Ear issues are particularly common in dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, about 20% of dogs deal with an ear condition. Two of the primary issues dogs can face are ear mites and ear infections.
Ear mites are passed from animal to animal. Infections are usually brought on by the overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. Thankfully, both problems are much easier to treat than they were in the past
The problem is they can be mistaken for one another, and the treatment necessary to get rid of each one is different. With that being said, it’s vital to know the signs and symptoms of each one.
Ear mites are more frequently found in cats. But, that doesn’t mean dogs are completely immune to them. You should never assume your pooch is dealing with an infection when it could be mites causing the problem, or vice versa.
These two problems can look similar within your dog’s ears. But, you can take a look at some of the subtle differences. Getting your dog the right treatment as quickly as possible is necessary to ensure that they feel comfortable again.
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Dog Ear Mites vs. Yeast Infection
This guide will help you to understand the differences between ear mites and an ear infection in your dog. Because most ear infections in canines are caused by an overgrowth of yeast, we’ll often refer to them as ‘yeast infections.’
It can be tricky to tell these two issues apart at first. But, with more information and knowledge of what to look for, you can get your dog the best treatment. We’ll also share some treatments and preventative options you can perform at home to keep your dog’s ears healthy.
How Do I Tell if My Dog Has Ear Mites?
Ear mites are relatively common, but they are also a mild condition when they’re treated properly. For many dogs, treatment is easy, and the mites themselves cause only a slight irritation. Other dogs can be hypersensitive to ear mites and experience more severe symptoms.
The most obvious symptom of ear mites in a dog is scratching at the ears and shaking their head frequently as though their ears are irritating them.
Other common symptoms include:
- Thick crust-like areas in the outer ear
- Scratches and cuts on the backside of the ear
- Frequent itching all around the head and neck
- Bumps that look like coffee grounds in the ear canal
- Hair falls off of ears in spots
Ear mites can also cause your dog to scratch at their ears so much that a blood blister, or hematoma, forms. This can be painful for your dog, and if the excessive itching continues, it can even cause damage to your dog’s eardrum. So, ear mites are more than just a nuisance. They can cause more long-term problems if they aren’t taken care of as quickly as possible.
What Causes Ear Mites in Dogs?
Ear mites are highly contagious from animal to animal. If your dog has been in contact with another dog (or cat) who is dealing with ear mites, there’s a good chance the parasite will spread to your dog.
It’s rare for a human to get ear mites, so you don’t have to worry about getting them from your dog. Some people are susceptible, but mites will rarely cause more than a slight itch for humans. But, you might have to worry about other animals in the house if one of them shows signs of ear mites.
Ear mites spend their entire life cycle in the ear canal of an animal. According to VCA Hospitals, they go through five life stages while in the ear canal. The good news? They only live for about two months.
During that time, they are continually reproducing. So, unless you treat your dog for ear mites, it’s unlikely they will ever go away on their own as new eggs are constantly being hatched and growing into adult mites.
How Are Ear Mites Diagnosed?
Ear mites should be officially diagnosed by a veterinarian. It is usually done through a clinical exam and questioning. Your dog’s vet will likely ask if your pet has come in contact with any other animals recently.
Then, a swab of the ear canal can be done so the vet can take a closer look at what might be going on. Veterinarians know what to look for when they’re searching for ear mites, and they should be able to make a diagnosis easily so your dog can start a treatment plan.
If you have other animals in your house, you should take them to the vet, too. Even if they aren’t showing symptoms of ear mites, the parasites are so contagious that it’s likely they either already have them or will get them soon.
How to Treat Ear Mites in Dogs
There are different ways to get rid of ear mites making their home in your dog’s ear canal. One of the most popular solutions is to use specific medications prescribed by your dog’s veterinarian. Currently, ear mite medications don’t work on eggs or larvae.
Instead, they focus on killing the adult mites. So, several rounds of ear mite medication may be necessary as the eggs continue to hatch to kill off all the adults over time.
Some dog owners are more interested in trying out natural remedies for getting rid of ear mites. Using ingredients that are safe on your dog is essential, but which home remedies actually work?
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular home solutions for treating ear mites in dogs:
- Tea tree oil: This is used for a variety of different skin problems for humans, and it can work just as well for dogs. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that can soothe your dog’s desire to itch. It also helps to repel mites. Tea tree oil must be diluted to use it safely on your dog’s skin. Dilute a few drops of it in a carrier oil (like olive oil) and massage gently into your dog’s ears. Your dog should have the urge to shake their head. This is a good thing! The oil will help to release the mites.
