If you see your rabbit or ferret shaking his head and scratching his ears excessively, or if there is an abnormal odor emanating from his ears, he may be suffering from ear mites.
Ear mites are tiny crab-like parasites that live in the ear canals and heads of pets, and sometimes their bodies. Imagine thousands of these tiny insects crawling around in your pet's ears. The mites live on the surface of the skin in the ear canal, where they feed on tissue debris and tissue fluids, but they can also spread to the skin. When this happens your pet's back, neck and tail areas will itch. The presence of mites can cause severe inflammation in your affected rabbit's or ferret's ears.
Although they can occur at any age, ear mites are more common in younger pets because they haven't built up an immunity. The mites have a three week cycle and can survive off the host for several weeks. Unlike fleas, they do not pierce the skin or suck blood.
Ear mites not only generate irritation and scratching, but also increase the secretion of earwax, which combines with mite debris to form a thick, black crusty substance that looks something like coffee grounds. Your pet will then scratch his ears and shake his head.
What to Watch For
- Irritation and scratching
- Increased earwax
- Thick, black crusty ear discharge
- Scratching ears
- Shaking his head
Symptoms of ear mites often mimic other ear diseases. For example, a yeast infection might also produce a black exudate in your pet's ears. Since using anti-mite preparations may aggravate an ear infection, an accurate diagnosis is imperative. But that's fairly easy for your veterinarian. Ear mites are visible by using a lighted otoscope that magnifies the mites; the light from the otoscope draws the mites out of the ear wax and causes them to move around on the wax. If mites do not show up on examination, your veterinarian will examine the exudates under a microscope.
Ear mites are highly contagious. All other pets - mites can be also be transferred to other pets - should be examined and treated simultaneously.
Your veterinarian will begin treatment by cleaning out your pet's ears before applying medication. The exudates must be removed or the medication will merely sit on the waxy substance where it is of no benefit. Your veterinarian will then prescribe medication. If necessary, he or she will instruct you how to clean your pet's ears and apply the medication at home, probably once or twice a day.
If your pet's skin is also affected, you will have to apply a topical medication to the skin. After following the prescribed course of treatment, you will need to return to your veterinarian for follow-up examinations.
To Prevent Further Infection
You can prevent ear mites by checking his ears for foreign matter and promptly visiting the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble. Have your pet's ears checked at the first sign of scratching, head shaking, pain, swelling, odor or black, crusty discharge.