Ear Mites

Ear mites and their eggs hanging out around an air bubble.

Ear mites and their eggs hanging out around an air bubble.

In the veterinary field, we encounter a lot of things that someone not acclimated to the world of animal medicine might think were a bit gross. Vomit, flea infestation, and abscessed wounds: all of these things are commonplace in our typical workday, and we’ve steeled ourselves to the extent that none of them are particularly offensive to us. Still, though, no matter how many times I encounter them, I can’t help but get a little grossed out when I lay eyes on a microscope slide full of hungry, wriggling, industrious ear mites. (Even just typing out that sentence gave me a little chill.)

Apart from the undeniable fact that they are totally disgusting, there are a few things that a careful pet owner should know about ear mites. First: they’re not really all that disgusting; I was exaggerating. They’re just bugs like any other, trying to survive the best way evolution has taught them to…admittedly, in an ear mite’s case, that survival is ensured by the consumption of animals’ waxy ear secretions…but you can’t fault the little guys for the hand they were dealt. The average ear mite lives for about four weeks, but in that time it will likely mate with another mite to produce a large number of offspring. In other words, they’re very good at surviving.

An ear mite is not even half a millimeter in length, and is therefore nearly invisible to the naked eye. However, an ear mite infestation may be visible as a large amount of thick, dark ear debris that looks something like used coffee grounds. This substance, put quite simply, is ear mite poop, as well as a collection of other materials such as dried blood (from the mites who bit off more than they could chew, so to speak), earwax, and the mites themselves.

The presence of such a substance does not guarantee a diagnosis of ear mites, though: since other, more serious issues may cause ear buildup that is similar in appearance, it’s important to have any ear issues examined and diagnosed by a doctor. A quick examination of ear debris under a microscope will determine whether or not there’s an active mite infestation; if there is, treatment is usually successful after a single dose of medicine. Also, mite infestations in cats are much more common than in dogs, and feline cases of ear mites are readily prevented by the monthly application of the topical pest control drug Revolution (which also protects against fleas, heartworms, and some intestinal parasites).

A mite infestation can lead to external skin infections or internal ear infections, and more serious ear issues might cause equilibrium problems and other neurological symptoms. So, if your cat or dog is having ear issues of any kind, do not hesitate to call Linwood Animal Clinic to have him or her examined.

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