Ticks on dog ears, or in the ear canals, is a nail-biting situation. Tick removal is a tricky business. If done incorrectly, it can increase the chances of disease or infection. But this is tougher to do when there are ticks in the ear canals, where they can do extra damage and be harder to remove, especially if your dog makes a fuss.
Ear hygiene is a vital part of doggy maintenance. Regularly cleaning our dog’s ears with specialized dog ear-cleaning wipes is important to prevent infections. But cleaning the ears is also essential to help spot parasites such as ticks or ear mites early.
So what do you do if you find ticks in a dog’s ear? What are the symptoms to look out for, what are the risks, and how do you prevent them?
Why Do You Find Ticks on Dog Ears?
Ticks love moist, warm, dark, and smelly environments, which is why they love getting lodged in a dog’s ear. This is yet another reason to keep up with your dog’s ear hygiene since ear wax and discharge can lead them to the ears, where they can climb deep in the ear canal.
In infested areas, ticks know when a dog is nearby because they can detect its breath, scent, body heat, shadow, and even the moisture from panting from a distance. This triggers “questing behavior,” where they try to put themselves in the path of a passing dog by grabbing hold with their front legs. Gross, right?
Biologists Dr. Emily Crooks and Sarah Randolph found that the castor bean tick will move toward the odor of a dog’s ear in humid conditions. In dry air, ticks are more dehydrated and will make less effort to get their daily spots.
Discharge from a dog’s ear has a strong smell that will attract many ticks, especially larvae and nymphs that are harder to spot.
Kinds of ticks on dog ears
Once on the dog, these arachnids (yes, they’re spiders!) travel to an area that suits them best, and not all ticks prefer the ears. Where ticks lodge themselves depends somewhat on the species and the life stage of the tick.
For instance, lone star tick larvae tend to congregate in the ears, but nymphs prefer the front legs and chest. They carry a few diseases, including a milder form of Lyme disease and other conditions.
Meanwhile, brown dog ticks like to get stuck on the head, neck, and back as adults, but the nymphs prefer the ears, and the larvae are most attached to the rump. These ticks carry a couple of bacterial diseases that cause flu-like symptoms.
The black-legged or deer tick also likes to stick to the head area. If you see a black tick on your dog’s ear with a long, visible mouth, it could be a deer tick. They are most common in Illinois or near river areas and transmit more severe Lyme and other diseases.
The spinose ear tick specifically targets a dog’s ear canal. It does transmit diseases like the other, but as it infests the ear, it causes terrible inflammation. This leads to parasitic otitis or ear infections.
Ticks in Dog Ears: Symptoms
The best way to know if your dog has any ticks in their ears is clean and examine them regularly. However, you may not be able to see tiny tick larvae or nymphs that are deeper in the ear canal. In these cases, infestations can look a lot like an ear infections.
Signs your dogs may have ticks inside their ears include:
- Head shaking,
- Rubbing ears against furniture,
- Head tilt, or lop-sided head carriage,
- Lethargic or visibly uncomfortable,
- Issues with balance or coordination
- excessive scratching or pawing at ears,
- Black gunk or other discharge from the ear,
- Redness or discharge if the ticks cause inflammation
- Scabs on the ear flap or near the canal.
- Blood blisters.
If you notice your dogs taking an interest in each other’s ears, such as by nibbling, chewing, or biting them, see our article on dogs biting other dogs’ ears.
Home Remedies For Ticks in Dog Ears: What You Need To Know
To prevent infection, the best way to treat ticks on your dog’s ears is to remove them as quickly as possible. It’s essential not to rely on misleading information when treating ticks. Common home remedies for tick bites, such as giving dogs garlic, are not only ineffective but dangerous.
Like onions, garlic is part of the allium family, and alliums are poisonous to dogs. Dogs can show signs of allium toxicosis, such as vomiting, within a day of eating garlic, but sometimes it can take up to four days. So many pet parents don’t realize that garlic makes their dogs sick.
This is one example of why it’s best to steer clear of natural or homemade remedies for ticks in your dog’s ears or elsewhere. But it’s not the only common bad advice. Citrus oils repel ticks, but they also contain limonene that irritates the skin and can cause liver issues if dogs ingest it when they lick themselves.
Many other essential oils, including Eucalyptus oil, are toxic to dogs, and putting them on their coat is not safe. Remember, natural does not equal safe. Another common recommendation, apple cider vinegar, does nothing to stop ticks or fleas. This is just another common myth.
We will discuss the best way to prevent ticks below. However, if you find a tick in or on your dog’s ear, you must remove it.
