Ear mites ARE my favorite ear problem. Why? FIrst, they are so cool to show people under the microscope. Unlike most other microscopic things (that just look like some variation of a blob), these guys are obviously bug-like and they move. I’ve got a little eyepiece camera that plugs into the USB port on the lab computer station and clients can watch the computer monitor in real time instead of having to squint through the microscope. They can SEE IT!
The second reason that I like ear mites is that they are so curable. Unlike many ear problems that are rooted in whole-body problems (like a food allergy), ear mites are pretty much in the "what you see is what you get" category. When you see ear mites, they are probably the root cause of that ear problem. Plus, they don’t come out of the ground or out of the sky. You always get them by direct contact with the head of some other animal, so it’s unlikely to be some lifelong chronic situation. By contrast, when you see a yeast infection in the ears, you know that they are virtually always secondary to something else. Yeast are always hanging around in small numbers, but something else has let them get out of hand. Now you’ve got to find that "something else".
That being said, how is it that some pets with ear mites do not get cured? One of the most common reasons is that the ear gets full of dead skin, ear wax, ear mite poop and debris from secondary infections. The mites dig tunnels beneath the surface of the skin that lines the ear canal and this causes a lot of debris to form (not to mention a lot of itching, like having chiggers inside your ears; that’s why the pet shakes her head and scratches her ears). People put medication in the ears to kill the mites, and it never gets to the mites. It just sits on top of the debris.
When the mites make their tunnels, they lay eggs in the tunnels, which hatch out about ten days after they are laid. If you don’t treat for a long enough period of time, new mites hatch out and start it all over again. I like to treat daily for ten days, and repeat a single treatment on day 20 and day 30 for late hatchers.
If you have multiple pets, they are liable to pass the mites back and forth. You have to treat ALL the pets who are in direct contact with one another.
Many medications for ear mite treatment consist of nothing more than an insecticide in an oily base. This is fine if there are no complicating factors. Unfortunately, if the ear is full of goop, as noted above, they don’t do much. The ear must be cleaned with wax softeners and gentle flushing so that the medicine can actually contact the diseased skin. You can’t clean them with a Q-tip: it just packs stuff down instead of lifting it out. If there are secondary ear infections, those need to be treated as well. If the ear is sore from all this, insecticide certainly does nothing to relieve that. I like Tresaderm for ear mite treatment, as it usually kills the secondary yeast and has a little cortisone to make the ear feel better.
Milbemite otic is approved for cats and will usually eliminate an ear mite infestation with a single treatment. Cleaning the ears is optional with this product. It doesn’t seem to work well in dogs, and if you have a secondary ear infection you still need to treat that.
Revolution is a heartworm preventive that is applied topically. It absorbs into the skin and circulates in the bloodstream overnight. It is excreted not in the body wastes, but in the skin oils, including ear wax. It kills fleas, flea eggs, scabies mites and ear mites. I find it is a great preventive for those outside cats who keep getting re-infested from their low-class buddies. It’s a good follow-up for those late-hatchers, too. I don’t find that it’s very effective as a solo treatment for a really bad case of ear mites.
Ear mites are the only ear problem to have such a sweet simplicity.