- Vinegar and water: Take one tablespoon of white distilled vinegar and mix it with two tablespoons of warm water. Then, use a dropper to squeeze two or three drops into each of your dog’s ears. Massage the solution in using a cotton ball. This mixture will offer a soothing sensation for your dog, and the acidic nature will also create a harmful environment for mites. Keep in mind that this solution is best used in the early stages of ear mites. Don’t try it when your dog has already developed sores or crusted areas of skin.
- Jojoba oil: Using jojoba oil for ear mites is another natural and safe solution. It can be used on its own thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also be used as a carrier for other essential oils and massaged into your dog’s ears to soothe their symptoms.
Can Ear Mites be Prevented?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Because ear mites are so contagious from animal to animal, it can be hard to prevent them altogether.
But, if you live in a household with more than one pet, there are a few things you can do to keep all of them a little safer from catching these nasty little parasites:
- Treat the ears of all pets in your household if one has ear mites.
- Treat the skin of all pets in your household.
- Treat your home itself, including carpets. Mites can live for a short time in the environment.
- Clean your dog’s ears regularly with a commercial ear cleaner.
By following these tips, you can reduce your dog’s chances of getting ear mites again and protect your other pets from dealing with the parasites, too.
Does My Dog Have an Ear Infection?
Many dogs will, unfortunately, suffer from an ear infection at least once in their life. At first glance, an ear infection in a dog can look like ear mites. But, there are differences to keep in mind. First of all, ear infections are typically caused by an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria in the ear canal. Yeast can be a common problem in different areas of your dog’s body, including their paws.
Dogs have deep, dark, and moist ear canals. They are the perfect environment for yeast to grow and thrive. Specific dogs, like Basset Hounds and Cocker Spaniels, are at an even higher risk thanks to their long, floppy ears.
How can you tell if your dog has an ear infection and not ear mites? Many of the symptoms are the same. This includes things like your dog continually itching their ears, shaking their head, and crusty scabs along the outer ear.
Some subtle differences to look for when it comes to an ear infection include:
- A foul odor coming from the ears
- Bloody discharge
The most noticeable symptom is the smell from your dog’s ears. Yeast infections have a distinct smell, and it’s easy to get a big whiff! Any discharge that is coming from your dog’s ear will likely also have a bad smell to it. Ear mites don’t often emit a foul odor.
Can Allergies Cause an Ear Infection in Dogs?
Dogs with allergies are often more susceptible to ear infections than others. You can usually tell if allergies are the culprit if your dog seems to get chronic ear infections. The symptoms will be the same as any other ear infection. But, if it isn’t properly treated it could continue to get worse and flare up whenever your dog comes in contact with a specific allergen.
The most common allergies associated with ear infections in dogs are skin allergies and food allergies. If your dog seems to get these infections continuously, you should get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible for an official diagnosis. Obviously, the best thing to do is to keep them away from the allergen, to begin with. But, finding out what that is wrong need to be determined by your dog’s vet.
Can a Dog Die from an Ear Infection?
It’s unlikely that an ear infection in your dog will be fatal. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t cause serious problems and lasting damage. When left untreated, ear infections can continue to spread to other parts of the ear and cause a lot of internal problems for your dog. Unfortunately, some of that damage could be permanent.
Ear infections usually start out only affecting the outer ear. This is known as the otitis externa. If the infection goes untreated, it could continue to travel to the middle ear (otitis media) and inner ear (otitis interna).
If an ear infection is allowed to spread to the inner ear, serious complications could arise. Your dog may experience deafness, or their face may even become paralyzed. They could even become severely uncoordinated, making it difficult to do things as simple as walking correctly.
Extreme cases can affect your dog’s eardrums and even damage blood vessels. So, while death from an ear infection is rare, there are many concerns you should keep in mind if your dog is showing signs of having one. By treating the infection before it’s allowed to spread to the inner ear, you can provide your dog with some comfort and keep them from the serious risks associated with it.
How Are Ear Infections in Dogs Treated?
Once your dog has been diagnosed with an ear infection, their vet will clean your dog’s ears and suggest an antibiotic treatment. These are usually topical treatments that you can apply regularly at home to your dog’s ears.
