Ear Mites in Dogs: What You Probably Don’t Know

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / May 7, 2018
Ear mites in dogs

It’s pretty common to see a dog scratching their ears. Most pet owners don’t pay much mind to this behavior. This is seen as normal canine behavior. In most cases, this behavior simply means that a dog has an itch that needs to be scratched. However, there are some cases where persistent or even obsessive itching or scratching is a little more serious. Enter: ear mites in dogs.

Similar to fleas, ticks, and other types of tiny parasites, ear mites can cause a number of issues for your dog, especially if left untreated. Besides the general discomfort, your dog could be at risk for a serious infection as well as a number of other health issues. The good news is that ear mite treatment for dogs is pretty simple.

dog with ear mites

If your dog or cat has had ear mites before, sometimes you can seek ear mite treatment without involving a veterinarian. Of course, making an appointment with a veterinarian is always the best course of action. Veterinarians can recommend and prescribe the best ear mite treatment, which can help your dog’s ears look and feel better quickly.

The following guide will help you understand everything you need to know about an ear mite infection, treating ear mites, and what to do if your dog has ear mites.

Ear Mites in Dogs

Like fleas, ear mites get into a dog’s ear canal while spending time outdoors. In fact, this is a reason why ear mites in cats are also common. Outdoor cats are notorious for picking up ear mites because of their activity. In fact, many ear mite infestations are often passed between dogs and cats.

So, if your outdoor cat comes home after his or her day of adventures, and comes into contact with your dog, then this is where an ear mite infestation is passed along. Your dog is naturally interested in all of the scents your cat has picked up during his travels. As a result, your dog can end up with an ear mite infection.

Although ear mites in dogs and cats are incredibly common, they can’t be transmitted to humans. This means you don’t need to worry about dealing with the parasite yourself, or your children. However, if you believe that your dog has ear mites, and you have other animals in the house, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching the ear flap of your dog before petting your other animals.

What Are Dog Ear Mites or Otodectes Cynotis?

otodectes cynotis ear mites

Otodectes cynotis, also known as mites are parasites affecting your dog’s ear canals. Ear mites are also knowns as otodectic mange or sarcoptic mange. They are microscopic, so you won’t be able to see these nefarious eight-legged creatures, but you will notice what they do to your dog.

The most common symptoms of ear mites include:

  • Persistent or obsessive scratching around the ears, head, and neck
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Discharge from ears that is often very dark and waxy
  • Tiny pieces of debris (often resembling coffee grounds)
  • Ears appear dirty
  • A foul odor from the ear canal

As soon as you notice these symptoms, it is time to call your veterinarian. The sooner you get your dog to the vet, the sooner ear mite treatment can begin. There are also other health risks and ear problems that can arise from an ear mite infection; therefore, it is very important to seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible. Some complications that may arise from ear mites include various types of infections. Once these infections occur, they can be difficult to abate. This is why it is important to treat an ear mite infestation or infection as soon as you notice that something is up with your dog.

Signs Your Pup Has Dog Ear Mites

dog scratching himself

Besides the common symptoms of ear mites listed above, there are several more symptoms that your dog may be affected by ear mites.

Some of these include the following;

  • Itching of the ears, head, and neck
  • Sometimes generalized itching
  • Excessive scratching at ears and around head
  • Frequently shaking the head
  • Thick red-brown or black crusts or debris in the outer ear
  • Coffee ground like bumps in the ear canal
  • Abrasions and scratches on the back side of the ears
  • Crusting and scale on the neck, rump, and tail

You can check for ear mites yourself, but known that ear mites typically can’t be seen with the naked eye. You will likely need a magnifying glass to look in your dog’s ear canal. If you notice white specks the size of the head of a pin, then this is a sign of an ear mite infestation.

Dog Shaking Head

Perhaps the most noticeable of signs that your dog is having trouble with ear mites is when your pup is shaking his or her head. If head shaking occurs more frequently than normal, then this is a good indication that something is bothering him or her. Empathize with your dog. Imagine how it annoying or disconcerting it is to feel something crawling in your ear canal. You probably want to scratch it frequently to try to get it out! This is essentially what your dog is doing by persistently shaking his or her head.

If you notice your dog shaking his or her head for no good reason, check out their ears and look for the other symptoms to confirm your suspicions.

Excessive Scratching and Rubbing of Ears

We have all been kept up at night because the dog won’t stop scratching. As annoying or concerning as it might be, it is something worth paying attention to. Your dog is scratching because he or she is trying to dislodge or remove whatever is bothering him or her. If you notice your dog constantly scratching at the ears, it’s time to get out of the magnifying glass or the cotton swabs and take a look.

