You’ve recently noticed that your dog won’t quit scratching his ears or shaking his head. You checked his body and discovered no fleas or ticks. You examined his ears, and all you found was black, crusty flakes. Surely that isn’t what’s making his ears itch, is it? The answer is yes and no. The flakes themselves do not cause your dog to scratch. Instead, it’s what inside your dog’s ears that are causing both the flakes and the itch.

Dogs can contract ear mites in a couple of ways. Since ear mites are easily transmitted between animals, dogs from animal shelters are often infected by the mites. Because of their underdeveloped immune systems, puppies are also easily susceptible to the mites.

Ear mites resemble spiders or ticks and have eight legs. They are small, white parasites that live underneath or upon the surface of the skin. Ear mites can inhabit your dog’s ear his entire life, living off his ear wax. Their constant movement, presence, and feeding are what causes your dog’s ears to itch. Ear mites may bite humans (a rare occurrence), but they will not choose a human as a host.

The mites themselves are almost impossible to detect with a naked eye. However, if your dog has black, coffee-like flakes in his ears, then it’s safe to say that your dog is infected. If your dog is scratching, his ears are inflamed, contain black flakes, or if he seems to be experiencing a loss of balance, then he needs to be taken to the veterinarian. Over the counter ear mite medications can often take months to work, if at all.

Ear mites can be painful and irritating to your pet. If you think your dog may have mites, then take him to the veterinarian immediately. The black discharge can build up to the point of blocking the ear canal. In rare cases where animals have gone untreated, mites have been known to cause sores and hearing loss.
Before beginning any sort of treatment, your veterinarian will diagnose the ear mites. This is an easy process and usually involves a swab of your pet’s ear. The sample taken from the swab is placed under a microscope, where the presence of ear mites can be confirmed. The veterinarian will first get rid of the black discharge, using soap and water. Medicated drops will then be applied to the ear canals. If you have other pets in your home, then also take them to the veterinarian on the same trip. Even if the other pets do not have the black discharge in their ears, this does not mean that they are not infected. Ear mites travel quickly between animals.

When you return home, gather the things that your pet regularly comes in contact with. Gather all of his toys and wash them in warm or hot, soapy water. If he sleeps on your bed, then wash your sheets, along with any other bedding he uses. If multiple pets were treated for ear mites, then it’s a good idea to disinfect multiple surfaces in your home. Ear mites do not die immediately without a host. For this reason, it is important that you disinfect more than just your pet’s toys and bedding. When it’s time to apply flea and tick medication to your dog, make sure that the medication also prevents mites.

If you see your dog scratching his ears, then don’t just pass it off as an itch. Regularly inspect his ears for black, crusty discharge. If the discharge is present, or the scratching persists, then this could be a sign of ear mites. Ear mites can live on a variety of animals; and, if present, will infect all animals in your home. If you think your dog may be infected, then take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. If untreated, ear mites can cause serious health problems. Upon returning from the veterinarian, disinfect any surface that your pet comes in contact with and wash his play things and bedding. Read the label on your flea and tick medication to make sure it prevents mites. Your dog will love you for taking care of his itch!

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