HORSHAM Veterinary Hospital principal Debbie Delahunty has warned pet owners about ear mites.
Horsham People for Animal Welfare and Support has reported an increased number of dumped pets with the mites.
Dr Delahunty said the mites were tiny, eight-legged parasites that crawled around inside the ear canals of infected dogs and cats.
"Imagine hundreds of creepy crawlies running around inside your ear and that is what it feels like for our infected pets,'' she said.
"These mites feed on the cells, wax and oils in the ear canal.''
Dr Delahunty said the ear mites were barely visible to the naked eye.
She said vets used a magnifying otoscope to look in the ear canal or take a swab of the ear and examine it under the microscope to diagnose them.
Infected ears were usually full of a dark brown crumbly discharge.
Dr Delahunty said the discharge consisted of ear wax, blood and mite faeces.
"The presence of mites causes intense itchiness so cats and dogs will shake their heads, flick their ears and scratch at their ears,'' she said.
"The scratching can be so intense that it causes more trauma to the delicate ear.
"Mites will sometimes spread outside the ear and cause itchiness in other parts of the body.''
Dr Delahunty said ear mites were highly contagious between animals - especially young pets such as puppies or kittens.
"The scratching can be so intense that it causes more trauma to the delicate ear.''
She said it was rare for the mites to infect a human. Dr Delahunty urged people who suspected their pet could be infected to have it diagnosed by a vet.
She said other ear infections could mimic ear mites and required different treatment.
Treatment options included flea control products and special ear ointments.
"It is important to get veterinary advice before using any treatments to make sure you are using the correct products,'' Dr Delahunty said.
"When ears are full of discharge, we recommend a thorough flushing of the ear canal to remove all the impacted debris.
"This is a procedure done by a vet and might require sedation.''
Dr Delahunty said it was important to treat all animals that had been in contact with the infected animal.
"It might not be immediately apparent but it is highly likely that they will have been infected also,'' she said.
"If these in-contact animals are not treated, they might develop symptoms and then spread ear mites back to the original patient.''
Dr Delahunty said if a pet had an ear irritation, it should be treated as early as possible.