What are ear mites? Can Dogs and Cats both get them?

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

Many clients have heard of ear mites, but are unclear of what the ‘bug’ actually is, what it does, and what it looks like.

The classic ear mite case for us is the 8-week-old kitten that comes in for first vaccinations.  The owner reports that she is shaking her head, rubbing the side of her face on the carpet, and scratching the back of her ear repeatedly.

A typical appearing mite-infested ear canal.

A typical appearing mite-infested ear canal.

Sometimes the scratching is to the point of an open wound on the back of the ear.

Common infection of skin secondary to constant scratching at itchy mite-ridden ears.

Common infection of skin secondary to constant scratching at itchy mite-ridden ears.

So what are ear mites?

They are a tiny white bug that live on the surface of the skin and ear canals in both dogs and cats.  They make their living chewing skin cells with their tiny mouths, which cases an intense itchy and painful feeling.

This is what we see with our otoscope.  Little white dots that are crawling around the ear canal, wreaking havoc and just generally annoying everybody.

This is what we see with our otoscope. Little white dots that are crawling around the ear canal, wreaking havoc and just generally annoying everybody.

Typically the ear canal has some black or gray debris down in there, which we clean out and look at under the microscope.  This is what we see:

Ear mite under the microscope.

Ear mite under the microscope.  Even more fun to watch him moving around in real time.

Little alien creatures eating the inside of your furry friend’s ear canal.  –  Yikes!

So the good news is that this is a treatable problem.  There are several products on the market available to clear up an infection and others that help prevent future infections.

It’s important to remember too that ear mites pass easily from cat to cat, from dog to dog, and from cat to dog.  So keeping a prevention on a cat that goes in and out of the house is a great idea.

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