How to Remove Ear Mites from a Dog

Four Methods:Using Topical Treatment to Kill Ear MitesUsing Spot-On TreatmentUsing an Injectable AgentTaking Extra Precautions

Otodectic mange, or an ear mite infection, is a common problem in dogs. Ear mites feed off wax in the ear canal, and most commonly infest the vertical and horizontal ear canals. However, they can survive on other parts of the canine body, too, such as the ear flaps, head, neck, paws, around the anus and the tail base.[1] Ear mites are readily transferred between dogs, especially those living in the same household or who groom each other. There are 3 treatment methods to rid your dog of ear mites: topical treatments, spot-on products, and injectable agents.[2] Each method is covered in detail below, starting with Step 1.

Method 1
Using Topical Treatment to Kill Ear Mites

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    Get your dog's ears checked. Even when using a non-prescription medication, it's wise to consult your veterinarian to ensure that your dog really does have ear mites. In addition, your vet will check to ensure that the eardrum is intact before treatment starts. This will greatly determine which treatment is appropriate.
    • If the tympanum (eardrum) is ruptured, drugs may pass into the middle ear and cause ototoxicity. This manifests itself as neurological disturbances such as a head tilt, horizontal nystagmus (the eyes flick from side to side), poor balance and vomiting. These effects can be serious and difficult to reverse.
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    Choose an over-the-counter product containing pyrethrin or permethrin. These ingredients, which are derived from chrysanthemum flowers, belong to a group called pyrethroids. They are neurotoxins, meaning that they work by inhibiting nerve transmission in insects.[3]
    • Despite the way they work in insects, topical pyrethroids have a good safety margin in dogs. This is because the drug is poorly absorbed across the skin into blood. In addition, even if some is absorbed, pyrethroids are 2,250x less toxic to dogs than insects.[3]
    • Many different non-prescription products with these pyrethroids are available. One such treatment is eradimite, containing pyrethrin 0.15%. The advised dose is 10 drops into each ear.
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    Alternatively, consider a prescription topical treatment. Prescription products usually contain ectoparasiticide drugs such as pyrethrins, thiabendazole and monosulfiram. Some products have a proven efficacy at killing ear mites, but do not contain recognized ectoparasiticides; their mode of action – that is, just how they work – is unclear.[4]
    • One advantage of prescription products is that they contain anti-inflammatories, antimicrobials and sometimes local anesthetic, all of which can be desirable to treat and soothe a sore, inflamed ear.
    • Ectoparasiticides are pesticides for parasites that are found on the surface of the body. Most treatment prescribed will fall into this class of medication.[5][6]
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    Apply your chosen medication as directed. Following the directions on the package or of your veterinarian, apply the drops in the instructed amount to each of your dog's ears. Massage gently, leave for a few minutes to penetrate the wax, and then wipe away any excess with cotton wool. This regime should be repeated every other day until the symptoms have resolved.
    • Application may be necessary for a full three weeks (which represents one complete life cycle of the ear mites). However, if there is no improvement after one week of treatment the diagnosis should be reevaluated.
    • Not only do topical products kill the mite, but they also are anti-inflammatories and anti-biotics, meaning they'll soothe irritation and treat secondary bacterial infections, too.
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    Keep your dog away from other dogs after administering the medicine. There is a theoretical risk of toxicity if ingested, such as being licked out of the ear by another dog. Because of this, it's best to keep your dog sequestered after receiving the medication until it dries.
    • The signs of poisoning include excessive salivation, muscle tremors, agitation and in extreme cases, seizures. Should you notice any of these signs in another pet, keep the animal in a dark, quiet room so as to minimize stimulation, and seek veterinary advice.
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    Bathe your pup with an insecticidal shampoo for added protection. When a dog scratches his ear, he may transfer ear mites to his paw. When an active infection is present it is helpful to bathe the dog weekly with an insecticidal shampoo (such as Seleen), to decrease coat contamination, which can act as a reservoir for re-infection.[7]

