April 14th, 2007
I used to think pets that walked in circles and attacked their ears were cute, until I did a little bit of research about getting rid of ear mites (Otodectes cynotis). Ear mites are a bit scary, actually, if they're allowed to do enough damage to your pet. As it turns out, cats and dogs can get an infection from ear mites if they aren't treated, doing damage to their middle ear which throws off their balance and either causes them to not walk or to walk in circles constantly. Worse still, ear mites have been implicated as the cause of allergic reactions similar to those of dust mites. In fact, many people who test positive for dust mite allergies also test positive for ear mite allergies (see: mites). Considering how many people own pets, the potential for your chronic allergies to be caused by an ear mite infestation.
Luckily for you, ear mites are relatively easy to treat yourself. The only reason you should be taking your pet to the vet because of ear mites is to confirm a diagnosis, or to cure them of a particularly bad ear mite infestation. Otherwise, you should be able to get rid of ear mites with plain old mineral oil. Below is a step-by-step guide for curing your pet of ear mites.
Do-It-Yourself Ear Mite Treatment
Checking your pet for ear mites is the first step to successful diagnosis and treatment. Things to look for when checking your pet for ear mites would be grey or black spots in the ear, otherwise known as exudates (blood, puss, etc.). Signs of ear mite infestation include persistent and excessive scratching of the ears, repeated shaking of the head (as if they're trying to shake the mites loose), as well as fever and a generally lethargic attitude. The most prominent "telltale" symptoms of an ear mite infestation are the shaking of the head and the buildup of exudates in the ear.
Applying mineral oil to the pet's ear with an eye-dropper or a special ear irrigation pump is the best way to get rid of ear mites. Mineral oil is good for your pet because it does two important things. First of all, it helps to dissolve ear wax and the exudates that may be plugging your pet's ear. Second of all, it smothers and kills ear mites.
Once the mineral oil is applied, massage your pet's ears to help spread the mineral oil while loosening and getting rid of ear mites and ear wax. This is done by gently grasping the ear with your thumb inside and your fingers on the "furry" outside, giving you the leverage you'll need to apply a slight amount of pressure to the inside of the ear. Don't dig into the ear with your thumb nail or push down into the inner ear. Simply rub the thumb as far down as it naturally seems to go, making sure to spread the oil all over.
After massaging the oil into your pet's ear, simply allow the pet to "shake" the oil out of its ears naturally. There shouldn't be any need for Q-tips or cotton swabs in order for the animal to clear the oil out. What you might want to consider is doing this project outdoors because if you don't, you may end up with a bit of mineral oil, exudates, and ear wax all over your carpet or your furniture.
If you can still see ear wax or the deposits from ear mites in your pet's ears, you may want to try wiping it away with a cotton ball. Some people have suggested using Q-tips to briskly wipe away any remaining exudates, but I don't trust anyone putting anything in my ear besides me—and I imagine your pet will feel the same way. It's best not to chance doing any more damage to your pet's ears than the ear mites may already have done.
Veterinary Ear Mite Treatment
You should only be bringing your pet to your vet if you can't seem to get rid of the ear mites after 6-7 days, or if your pet is suffering from recurrent ear mite infections. You may also want to bring your pet to the vet for eat mite treatment and a check up if they seem to be suffering from the more severe symptoms of an ear mite infestation like a fever, lethargy, walking in circles or loss of balance. If your pet is a dog, your vet is likely to treat them with an oral or intravenous dose of ivermectin. If your pet is a cat, they are most likely to be treated with selamectin. Whatever you do, do not treat a cat with any medication that contains Permethrins. Permethrins are a common mite, flea, and lice treatment that are extremely toxic for cats.