Goals of Treating Ear Mites
Prompt treatment is essemtial to prevent serious complications from ear mite infestation. The goals of treating ear mites in dogs are to relieve inflammation of the outer ear canal, resolve secondary bacterial infections and eliminate as many predisposing factors as possible. The overall goal is to return the dog to a healthy condition that is free from pain, itchiness and other types of discomfort.
Treatment for ear mites is almost always done on an outpatient basis. The usual protocol includes applying topical anti-parasitic medications to the skin after the affected areas have been thoroughly cleaned. It is extremely important to clean the outer/external ear and ear canals with an appropriate ear-cleaning solution before applying any topical medications. The external ear canals actually are located on the inside of the ears. They extend down to the eardrums, which separate the outer/external ear from the middle ear. Dirty, waxy build-up in the external ears creates a perfect environment for ear mites to hide, feed and reproduce. It also prevents topical medications from reaching and killing the infectious organisms.
Most treatments that will successfully kill ear mites contain: 1) pesticides such as pyrethrin, rotenone or fibronil; 2) parasiticides such as thiabendazole; and/or 3) the broad-spectrum anti-parasitic medication, ivermectin. Medications that kill mites are called “miticides.” Miticides, which should be obtained by prescription from a veterinarian, generally are applied topically to the skin of the dog’s ears and other affected areas. Over-the-counter medications that are specifically formulated to treat ear mites typically contain fairly low doses of the active ingredients. Some topical anti-flea treatments contain ingredients that can help to control ear mites. A veterinarian can prescribe the best treatment in any given case.
Because ear mites are so contagious, owners of affected dogs should treat all other household pets, including dogs, cats, bunnies and ferrets, as well as the animals’ bedding and living environment, to prevent reinfestation. When secondary bacterial infections have developed as a result of ear mites, antibiotic medications may be prescribed. The dog’s veterinarian is the best person to discuss an appropriate treatment protocol with its owner.
All treatments must be given for the full course. Ear mite eggs are often immune to treatment and can hatch after a dog has been treated. They usually hatch within a few weeks of being laid, making it especially important to continue treatment for the full duration prescribed by the veterinarian. During treatment, mites may leave the ear canals and take up residence elsewhere, such as on the dog’s neck, paws, rump or tail, causing itchiness and scratching wherever they lodge. To kill those mites, affected dogs need to be treated all over, not just on, in and around their ears. They should be shampooed weekly, for at least four weeks, using a veterinarian-recommended shampoo, topical powder or other treatment that targets the whole body. The attending veterinarian probably will want to see the dog for a follow-up examination 4 or 5 weeks after treatment, just to be sure that the mite infestation has been completely resolved.
Alternative treatments to kill ear mites are rarely successful. Repeatedly cleaning a dog’s ears (without more) may eliminate ear mites on the outer ear surfaces. However, mites usually will continue to thrive deep within the ear canals, causing continuous itchiness, scratching, anxiety and pain. Some people advocate applying vegetable oil directly into a dog’s ears in an attempt to smother ear mites. Most authorities agree that this is not an effective treatment and can actually damage a dog’s internal ear structures.
Prognosis for Pets with Ear Mites
The prognosis for dogs with ears mites is generally good, as long as appropriate treatment protocols are followed to a tee. In severe cases, scarring of the ears and formation of hematomas on the ear flaps may occur. In very severe cases, tissues and structures inside the ears may become permanently damaged. The dog’s hearing may be adversely affected, as well.