Contrary to popular belief, ear mites in dogs are uncommon. Dogs with ear discharge and red, painful ears usually have ear infections. The most common underlying cause of ear infections in dogs is allergies. Allergies can result in inflammation of the skin inside the ears, leading the way to infection. Ear infections typically contain an overgrowth of the yeast and bacteria routinely found on the surface of the skin.
Veterinarians like to examine a sample of the discharge under a microscope to determine the amount and type of yeast or bacteria present in order to most appropriately direct treatment. In addition, some types of bacterial ear infections can be more resistant to some of our medications. It is important to get a starting point in order to gauge which treatment will be best. Most medications will have an anti-inflammatory aimed at decreasing the pain and discomfort associated with an ear infection as well as an agent to decrease the yeast and bacteria. In addition to the medication, owners should use an ear cleaner to flush the discharge from the dog’s ear canal.
The good news is most dogs find great relief from ear infections within 48 hours of initiating therapy. The bad news is that because most ear infections are due to underlying allergies, many dogs have multiple ear infections during their lives.
Q: We recently adopted a kitten, and she has brown discharge in her ears. She’s been scratching them so much that she now has scabs at the base of her ears. What should I do?
Young cats with itchy ears and ear discharge most likely have ear mites. Typically, kittens get these from their mother, and the entire litter—along with any other cats with which they’ve had contact—may be infected. Ear mites in cats are incredibly itchy and often result in self-trauma to the head, neck and base of the ears from extensive scratching.
The ear discharge associated with ear mites often looks like coffee grounds. The mites leave this discharge behind after they feed on the wax and oils in the cats ear canals. This discharge can become thick and obstruct the inner ear. Treatment includes medication that kills the ear mites and cleaning to remove the discharge from the cat’s ears. In some cases, the trauma associated with the itching will require treatment as well.
It’s important for owners to treat all cats in the household to prevent reinfection. But ear mites don’t transfer to people.