Vet Reviewed

By Carmela Ciuraru | August 18, 2023

The ear mite, or Otodectes cynotis, is a parasite that typically lives in an animal’s ear canal. They’re as unpleasant as you might imagine, but, unlike some parasites, they live on the surface of the skin, and they’re highly treatable. 

Ear mites affect dogs as well as cats, rabbits, and ferrets, and they’re extremely contagious. Infestation occurs when one animal comes in direct contact with an afflicted animal. After fleas, ear mites are the most common external parasite and especially common in puppies. This issue isn’t life-threatening, but it is a condition that requires treatment as soon as possible to eradicate the mites and prevent discomfort and spreading to other pets. Adult dogs with compromised immune systems have a higher risk of developing ear mite infestations than those with healthy immune systems.

Can you get ear mites from your dog? If you have infested pets at home, it’s possible that you might experience a temporary itchy rash from close contact, but this rarely happens. (Luckily for us, humans are not the preferred hosts.) Here’s what to know about ear mites and what to do if you suspect your dog is an unwilling host.

What are the signs of ear mites in dogs?

Because ear mites are so difficult to see (they’re just tiny white specks), you’ll need your vet to identify an infestation. But there are other signs to look out for that might indicate an issue:

  • Scratching at the ears or head shaking
  • Dark waxy or crusty discharge from the ear
  • Rash in or around the ear, or open sores from scratching
  • Areas of fur loss caused by excessive scratching or grooming
  • Secondary ear infections
  • Aural hematoma (a large blood blister on the ear), caused by the rupture of small blood vessels due to excessive ear scratching 

How are ear mites diagnosed and treated in dogs?

If you notice signs that your dog has ear issues (and possibly ear mites)—such as constant ear scratching or head shaking—taking them to the vet for an exam is the best first step. Your vet will probably examine your dog’s ears with an otoscope, a device that shines a beam of light to enable a closer look at the ear canal; or by examining any discharge from the ears. Your dog might have to be sedated for the affected area(s) to be treated if the ears are overly sore or tender. 

When considering treatments, avoid trying home remedies. Your vet will guide you on the safest and most effective course of treatment. It is important to remember these are parasites that prefer the ear canals but will move to the rest of the body if only the ears are treated. Your vet will select the appropriate ear, topical medications, or injectable treatment based on the case. It is helpful to have a professional ear cleaning while at the vet. Depending on the severity of infection you may need to schedule a followup appointment to check that the parasites have been eliminated completely.

As far as prevention goes, one tip is fairly obvious: keep your dog away from any other animals that might be infested, such as when your pup is playing at the dog park. Additionally, it’s a good idea to wash your dog’s bedding, blankets, and toys in soap and hot water regularly, and to toss them into the dryer on a high-heat setting afterward. If your dog does get ear mites, treatment is simple and straightforward—but be sure to address the issue right away.