Ear Mites - Common But Potentially Dangerous

What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites are tiny spider-like parasitic mites that infect the ears of cats and dogs. They invade the ear canals primarily. However, they can live on other parts of the cat's body. They are the most common cause of ear infections vets attend to in cats, with the otodectes cynotis variety being the most common species. They thrive in warm moist areas where the air flow is restricted - hence the ear is an excellent breeding ground for ear mites. Ear mites feed on epidermal debris and ear wax. They burrow into the ear, causing inflammation and irritation to which the body responds by producing more wax.

As humans, we can only imagine the horrible feeling our cats experience when they have an ear mite infestation. Our minds can't wrap around having thousands of tiny bugs running around inside our head, in one of the most sensitive areas of our bodies. Yet, our cats deal with this common problem frequently. Ear mites are extremely contagious and can be passed from a cat to her kittens as well as from and to other pets in the household. They can be picked up from neighborhood animals also. Ear mites are not passed to humans, thankfully.

Symptoms of Ear Mites in Your Cat

The first thing you will probably notice if your cat has ear mites, is that he will be scratching his ears or shaking his dead due to the extreme itchiness caused by the mites. The amount of scratching depends on the severity of the mite infestation. You may notice that your cat's ears seem to be laid back or flattened. They may be painful to touch and he may cry in pain if you touch them or when he scratches them. There may be a foul odor coming from his ears as well. This may be due to an accompanying yeast infection. The cat's ears may bleed from the scratching. Sometimes they shake their heads so hard that small blood vessels break and hematomas form. This can be particularly serious for the cat and should be treated immediately.

Advanced Infestation

When the infection is more advanced, the ear canals bleed and either fresh or dried blood will appear inside the ear canal. Dried blood in the ear canal looks like coffee grounds and the debris in the ear is a mixture of dried blood, ear wax, and ear mites. The ear mites will appear as little white dots in the midst of the dark debris - you may even see some of them moving. It is important to have the vet suggest treatment for ear mites because left untreated, they severely damage the ear canals and eardrum, often causing permanent hearing loss. The vet may take some of the debris to examine as part of the diagnostic process.

Ear Mite Treatments

Ear mite treatments can be obtained from your pet supply store or the vet may prescribe an oily insecticide to clean the ear canals. All of the ear debris has to be cleaned out daily and the medication should be massaged deeply into the cat's ear, taking care to ensure it is in all of the folds and bends of the ear canal. Follow the instructions carefully for treatment application because it is very important that the ear mites' life cycle is beaten.

There are various products on the market to treat ear mites and they all contain an insecticide, most frequently pyrethrin. If the ear products do not have an insecticide in them, they won't kill the ear mites. Milbemycin and Acarexx are approved treatments for ear mites in cats. Frontline and Revolution are more expensive, but they work well. Revolution prevents heartworm disease, kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching as well as treats and prevents ear mite infestation. When treating your cat, be sure to treat the entire body, including the tail. As mentioned earlier, ear mites live all over the cat's body and the cat can reinfest itself if the body isn't treated as well as the ears. Most flea and tick products that contain an insecticide will work fine for this procedure.