Method 2
Using Spot-On Treatment

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    Use a spot-on treatment containing selamectin or moxidectin. Selamectin and moxidectin are ivermectin (a broad spectrum anti-parasitic drug) derivatives and have shown to be specifically effective against ear mites. These are both prescription products, and will thus need to be supplied by your veterinarian. Their mode of action is to disable the parasite by interfering with their nerve conduction. This results in paralysis and eventual death of the mite.
    • Selamectin, in particular, is usually effective against ear mites[8]. This drug works specifically by stimulating release of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) which paralyzes the mites by blocking the neurotransmission of muscle fibers. Products containing selamectin are marketed in the UK as "Stronghold," and in the US as "Revolution.
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    Get a prescription for all of the dogs in your household. The mites pass readily between animals, and exposure to ear mites on another dog can quickly lead to re-infection, even while you are treating the affected dog.[8]
    • However, as a rule, no medications are licensed for use in pregnant or nursing dogs, and puppies less than 12 weeks of age. This is because the effect of the active ingredients on this group of animals has not been tested by manufacturers and cannot be verified as safe.
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    Be sure you know your dog's weight. Always get an accurate weight for any dog you plan to treat using spot-on remedies. Dosages depend on the dog's weight, and just making an "educated guess" can lead to over- or under-dosing your dog. Specifics will be printed on the packaging. Be sure to read these carefully, even if you've treated your dog for ear mites before, because proper dosages and usage instructions can vary from product to product.
    • Usually, around 2.5mg/kg is recommended for moxidectin (which is applied directly to the skin on the back of the neck).
    • Again, see the pack insert for specifics. However, the above is generally equivalent to:
      • 0.4ml of moxidectin product for 3-9 lb. dog
      • 1ml for 9.1-20 lb. dog
      • 2.5ml for 20.5-55 lb. dog
      • 4ml for 55.1-88 lb. dog
      • For dogs over 88 lb. an appropriate combination of packs should be used. Talk to your vet to determine the best combination for your situation.
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    Apply the recommended amount of medication. The placement of the medication will depend on the size of the dog and the volume of product to be applied. However, spot-on treatment will be often be applied to either the back of your dog's neck or between its shoulder blades. To apply spot-on treatment to one of the these locations: [9]
    • Ensure you're using the right amount of the ingredient. As stated above, different concentrations of the active ingredient are necessary, depending on the size of the dog, so you should be absolutely positive that you are using the recommended pipette strength for your pet’s weight.
    • Part the hair and place the tip of the tube onto a visible area of skin.
    • Squeeze the tube three or four times until the container has been emptied.
    • Avoid petting the area for a few hours after application to prevent the product from being spread to your hands.
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    Repeat in one month. Some spot on treatments can be reapplied once a month for continued protection. If you find that your dog is frequently affected by ear mites, this might be a good option for you. Check with your vet to determine the best product to use in this case.

Method 3
Using an Injectable Agent

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    As a last resort, ask your vet about using an injectable agent. There are no licensed injectable veterinary medicines for use against ear mites. However, Ivermectin Cattle Injection can be effective in extraneous circumstances. As mentioned above, the ivermectin family of drugs acts by inhibiting nerve transmission in arthropods, causing paralysis and eventual death of the parasite.
    • Because ivermectin is not approved for this purpose, it should be reserved as a treatment of last resort for difficult-to-handle animals where more traditional intervention is not possible.[2]
    • Ivermectin 1% Injectable (cattle formulation) is usually dosed at 200 micrograms/kg body weight, given by subcutaneous injection (a shot), two weeks apart.
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    Know when this is not an option. Ivermectin should never be used in Collies, Australian Shepherds, Long-haired Whippets and Shelties. These breeds have a genetic mutation which means the drug can penetrate the blood brain barrier, cause CNS toxicity, non-reversible coma, and possibly death.
    • Certain dogs have similar sensitivities. An intolerance to this drug is not necessarily predictable by breed – all the more reason to avoid this alternative if possible.[10]
    • It is not advised for use in small animals because it is so potent. If your pup is small, this is not an option unless given the go-ahead by your vet. Only owners of large, difficult-to-handle dogs should entertain this option.

Method 4
Taking Extra Precautions

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    Clean your dog's ears regularly. Regular ear cleaning with a ceruminolytic agent (meaning a solution that softens earwax) will help reduce the levels of wax the ear mites feed on.This makes the ear canal a less attractive environment for the mites.
    • The frequency of cleaning will depend on how waxy your dog's ears usually get. As a general rule, clean the ear and if the cotton wool comes away soiled, clean again the following day, and so on until the cotton wool comes away clean. Then, clean weekly (or more frequently, if necessary).
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    Recognize the symptoms of ear mites. Keep an eye out for symptoms so that you can catch a re-emergence early. Watch for signs of irritation around the head and neck such as:
    • Shaking and/or scratching his ears
    • Itchiness centered around the head and neck
    • A thick, dark brown waxy discharge in one or both ear canals
    • Excoriation around the temples
    • The dog holds his head to one side
    • You have multiple dogs in a household who have thick, brown wax in their ear canals
      • If you do spot any of these symptoms and/or behaviors, go to your vet as soon as possible. He or she will be able to ascertain the cause of these symptoms and make sure the culprit is ear mites.
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    Know how difficult it is to spot the mites. Ear mites are tiny parasites, measuring less than half a mm, and only just visible to naked eye. Mites are also photophobic (afraid of light) and tend to live deep within the ear canal, so you need a special instrument, called an auroscope, to see them.
    • Alternatively, your vet may smear a sample of wax from the affected ear onto a slide and examine this under the microscope to look for adult mites, larvae or eggs.
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    Realize that all dogs in the house may need to be treated. As already mentioned, ear mites are easily transferred between animals. To stop a dog becoming re-infected, be sure to treat all animals that come in contact with your pet, or they may re-infect the clean animal.

Sources and Citations

  1. Skin Diseases in the Dog and Cat. DI Grant. Blackwell Scientific Publications. 1st edition, p46
  2. 2.02.1Quick Reference to Veterinary Medicine. William R Fenner. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 3rd Edition p508
  3. 3.03.1Poisoning due to Pyrethroids. Bradberry, Cage et al. Toxicology Review. 2005:24(2):93-106
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Categories: Dog Grooming