Removing Ticks From Dog Ears
To remove ticks safely, you need to take precautions. Since they carry diseases and bacteria, it’s not safe to simply pluck them off with your hands. If you accidentally crush them, or if a head stays behind in the dog’s skin, it increases the chance of infection.
But the process depends on whether it is on the inside of the ear, the ear flap or behind the ear.
How to remove a tick from a dog’s ear flap or behind the ear
If you’re lucky, the tick will be on the outer ear flap, where it is easier to reach. In this case, you can use the following basic steps to remove it.
Pro-tip: do not use alcohol, petroleum jelly, burning matches, lit cigarettes, nail polish, or anything else to “draw the tick out.” This can make the tick burrow deeper, causing a bigger problem.
- Sit down with your dog and gently run your hands over their ears. You want them relaxed and calm for the procedure. You may need someone to gently hold your dog’s head still or give them a yummy rawhide treat to distract them while you work.
- Use a cotton swab to sterilize the area around the tick with rubbing alcohol or a disinfectant.
- The option is a tick hook or twister that allows you to extract ticks without squeezing them. Tweezers can crush or tear the tick, so avoid them.
- Use slide the tick hook under the tick, twist, and lift the tick off. The tick twister works similarly by gently twisting the tick off, as you can see in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_puA6VRLaaM
- Disinfect the area again with an antiseptic.
- Give your dog a treat and a vet-recommended tick and flea treatment.
If you see any strange bleeding from your dog’s ears, see our article on how to stop a dog’s ear bleeding.
How to remove a tick from inside the dog’s ear
Getting a tick safely out of a dog’s ear canal can be a bit trickier than from the ear flap. The best way to do this is to take your dog to the vet. If your dog has multiple ticks deep in the ear or a spinose ear tick infestation, you will need to go to the vet, as it is simply too dangerous to try an extraction yourself.
However, putting your dog under anesthetic to remove a tick from the ear canal may cost well over $300, depending on where you live. So naturally, you may want to avoid this if you can.
If there are only one or two ticks, not an infestation, and they are not deep in the ear canal, you can remove them with the proper equipment. But make sure you speak to your vet for advice first. If you do decide to do the removal yourself, you will need the following:
- A sedative from your vet at the right dosage for their body weight if your dog is resistant to having you mess around with their ears. You don’t want to risk your dog pulling their head away at the wrong moment.
- If your dog is calmer and does not need sedation, have someone hold their head calmly while you work and hold the flashlight.
- Rubbing alcohol
- A Q-tip cotton swab
- Pointy tweezers, not normal ones. Ticks, especially larvae and nymphs, can be tiny and normal tweezers may crush or rip them apart. An even
- An antiseptic.
- A flashlight or a penlight
Remember, do not attempt this if the tick is deep in the ear or if there is an infection, as you may cause more damage. But if it’s easily within reach, follow the following steps.
- Ask your helper to shine the flashlight into the ear canal so that you can see the tick.
- Use the Q-tip to wipe rubbing alcohol on the skin around the area. Again, do not stick a Q-tip deep in the ear, as it can cause injury.
- Use a pointed tweezer instead of the tick hook for ticks in the ear. The reason is that a pointed tweezer grabs hold of the tick, so it does fall into the ear when it’s dislodged. Still, do not use normal tweezers as they tend to crush the tick and leave the head behind.
- Use the tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull it out slowly but firmly. Do not twist or yank it out; you could leave the head behind.
- Remove the tick, and sanitize anything it comes into contact with, including the tweezers. The easiest way to be rid of it is to burn it in a safe area on a bit of paper.
- Use a new, clean Q-tip to wipe the antiseptic over the area.
As mentioned above, treat natural home remedies for ticks with suspicion. Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe. Speak to your vet about the best tick and flea treatment for your dog’s lifestyle.
There are topical and oral options. Some owners prefer the long-term benefits of collars such as Seresto Dog Collars, as they can last up to 8 months. But you need to check the fit regularly as they do not work well if they are too loose. They also start to become less effective around five months.
The oral tablet, Bravecto is another favorite, as it lasts around three months. Growing puppies who gain significant weight every month should take a treatment that only lasts a month, such as Nexguard. Otherwise, they may outgrow the dosage they are given.
Without effective tick and flea treatments, dogs with access to nature will likely pick up ticks very quickly. Even city dogs in apartments risk ticks from animals like squirrels or rats in park areas. Once a tick gets on your dog, it travels to dark, moist areas like the ear canal.
By keeping up with proper ear hygiene, you should spot ticks early. If you do, you must remove them as quickly and cleanly as possible. Keep an eye on your dog after a couple of weeks in case they pick up a disease, and be sure to use a reliable tick and flea treatment to prevent it from happening again.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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