What are Ear Mites?
Ear mites have been known to cause blockage of the ear canal if not treated and, in serious cases, can lead to more severe skin infections. While these parasites can have harsh effects on cats, they are generally easy to remove.
Ear mites are a common nuisance for pets, particularly cats that have recently met new animals. The common form in North America, Otodectes cynotis, are tiny parasites that eat the wax in the ear canals of cats. This is understandably distressing for cats, and will often lead to them constantly playing with their ears in an attempt to remove the parasite. Pet owners can easily identify ear mites by the signature brown discharge that they cause in the cat's ear.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats
Because ear mites are so irritating to cats, an infected cat will often try to remove them itself. If a cat is displaying any of the following symptoms, there is a good chance that it is hosting ear mites:
- Near-constant scratching of the ears
- Hair loss in and around the ears
- Brown discharge of the ears that looks similar to coffee grounds
- Strong, unpleasant odor coming from the ears
- Inflammation of the ear
- Incessant head shaking
- Dark red scratches or scabs in and around the ear
Causes of Ear Mites in Cats
Ear mites are highly contagious, making up more than half of all feline ear infections. It is easy for them to spread through the following methods:
- Contact with an infected pet
- Contact with a toy or bed of an infected pet
- Lack of proper ear cleaning after exposure to an infected pet
Diagnosis of Ear Mites in Cats
While it can be tempting to self-diagnose ear mites, this should be avoided whenever possible. Certain forms of bacterial infections can easily be mistaken for ear mites by the untrained eye, and the treatments are very different.
When diagnosing a cat with ear mites, a veterinarian will first ask for a medical history. This will help determine if the symptoms could be caused by some sort of hereditary ear disorder. At this stage, it is important to inform the veterinarian if the cat has had any exposure to infected or unfamiliar pets.
To determine what is causing the symptoms in the cat, the veterinarian will swab a sample of the discharge from the cat's ear. They will then examine it under a microscope to determine if the issue is ear mites, a bacterial infection, or something else entirely.
Treatment of Ear Mites in Cats
The good news is that there are several different ways to treat ear mites, and all of them are easy and non-invasive. Depending upon the guidance of the veterinarian, treatment can look like any of the following options:
- Topical Medication: Often, a veterinarian will prescribe medications that are applied directly in the ear and the areas around it. These medications work in a way similar to that of lice shampoo in humans and eradicate ear mites completely. These topical medications are typically prescribed for a period of 2-3 weeks.
- Infection Relief: Because ear mites come with such a high risk of infection, veterinarians will often prescribe ear drops or a treatment of antibiotics to relieve any infections that the cat may be suffering from. Treatment duration can vary, but it usually does not exceed one month.
Recovery of Ear Mites in Cats
It is essential to return to a veterinarian if any symptoms begin to reappear. It is likely that the same medications will not work if a group of ear mites has developed a resistance to previous treatments and the veterinarian will need to prescribe a new treatment plan.
There is also a possibility that, during healing, the owner will need to gently clear the cat's ears of debris. This will mean faster recovery for the cat as well as increased comfort. Most cats will allow their owner to clean out their ears with a cotton swab and gentle ear cleanser, but depending on the cat and the severity of buildup, a veterinarian's assistance may be required.
Until the end of treatment, it is important to keep an infected cat away from other animals as much as possible. Due to the highly contagious nature of ear mites, spreading the infection is likely if the infected cat is around uninfected pets.
For each of these treatment options, the cat will typically feel relief within the first day or two. That said, it is important to finish any treatments completely to ensure that the ear mites are removed entirely.
Ear Mites Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
We just finished treating our kitten for earmites mites. After treatment finished I cleaned the kittens face and ears to remove excess medicine. I noticed bald patches on the back of each ear and some flaking. Is this from the excessive scratching from the ear mites? Skin doesn't look red, it's pinkish and not inflamed.
It is possible that the hair loss is due to scratching of the ears due to the mites; other possible causes such as allergies, other parasitic mites or infections may also be culprits. Keep an eye on the ears and if the hair loss continues, visit your Veterinarian for skin scrapes etc… to determine the possible cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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