The rubbing of ears is something to pay attention to as well. Your dog will likely try to rub his or her head across the floor or rug to try and get relief. Again, much like head shaking and scratching, this frequent behavior is abnormal and could mean something a bit more serious. It can also cause serious skin irritation.

Black or Brown Waxy Secretions

Your dog should not have much in the way of ear secretions. The secretion itself may seem like ear wax, but dogs generally don’t deal with ear wax issues the way humans do. If you notice the secretions are brown, black, and waxy, then this is a sure sign of an infection or mite infestation. If you want to inspect the wax more thoroughly, carefully use a cotton swab to gather a piece of the wax.

Strong Odor

dog with strong ear odor

Just like with diagnosing a yeast infection in the ear, the diagnosis of ear mites in dogs can be done with a trained nose. There is a strong, acrid odor associated with an ear mite infection. This is generally more prevalent with the floppy-ear breeds than the rigid ear breeds.

Rigid ear breeds like the German Shepherd are getting air in and out of the ear while the floppy ears of dogs like the Goldendoodle don’t have that same air circulation; therefore, the odor can be far worse. If you smell a foul odor from your dog’s ear canal, then get ready to check other signs and symptoms, such as discharge.


If you notice inflammation of your dog’s ears, then get your dog examined right away. Inflammation is a sign of an infection. The inflammation will be more red colored where the ears are supposed to be pink or near-white. The worst part, however, is it will ache and invite your dog to do more scratching and itching the skin, which in turn makes the inflammation worse, and thus the cycle continues.

Obstruction of Ear Canal with Coffee Ground-Like Discharge

In addition to the symptoms of ear mites we outlined and described above, another incredibly common symptom is debris or discharge. If you also notice the coffee-ground-like debris, then it is important to clear the obstruction gently with a cotton ball or cotton swab.

It’s important to remember that even if you carefully remove the debris and ear wax, this doesn’t mean that the ear mite infestation is cured. In fact, allowing the infestation to linger will only worsen ear problems for your dog.

How to Get Rid of Mites in Dogs

how to get rid of mites in dogs

Ear mites drive your dog crazy and make what should be a perpetually pleased pup into a neurotic mess. Once you suspect that there are ear mites, the best course of action is to take your dog to the vet. The vet will determine if ear mites are indeed the cause for your dog’s discomfort and ear problems.

Remember that ear mites are highly contagious. Although ear mite treatment is relatively easy, and does not require significant veterinary care, you will likely need to treat all the animals in your home for ear mites. The good news is that ear mites do not survive for a long time in the animal’s body. So, after a few remedies for ear mites, your animals will begin looking and feeling better in no time.

Another course of action recommended by vets is to treat your dog for fleas. Some mites may have escaped the ear, and have become ectopic. Therefore, over-the-counter medications and flea treatments can help take care of two problems. A commercially sold ear cleaner medication is usually the best remedy for ear mites. Be sure to follow instructions and use your good training techniques to make ear cleaning a positive experience for your pooch.

Most vets will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to treat ear mites. After your vet prescribes a medication for your dog, you will likely notice the ear mite infestation begin to clear up quickly. You will notice almost immediately that your dog’s persistent scratching and head shaking will stop, and inflammation will begin to subside. Once inflammation begins to subside, the once red, angry skin will return to a healthy pale pink.

After a few days of treatment—especially with floppy ear breeds—it is generally a good practice to flush your dog’s ears once a week. This prevents ear mites from getting into your dog’s ear canal and wreaking havoc once again. This is also a good idea to do for outdoor cats to keep them from infecting your dog.

Cats, rabbits, gerbils, mice, hamsters, and ferrets are all susceptible to contracting ear mites. Although ear mites don’t spread to people, the social interaction between animals is perfect for ear mite transmission. Pay attention to all your animals. Even if they show no signs of an active infection, be sure to check their ears from time to time.

Additionally, when cleaning your home, be sure to thoroughly wash pet bedding and other items in hot water and go through the dryer on the hot cycle. Spend your time vacuuming the area thoroughly, especially where your animals spend most of their time. Taking these steps will get you on the front foot when dealing with ear mites, and your pets will thank you for it!

Homemade Dog Ear Cleaner

In the world of pet products, there is no shortage of different cleansers for your dog’s ears. Finding the right one is not the easiest task. Some have a very strong aroma, which may deter your dog from participating in regular ear cleaning. Other ear cleaning products may not do the job when it comes to clearing out the dirt and grime in your dog’s ear canal.  Your dog’s ear matters as well. Floppy-ear breeds require a great deal of ear maintenance, so when you find a cleaner that works, stick by it!

