Ask the Vet

Long Ears Don't Necessarily Equal Ear Mites

In recurrent infections it's important to find the underlying cause of the problem, and establish a prevention program. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Victoria G. Myers)


Our basset hound keeps getting ear mites. I have tried several treatments, but none really seemed to get rid of the problem. It seems worse in the summer. What can we do to get rid of them?


First, you need to be sure your dog actually has ear mites. Ear mites are uncommon in adult dogs, but ear infections are common in drop-ear dogs. And, bassets are without a doubt one of the most drop-eared breeds we have today.

Have your dog examined by your veterinarian. Our initial approach is to use an "otoscope" to carefully examine the ear. If mites are present, we can see them. If the ear is infected, we will often do an ear swab and examine it under the microscope to see what types of bacteria or yeast are present. We will also question you about any signs of common underlying diseases such as allergies that can lead to ear infections; and, we'll examine your dog for signs of diseases. This will guide our initial treatment decisions.

With a severe infection, we may need to sedate your dog and aggressively clean the ears as a first step in treatment. In most cases, we will have you treat your dog for two to three weeks and then recheck the ears. Even if you think they are well, we need to look deeply into the ears and be sure. If the ears are not well, we will often culture them and use those results in a follow-up treatment plan.

With recurrent ear infections, finding and correcting any underlying causes is essential to gaining control of the problem. Allergy is a common factor. Atopy, an allergy to environmental dusts, pollens and molds, often is the culprit behind recurrent infections. In people, atopy is most commonly seen as "hay fever," but some people will have atopic dermatitis. In dogs, atopy is most commonly a cause of skin disease with feet, face and ears often affected.

Food allergies are another possibility. While these are much less common than pet food companies would have you believe, it's more common in dogs with recurrent ear infections. A food trial using a novel protein the dog has never eaten or a hydrolyzed protein diet may be indicated.

Do not allow anyone to do a "blood test" for a food allergy. A strict eight-to-12-week food trial is the only way to know. It's a pain to do and expensive, but it may be needed.

Once the infection is under control, dogs need good maintenance and a preventive program aimed at keeping the ear healthy -- even if allergy or some other factor is not involved. Bassets are a breed that needs frequent, at least weekly, thorough ear cleanings. Anytime the ears begin to have a strong odor, this can be an indicator you have problems. Also scratching and shaking of the head are signs the dog is uncomfortable.

Please contact your veterinarian for questions pertaining to the health of your herd. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice, but is purely for informational purposes.

Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask The Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email