6 Signs Your Dog Has Ear Mites & What to Do

Dog ear mites are tiny, hard to detect, extremely uncomfortable for your dog, and can lead to other, bigger issues. Find out how to get rid of them, fast.

Updated January 30, 2024
Dog scratching his ear

Ear mites in dogs may seem like a small thing (pun intended, since they're teeny), but they can actually lead to some deep discomfort for your dog and secondary infections. Worse, untreated ear infections can lead to deafness and a lot of pain, so it's important to work with your veterinarian to resolve ear mites as soon as you notice the little buggers.

Symptoms of Dog Ear Mites

A dog will display certain symptoms that will clue you in to the problem of ear mites. The primary symptoms are:

  • Constant scratching behind or inside the ears
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Dark, coffee-ground-like discharge from the ear
  • Ear canal inflammation
  • An unusual head tilt or loss of balance
  • Vomiting or a refusal to eat
Need to Know

In extreme cases, sores behind the ears may form due to excessive scratching.

What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are tiny, infectious parasites that resemble ticks and live in the ears of affected dogs. Barely seen by the naked eye, ear mites appear to be small white dots. It takes about three weeks for an ear mite to develop into an adult. These little pests can live their entire lives inside a dog's ear. And once afflicted, thousands of tiny mites scurry inside the ear canal.

Keep in mind that your dog's ear canal is extremely sensitive. When the little buggers creep and crawl inside the ear, they eat cerumen, or earwax. As this happens, the tender ear canal becomes more and more irritated.

Detecting Ear Mites

Your veterinarian can easily detect dog ear mites by examining a sample of earwax from an afflicted dog under a microscope. You can detect dog ear mite infections at home by looking for dry, black ear discharge resembling coffee grounds in your dog's ear. Sorry, coffee drinkers! Just keep in mind that this home method isn't always accurate.

Veterinarian examining dog's ears
Need to Know

This dark discharge is composed of earwax, blood, biochemicals, and the ear mites themselves.

Ear Mites Lead to Larger Problems

On their own, your veterinarian can treat earmites easily, but if the ear mites aren't treated, the black discharge can actually close off the ear canal. Both the irritation and the blockage of air flow can further damage the ear and cause a fungal or bacterial infection.

Highly Contagious

Ear mites are very contagious. They can easily pass from one host to the next by physical contact. So, most likely, if your dog has ear mites, they caught the infection from another animal with whom they had been socializing. Due to the ease of transmission, if you have multiple pets, they all should be treated for ear mites, even if only one displays the discharge and/or symptoms.

Need to Know

Dogs and cats can spread ear mites to each other. If you have one pet in the home with ear mites, make sure to treat them all. 

How to Get Rid of Dog Ear Mites

If you notice your pet displaying any of these symptoms, please call your local veterinarian and get them in for an appointment. Your veterinarian will confirm the precense of ear mites and work with you to clear up the infestation.  

After a Positive Diagnosis

After an exam and a positive diagnosis of ear mites, most veterinarians will clean and flush the ears thoroughly with moist, soapy water to dispose of the discharge inside the ears. This is best done by a veterinarian because every bit of the discharge must be removed from the ear canal before any medication will work. 

Need to Know

In severe cases, an anesthetic may be necessary to allow for a complete cleaning.

Administering Medication

Your veterinarian will apply medicinal drops into the ear canals or by means of an injection.

Do Not Treat Without a Vet

Please do not attempt to treat your dog's ears with over-the-counter ear mite medication or home remedies prior to a visit with your veterinarian. Many well-meaning dog owners use these products for weeks, even months, without positive results. A simple and quick visit to your vet will alleviate the pain and discomfort your dog feels due to the presence of ear mites. It may even save you a couple of bucks in the long run, as well.

Related: Is Your Dog in Pain? 14 Signs to Look Out For

Risks of Using Home Remedies for Dog Ear Mites

Ear mites can cause serious problems for your dogs if not treated correctly, so as much as you'd like to save money and use home remedies, it's best for your pet to see your veterinarian.

Man checking his dog's ears
Quick Tip

If you are hoping for a more natural option, make an appointment with a holistic vet.

Home Treatment May Not Be Fully Effective

You may also think you have killed off the mites with home remedies, while the eggs remain intact and ready to hatch.

You Could Damage the Ear Canal

Your dog's ear canal could also be damaged by having too much substance, like oil, inserted in it.

Worsened Cases Could Lead to More Severe Consequences

If not properly treated, ear mites can worsen and lead to more infections, hematomas, scarring, and even deafness, as well as considerable pain and discomfort for your dog along the way.

Transmission to Other Pets

Ear mites could spread to any other pets in your home very easily if not taken care of properly.

At Home, Clean the Environment

After you and your veterinarian have treated your dog for ear mites, wash everything that they have come into contact with in hot, soapy water. Adult ear mites are extremely mobile and can actually live for a while off of a dog. So, treat everything from your dog's toys to their bedding, perhaps even yours, to make sure all ear mites have been eliminated from the environment.

Dog Ear Mite Prevention

Treat your dog with flea medication monthly. Many flea treatments, like Frontline Plus, will help to kill mites as part of a larger plan to treat infestations using ear mite topical treatments for the ears, cleaning, and other instructions provided by your veterinarian. 

Need to Know

Using a flea medication alone may not eradicate an ear mite infestation. Make sure to consult your veterinarian about the best method, if your dog has an active infestation of ear mites.

Ear Mites Versus Yeast Infection

Ear infections caused by bacteria and yeast are very common in dogs, and from the outside, they appear to have the same symptoms as ear mites, such as head shaking, scratching, skin inflammation, and a foul-smelling and dark discharge.

The diagnosis of whether your dog is suffering from mites or a yeast infection must be confirmed by a veterinarian. They will take a sample of the discharge in your dog's ear canal and review it microscopically for signs of mites and bacteria. Sometimes it's possible for your dog to have both mites and a yeast or bacterial infection.

Related: What Dog Owners Should Know About Ear Infections

Signs of Ear Mites and Ear Infections are Similar

The signs and symptoms of ear mites and ear infections are very similar, and you need a vet to properly diagnose which is affecting your dog, or possibly even both.

Dog Ear Mites Mean It's Time to See Your Vet

Found in more cats than dogs, ear mites are nasty parasites that damage your pet's ear canals. Ear mites will not go away by themselves. Without proper care and medication, the ear mite infestation will continue to grow and can potentially cause permanent damage to your dog, like skin disease, seizures, and deafness. Although humans cannot contract ear mites, the mites can bite people, so if only for your own sake, please seek treatment for your pet.

Trending on LoveToKnow
6 Signs Your Dog Has Ear Mites & What to Do