

Many holistic vets, including author Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, recommend brewer's yeast and garlic for preventing parasites, including fleas and mites. Supplements are available that can be added to your dog's food or fed as treats. They can be purchased through quality pet stores, health food stores, holistic vets and online stores like www.onlynaturalpet.com While garlic has attracted some attention recently as a possible "poison" to dogs, holistic vets recommend it for boosting health when used in small, controlled doses. Even when using a natural approach to your dog's healing and prevention, it is best to seek the guidance of a holistic vet. You can find a list of U.S. holistic veterinarians at the web site of The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Many holistic veterinarians provide phone consultations for a fee and will ship natural products to you from their office. I use a holistic vet in North Carolina and I live in Iowa. So even if you can't find one in your area, there is a holistic veterinarian as near as the phone!

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