If your dog’s infection seems to be causing irritation or pain, the vet may also prescribe something to keep them more comfortable at home. Following the directions when giving your dog the ear medication is essential.
There are a few home remedies that can also help to ease your dog’s pain and clear up an ear infection. Some people prefer using these methods on their furry friends because they use all-natural ingredients that can usually already be found around the house.
A couple of the most popular home remedies for ear infections in dogs are:
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil for a dog ear infection is a popular treatment method. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help to combat yeast and other forms of bacteria that could be triggering the infection. To use it, melt a few tablespoons of the oil and let it cool slightly. Use a dropper to apply a few drops into each of your dog’s ears, and massage them gently. You can also soak a cotton ball in the oil to clean out your dog’s ears.
- Apple cider vinegar: Not only can apple cider vinegar help to clean your dog’s ears, but it can kill yeast and bacteria, too! Make a solution of equal parts ACV and water. Then, soak a cotton ball in the solution and rub it gently in the flap of your dog’s outer ear. You can do this regularly as a cleaning/maintenance solution, too. Be sure not to use apple cider vinegar if your dog has red ears or and bleeding around the ears.
At-home solutions and natural remedies for ear infections should only be used on your dog if the infection hasn’t already traveled to the middle or inner ear.
How Long Does It Take for a Dog Ear Infection to Clear Up?
How long it takes for your dog’s ear infection to clear up depends on how severe the case was. If it was allowed to spread to other areas of the ear, it could take a long time to heal. Some of the effects caused by the infection could last for a long time or even be permanent.
In most cases, though, an ear infection can be treated in under 30 days. Your dog’s vet might request that you bring your dog in about a week after their initial check and treatment to see how everything is going. This is usually called a ‘re-check.’ If your dog has chronic ear infections, you may need to go to the vet periodically for re-checks to make sure any infections are clearing up and not spreading or growing.
Can Ear Infections be Prevented?
Preventing infections before they have a chance to cause your dog discomfort is always the best option. While ear infections aren’t 100% preventable, like mites, there are some things you can do to lower your dog’s risk.
If your dog suffers from infections due to allergies, the best thing to do is to remove the allergen from their daily life. This could include things like changing their food. If your dog has a diet that’s high in starch, it could also be a contributing factor in how frequently they get a buildup of yeast in their ears.
One of the easiest ways you can help to prevent ear infections in your dog is to clean out their ears regularly. This is something you can do at home, and it can end up saving you a trip to the vet! Regular cleanings are a great way to keep ear infections at bay. In the next section, we’ll go through a simple step-by-step guide to cleaning your dog’s ears at home.
How to Clean Your Dog’s Ears at Home
It’s easy to clean your dog’s ears at home and only takes a few minutes if it’s done on a regular basis. Knowing the safest and most effective cleaning method can keep your dog’s ears healthy.
Follow these steps to make sure your pooch’s ears stay clean:
- Start by getting rid of any excess dirt, matted fur, or a buildup of wax in or around the ears. If your dog has long hairs around the edge of their ear flap, these can also be trimmed. Too much debris around the ear flap makes it easy for the wax to build up inside the canal and cause problems.
- Choose the right ear-cleaning solution for your dog. Many ear cleaning products are sold over-the-counter. Or, you can get a recommendation from your vet about the best one to use. You can even choose a natural cleaning solution, like apple cider vinegar.
- Once you have your solution, apply a few drops into the ear canal.
- Gently massage the base of your dog’s ears after the solution is applied. You might hear a ‘squishing’ noise as you do this. That’s completely normal!
- After about 20 seconds of massaging, move back a bit and allow your dog to shake their head. This will help to loosen up any excess wax buildup in the ear canal.
- Use a cotton ball to gently clean up any wax that comes to the outer ear. Never stick a cotton ball or swab into your dog’s ear canal.
You can repeat this process as often as needed. Most dogs need their ears cleaned about once a month. If your dog is more susceptible to ear infections, they may need more frequent cleanings.
Because problems like ear mites and ear infections are so common in dogs, don’t feel bad if your pooch starts showing symptoms! While there are ways to lower their risk of getting one of these conditions, they aren’t entirely preventable. Thankfully, they are both treatable!
We hope this article has given you some insight on how to tell the difference between ear mites and an ear infection in your dog. Now that you know what symptoms to look for, you can get your fur baby the treatment they need quickly, so they can feel better as soon as possible.