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Ear mites are tiny, crablike parasites that live in the dark recesses of your pet's ear canals. These little critters are barely visible to the human eye, but they can cause a big itch with all their scurrying around. These bugs don't always stay in the ear canal, either. They can live on the skin around the head and neck or down by the tail, spreading the itchy problem.

Risk Factors and Detection

Ear mites aren't picky about where they live. They tend to infest young dogs and pets who roam outside. Ear mites spread quickly from one pet to another, so pets in crowded environments such as shelters, shows, and boarding or grooming facilities are at risk.

Ear mites cause such an intense itch that infected dogs scratch their ears and shake their heads incessantly, sometimes scratching until they bleed. Other signs include a thick, crusty, black or red-brown discharge in the ear canal. Some pets develop itchy skin lesions around their necks or tails.

Detecting ear mites is easy. Your veterinarian may find the mites by looking in your pet's ear with an otoscope or by swabbing the ear and checking for live mites under a microscope. If your pet develops skin lesions, the veterinarian will perform skin scrapings to check for other mites.

Prevention and Treatment

You can't always prevent ear mites from taking up residence in your pet's ears, but you can reduce the risk by keeping your pet away from unknown animals, especially free-roaming dogs and cats. But even if your pet does develop ear mites, take heart: These parasites are as easy to treat as they are to catch.

Your veterinarian will thoroughly clean your pet's ear canal to remove the crusty discharge, or he can recommend products to use at home.

Next, your veterinarian may recommend one of three treatment options:

  1. Selamectin (brand name: Revolution) applied once in the ears. It is the only drug of its type approved for this use in dogs and cats.
  2. Insecticidal drops applied to the ears once or twice a day for at least three weeks, and flea spray on the body to kill ear mites that relocate onto the body.
  3. Ivermectin injections every two weeks until the condition resolves. Keep in mind that ivermectin can cause rare but serious side effects, especially in such herding breeds as collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Australian shepherds, Old English sheepdogs, and their crossbreeds. Ivermectin also can be applied in the ears or given orally.

If one family pet develops mites, treat all your pets to prevent reinfestation. Also consider flea treatments for your home in cases of severe or multiple-pet infestation.

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