Have you scrunched your nose because of a stinky stench coming from Fido’s ears, or wondered why Fluffy is shaking and scratching her head excessively? Perhaps your canine or kitty companion has been off balance lately, walking in circles and lacking the usual pep in his step. If so, it’s possible your pet suffers from ear mites – tiny, eight-legged parasites that feed on the oils and wax in your pet’s internal and external ear canal. Sounds pretty nasty, right? What makes it even worse is these critters can lead to more serious skin or ear infections if left untreated. Such infections can produce a dark, pungent discharge and even debris that resembles coffee grounds and the icky critters have been implicated as the cause of allergic reactions in humans. In fact, many people who test positive for dust mite allergies also test positive for ear mite allergies.
Cause and Prevention
Most common in outdoor cats, ear mites are transmitted from pet to pet by casual contact. They can infect cats, dogs, rabbits and ferrets, with an average life cycle of three weeks. Fortunately, humans are generally immune to the nasty spider-like parasites because they cannot survive long on human skin. But don’t think they can’t bite you, because they can, and when they do they can cause a rash of raised red bumps called popular dermitis. These bumps typically develop on the arms of people who have come into close contact with a pet who has ear mites.
The best way to protect your pet from an ear mite infestation is to prevent him from coming into contact with affected animals. If one pet in a household has ear mites, it should be treated immediately and the affected pet isolated from other pets, in an attempt to prevent them from becoming infested as well. As a precaution, the non-infested pets and the living environment should be treated, even if they have not yet developed symptoms of ear mites.
Ear Mite Treatments
It is important to get a positive diagnosis of ear mites before treating the condition, as ear mite symptoms can mimic those of other ear conditions. To self-diagnose and infestation, use a soft cotton swab to take a sample of your pet’s waxy discharge from his ear. Adult mites look like tiny, moving white specks about the size of a pin head. If you don’t feel comfortable looking yourself, your veterinarian can test a sample, or diagnose ear mites by looking into your pet’s ear with a special medical instrument.
If your pet does indeed have ear mites, prompt treatment is essential in order to prevent serious complications. Veterinary prescribed and over-the-counter treatments containing pesticides and parasiticides are available, but some pet owners prefer a more natural, home remedy. If your pet contracts ear mites and you would like to go the natural route for treatment try one of the following remedies:
- Mineral oil is good for your pet because it does two important things: it helps dissolve ear wax and build-up, and it smothers and kills ear mites. Drop mineral oil into your pet’s ear with an eye-dropper once per day for up to three weeks. Once applied, massage your pet’s ears to help spread the mineral oil while loosening and getting rid of ear mites and ear wax. Don’t push down into the inner ear, but massage firmly enough to spread the oil all over. Since it’s non-toxic, it’s better to use too much than too little. Once done, do not use cotton swabs to remove debris. Your pet will just shake his head to get rid of any excess, so it’s best to do this outside.
- Corn oil – yes, corn oil! – makes a decent, effective remedy for ear mites. Use the same method as listed for mineral oil and you will find the corn oil soothes your pet’s skin, smothers the ear mites and speeds the healing process.
- White vinegar is recommended by some veterinarians because the acidity helps remove dirt and debris. Mix one part vinegar with two parts water and slowly pour the remedy into the ears and massage. Follow-up by gently swiping a cotton ball inside the ear. Please note, if your pet has sores or intense irritation inside his ears, do not use this remedy as the vinegar will sting.
- Vaseline is a convenient option if you have a pet who can’t stand still long enough to use liquid. Rubbing Vaseline inside the ears should prove effective, as it suffocates the mites. Repeat the application every day for one week to ensure all mites and eggs have been killed.
No matter what mite killing method you choose, be sure to routinely wash your pet’s bedding during treatment and keep his living area cleaned and sanitized. And, if you have more than one pet, try your best to keep them separated until all signs of ear mites are gone to prevent the mites from spreading to every pet in your home. If separation just isn’t possible, use the same remedy for all pets, just to ensure the mites don’t make the rounds.