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  1. dogs health and wellness

Dog Ear Mites vs. Ear Wax: How To Tell the Difference

Posted by Dr. Roth on August 01, 2022

Wellness Care
What to do if?
Dog Ear Mites vs Ear Wax The Differences and Treatments Header Photo

As many pet parents know, a dog's ear infection usually means a trip to the veterinarian. Infections can be triggered by several factors, including a buildup of wax in the ear canal and an ear mite infestation. 

Dog parents who learn to tell the difference between both of these can quickly prevent future problems and avoidable pain before they happen.

Dog Ear Mites vs. Ear Wax: How To Spot the Differences 

When dogs have an ear infection, the outer part of their ear canal becomes inflamed, so it's red and itchy. Owners can distinguish between infections caused by ear mites and excessive ear wax through telltale signs like their dog's behavior and abnormal qualities in their ear wax. 

It's important to treat outer ear infections early so that they don't worsen into inner ear infections, which can cause facial paralysis and even hearing loss

Dog Ear Mite Infestation 

Ear mites are insects akin to ticks that sometimes live in a dog's ear canal. While dog parents might not immediately detect the presence of ear mites, over time these tiny parasites can cause noticeable problems such as bleeding and infection, as a dog scratches at bites from ear mites with their claws. 

Common Signs of Ear Mites 

Ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are usually too small to detect with the naked eye. But when they're in a dog's ear, they'll get caught in the wax along with blood and inflammatory biochemicals. All of this changes the wax's appearance. 

If a dog has ear mites, their pet parent will probably notice them doing these things:

  • Rubbing their head against a carpet

  • Shaking their head

  • Scratching their ear

It's best to treat ear mites before their presence in the ears leads to deeper health issues. Signs and symptoms of prolonged ear mite infestation include: 

If a dog's ear wax looks like coffee grounds, their parents should immediately check for other dog ear mites symptoms. Veterinarians diagnose ear mites using several tests, including skin scrapings and ear smears which are viewed under a microscope to reveal the presence of ear mites.

If dog parents suspect that ear mites are causing itching or inflammation, they should consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible. Dogs can develop balance problems and permanent hearing loss if ear mites aren't treated.

Ear Mite Treatment Plan 

Dog ear mites treatment consists of cleaning and medication. In the cleaning stage, a dog's ears will be flushed with an ear cleaning solution to remove dead mites and other debris. Pet parents can get this type of solution over the counter or with a prescription.

The medication stage can involve either a parasiticide that's applied to a dog's body or ears, ear drops that their veterinarian prescribes to kill the mites, or — when a dog won't allow their ears to be touched — an injectable or oral medication such as ivermectin.

If there are several dogs in a household, a veterinarian might recommend that all of them get tested for ear mites, even if scratching and other signs aren't yet present in all of them. This course of treatment is essential for all the dogs in a household to completely eliminate the parasites following a diagnosis of ear mites.

Dog Ear Wax Course of Treatment

Dog ear wax is normal and helps to protect their ears by trapping foreign particles such as dust. Produced by ceruminous glands in the air canal, ear wax (cerumen) also helps clean a dog's ear and keeps the skin of a dog's ear canal moist enough to prevent irritation.

What Dog Ear Wax Should Look Like

A dog's ear wax color is an indicator of health. Healthy ear wax will be light brown. It should also be wet and sticky to the touch, not excessively hard or crumbly.

Dog parents can become familiar with the color and consistency of a dog's ear wax when they clean their ears regularly. As a dog matures through the years, the wax will develop a deeper color.

Ear Wax Buildup Symptoms and Concerns 

Pet parents might observe symptoms of unhealthy ear wax when their dog's ear canal becomes blocked by a large amount of wax. They include: 

  • Black or dark brown wax 

  • Rubbing at the ear 

  • Yeasty wax 

  • Decreased hearing on one side 

  • Holding the inflamed ear slightly drooped

When ear wax builds up, it can lead to inflammation and a secondary ear infection with yeast or bacteria. Since yeast needs moisture to thrive, treatment will include cleaning and drying the air canal.

Pet parents should always follow the right cleaning procedure. Always: 

  1. Approach a dog for their regular ear cleaning when they're already relaxed.

  2. Add a few drops of ear cleaning solution to the ear canal and gently massage the ear for 30 seconds.

  3. Allow the dog to flash their head and remove any excess solution.

  4. Wipe away debris from their ears and face by using a sterile gauze pad and a soft towel.

  5. Repeat steps two through four, two or three times to remove excess wax.

Although dogs with long or furry ears are more likely to develop external ear infections, pet parents shouldn't over-clean their ears. Improper ear cleaning can lead to excessive wax removal which causes the outer ear to become dry, flaky, and prone to infections.

When a dog's ears are cleaned on a regular basis, they are less likely to experience:

  • A buildup of wax in their ear canal 

  • Pain 

  • Difficulty hearing 

Keeping a dog's ear canal open to sound waves is essential at every stage of their life. Clumsiness resulting from a decreased ability to properly detect objects around them can cause injuries, so get them accustomed to cleaning their ears every two weeks or as often as recommended by their veterinarian.

Keep Your Dog's Ears Healthy With a Routine Ear Cleaning Process 

When dogs are experiencing discomfort due to earwax buildup or an ear mite infestation, they can get relief through a proper diagnosis and veterinary care. Dogs with chronic ear infections should be treated with Zymox Otic Enzymatic Solution once a day for 14 days.

Fuzzy parents can connect with a veterinary team in minutes to get answers to their ear care questions and help their dogs to start feeling better. Sign up for a free Fuzzy trial today.

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