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Itchy Ears Might Be Mites

Pet Column for the week of December 27, 1999

Related information:

Services - Dermatology

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

"If your dog or cat is scratching its ears or shaking its head a lot, a trip to the veterinarian
may offer relief for you and your pet," says Dr. Jennifer L. Matousek, a veterinarian
specializing in dermatology at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching
Hospital in Urbana. There are many causes of itchy ears. Diseases that commonly cause
itchy ears include ear mites, yeast infections, and bacterial infections.

"Although dogs can get ear mites at any age, younger pets are more susceptible," explains
Dr. Matousek. If your young pet has been around a lot of other animals�for example, at
the humane society�ear mites (Otodectes) is a possible diagnosis for your pet�s itchy ears.

Dogs with ear mites may have an ear discharge with increased wax and a coffee ground
appearance. Your veterinarian will need to take an ear swab and look at the discharge
under a microscope to identify an ear mite infection. Most mite infections are treated with a
round of eardrops for 5 to 6 weeks. If the discharge is really thick, your veterinarian may
wash out your pet�s ears so the eardrop treatment can have better contact with the infected

The ear mites can be outside of the ear as well. Flea control products help control the mite
population outside of the ears. "In the near future, instead of ear drops, you �mite� be using
a treatment that you put on your dog�s skin--similar to tick and flea control products on the
market," predicts Dr. Matousek.

"The contagious nature of ear mites to the rest of your pets--dogs and cats--is a good
reason to have a veterinarian do a physical on your new pet before you introduce it to the
rest of the family," says Dr. Matousek. If your pet has ear mites, it is wise to keep a close
eye on your other pets to make sure they don�t get ear mites too.

"If the discharge is yellow to brown, a yeast (Malassezia pachydermatitis) or bacterial
infection is more likely," says Dr. Matousek. "You have to look at the discharges
microscopically, though, because the discharges aren�t always typical." Yeast live in the ear
normally, but sometimes yeast can get out of control if the environment is more moist than
usual. Don�t worry. The yeast and bacterial infections your pets get in their ears won�t
cause infections in humans. Treatments for yeast and bacterial infections may include a
round of antibiotic eardrops along with an anti-inflammatory drug.

Allergies, trauma, and tumors are other causes of itchy ears. Allergies can be caused by
fleas, pollen, molds, or plants. Dogs with allergies may lick or itch other spots on the body,
such as the feet and face. Aggressive cleaning can cause trauma to the ear. Never clean
with a cotton applicator deeper than you can see. Tumors in the ear are uncommon.

Prevent ear problems by being an observant owner and keeping ears clean and dry. Check
the inside of your pet�s ears periodically for abnormal discharges and remove any visible
dirt, but never clean deeper than you can see. If your pet requires more frequent cleaning or
is going through the scratching, head-shaking routine, this could be a sign of an infection.
Contact your veterinarian.