When money is tight, it may be tempting to ignore your dog constantly shaking and scratching his head. You may want to avoid a large vet bill. But the sooner you get the dog to the vet, the lower the overall medical costs will be, especially if the cause turns out to be ear mites, also known as otodectic mange.
Signs on Exterior Ear
Your dog will be not just be shaking her head, but shaking her head violently. The dog may even shake herself dizzy and have to take a few seconds of standing still in order to become balanced. This violent head shaking is because of the intense itchiness caused by the ear mites.
This shaking will also be accompanied by constant scratching. It is possible for a dog with ear mites to scratch so hard that he rips his skin open. Dogs will normally scratch their ears a few times a day, but if your dog is shaking his head and even waking up from sleeping to scratch, it’s time to check the ear canals. Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook (Howell Book House; 2007) notes that the dog will usually be scratching at both ears.
Signs in the Ear Canal
You may want to use a small flashlight in order to see inside of your dog’s ears. The underside of the ear flap will often be pink and swollen. Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook describes the ears of mite-infested dogs as looking as if they are filled with coffee grounds. If the dog has been scratching hard enough, there will be noticeable blood.
The ear canal infected with ear mites often smells bad, similar to rotten fruit, but some dog owners claim that nothing else in the world smells like mite infected pet ears. If you can get a cotton ball to wipe the outer edges of the ear canal (do NOT push down where you can’t see), some of the material should be brought up.
Other Signs of Ear Mites
If you have very good eyesight or a microscope, you’ll be able to see the adult mites crawling about. The mites are white in color, so you need to place them against a dark background in order to see them. This is one reason why it is best to get a vet to diagnose the problem. Yeast or other types of ear infections may mimic the symptoms of ear mites in dogs.
Puppies that have had contact with stray or feral cats seem most prone to catching ear mites, according to The Veterinarian’s Guide to Your Dog’s Symptoms (Villard; 1999.) But since ear mites are so contagious, even dogs or puppies that spend only a little time outdoors may catch them. Other dogs and cats in the home may catch them, but people usually will not.