The last thing anyone wants is to depend on a store to constantly carry the ear cleaner working best for their dog. There are plenty of ways that you can create your own homemade ear cleaner for your dog that can help keep the ear mites away. The best homemade dog ear cleaning solution is remarkably easy to make, and it is incredibly cost effective. All you need is one part water and one part white vinegar. White vinegar is the easiest and cheapest of the vinegars. And as far as a cleaning product goes, few work nearly as well.

Once you mix the cleaner, store it in a bottle preferably one that will squirt or spray. Keep it room temperature. If the solution becomes too hot or too cold, then it may be uncomfortable for your dog. The scent may be strong, so it’s important to train your dog so that he or she becomes more comfortable with the ear cleaning process.

You can also use mineral oil, almond oil, and olive oil to make a homemade ear cleanser. These oils can help loosen wax, making it easier for dogs to shake out debris from the ears.

Medical Ear Mite Treatment

medical ear mite treatment

With medical ear treatment, the procedure is a little bit different but follows the same format as a regular ear flush. Before you do any type of medical ear treatment, you want to clean the ear first. This is where your homemade ear cleaner comes in. When you flush the ear, be sure to get the nozzle into the ear, and then massage the ear while keeping it covered so the cleaner can get rid of all the debris.

At this point, your dog will probably run around shaking out the cleaner. This is a good thing and is actually more efficient at getting rid of the debris than using a cotton ball. After you complete these steps, your vet will prescribe you a medication.

Vets will likely prescribe medications, which include selamectin, moxidectin/imidacloprid, and Milbemycin Oxime. Milbemycin Oxime is commonly used to kill ear mites and treat parasite infestations and infections, including those caused by heart worms and tapeworms. Additionally, these medications are also often used as remedies for many bacterial infections, and also different types of fungi.

Preventing Ear Mites

Again, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, preventing your dog from contracting ear mites can be difficult. This is especially true if he or she spends a great deal of time outdoors, or around another pet or animal that does.  However, there are a number of things that you can do to prevent your dog from getting ear mites.

  • Keep your cat indoors, if at all possible
  • Check your dog’s ear canals regularly
  • Flush out your dog’s ears on a weekly basis
  • Use a homemade ear cleaner on a consistent basis
  • Pay attention to the other pets in your home. If they have ear mites or another type of parasite infection, then there is a good chance that your dog does, too.

Preventing ear mites from giving your dog problems is as simple as a weekly flush and a consistent application of topical treatments as required by your vet. If you live a busy life, one of the best ways to ensure that you take care of your dog’s ears is to set a weekly reminder on your phone or get into the habit of caring your dog’s ears during bath time. Regardless of which treatment method or maintenance method you choose, you can be sure that your dog will appreciate how diligent you are with taking care of his or her ears.

If your dog gets ear mites, try not to worry. The course of treatment is very simple. However, leaving an ear mite infestation or an ear mite infection untreated for a considerable amount of time is not only uncomfortable and frustrating for your dog, but it can also cause other ear problems and skin irritations and infections. If you begin to notice any symptoms of ear mites, such as head shaking, scratching, debris, discharge, or a waxy brown and black ear wax, then be sure to notify your vet as soon as possible.

If this isn’t your dog’s first time dealing with ear mites, and you already recognize the signs and symptoms of ear mites, then you might be able to get away with calling your vet for prescription without a visit. This depends on the vet, of course. You can also purchase an over-the-counter prescription, or use your handy dandy homemade ear cleaner.

Once you successfully treat and kill ear mites, the final step is to thoroughly clean your home and cleanse your environment. Although humans cannot contract ear mites, you want to make sure your home is clean for any other animals or pets. Finally, it is a great idea to combine treatment for ear mites with flea treatment. Fleas are a similar type of parasite and their problems are well-noted.

Living With Ear Mites

dog living with ear mites

Cats and dogs depend on pet owners for love, support, and care. This also means addressing their health issues. It is up to us to determine when they aren’t feeling well, as well as being on the lookout for signs and symptoms of potentially serious issues.

Although ear mites in cats and dogs are far from being a severe issue, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s still important to seek veterinary attention.

Ear mites may be a small thing, but by taking care of this problem, your dog’s quality of life will be exactly what you envisioned.


What are mites?

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How can I treat ear mites naturally?

How can I prevent ear mites in my dog?










Ear Mites (Otodectic Mange) in Dogs



About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for Honestpaws.com.