Horse ears are designed to keep most critters out, but occasionally, especially in warm climates, ear mites -- Psoroptes equi -- may find their way deep inside your horse's ears. If you or your veterinarian detect ear mites, you can apply topically one of two options:
- a commercial preparation designed for application in your horse's ears
- or ivermectin paste, a common horse dewormer, per your veterinarian's instructions.
Look for Tell-Tale Signs of Ear Mites
Your horse may shake his head frequently, or try to rub his ears on his stall, fence posts or any available object. A drooping ear is also a sign of infestation. And while many horses don't like excessive touching or handling of their ears, he may be extraordinarily sensitive with a mite infestation, so note any peculiar objections he has to having your hands near his ears. The mites will likely be too far down for you to see, but even so, look for any visible bumps or bites.
Certain horses may have ear mites without any symptoms. A regular inspection may reveal irritated skin or visible bites.
Contact Your Veterinarian for a Diagnosis
Ear mites typically travel down the ear too far to easily see. Your veterinarian can collect some wax from your horse's ear canal after giving him a mild sedative, then gather the material with his finger or special equipment. The ear mites are small but visible to the naked eye.
Apply the Recommended Treatment
If your horse's ears are otherwise healthy, your veterinarian may recommend an over-the-counter ear mite treatment or give you a prescription for one. Ivermectin paste dewormer can also be effective against ear mites and may be something you already have in your equine supply room. Follow your veterinarian's instructions carefully.
If the infestation is bad enough to cause scabbing, your veterinarian may need to clip away the hair to remove scabs or matted hair, and do a more thorough cleaning. Protect your horse's ears with a fly mask that covers the ears while this protective hair grows back.
Control and Maintenance
Clean all grooming equipment and tack regularly; if you have more than one horse, it's best if you keep a set of grooming equipment for each individual horse. Use insecticides to keep ear mites at bay. Fly masks or ear bonnets that cover the ears will protect your horse from mites and other pests, such as ticks and gnats, that can create problems in your horse's ears. This is particularly important for horses who must have clipped ears for showing. Make checking your horse's ears regularly a normal part of your grooming process to catch potential problems early.
Never pour any liquid cleaner or other fluid in your horse's ear without specific instructions from your veterinarian.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.