Can you hear me now?

This months newsletter is about the all too common parasite, ear mites.  The scientific name for the common ear mite is Otodectes Cynotis.  The parasite lives in the ear canal of dogs and cats.  The parasite breeds and the female exits the ear and lays eggs in the pets ears, hair and bedding.  The eggs will hatch in about 4 days and the young will make their way back into the ear canal to start feeding on ear wax and skin oils.  The total time from hatching to being able to lay more eggs (the life cycle) is about 3 weeks.  We think the life span of an ear mite is about 2 months.  The parasite is contagious between pets when they spend time laying together or other intimate contact.itch2

Pets will develop itching of the ears and neck and their ears will develop a classic dark wax debris.  This debris is a result of the mites secretions mixed with the pets ear wax.  The pet will secrete more wax due to the inflammation from the mite and thus their ears are usually full of this brown to black debris.  However, ear mite infections may be the most over diagnosed condition we see in our clinic.  Owners will see their pet becoming sensitive with their ears and having excessive ear wax formation and then just assume their pet has ear mites and begin treating the pet with over the counter ear mite treatments.  It is much more common for pets ear problems to be caused from some form of ear infection from bacteria and/or yeast and not from ear mites.  The diagnosis of ear mites should be only made when live mites in the ears can be found either on an ear exam directly or indirectly by finding the mites on an ear cytology swab.

Once a pet has been diagnosed with ear mites, how are they treated?  There are many different treatments on the market.  A major component of ear mite treatment is cleaning.  The excessive wax needs to be removed before medication is initiated.  Based on what treatment is being used, that can dictate the cleaning schedule from that point forward as you do not want to wash medication out from the ear canal once it has been applied.  The key to treatment is using a medication that will kill the mites in the ear canal and then continue to treat for a full 3 weeks to break the life cycle completely.  We are currently using a medication called Milbemite that is a one time treatment.  One tube of medication is applied to each ear and the medication will remain in the canal killing mites for 21 days.  There are multiple other treatments on the market and over the counter.  These medications can be effective but need multiple applications over the 3 week period and the label instructions need to be read and followed to achieve effectiveness and maintain safety.   It is recommended to have a recheck in 3-4 weeks after starting treatment to assure that all mite activity is gone from the ear canal.itch

So the recap is that ear mites are a real problem and are contagious from pet to pet.  Specific treatment for the appropriate time period is needed on all affected pets to achieve a cure.  The key is to make a correct diagnosis before treatment is started.  If your pet is having sensitive ears or excessive wax type ear debris, then make an appointment to bring them in for an ear exam so the correct diagnosis can be made and effective treatment prescribed.

Matt Thompson, DVM



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