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Ear mites (otodectes cynotis) and Cats

What are ear mites?

Ear mites are tiny parasites, barely detectable by the naked eye, that feed on the wax and oils in an animal’s ear canal. An adult mite can live up to 2 months but can be ready to breed just three weeks after hatching.  It only takes a few mites to cause an intense allergic reaction, making an affected animal’s ears very itchy and uncomfortable. Dogs, rabbits and ferrets can also suffer with ear mites.

What are the symptoms of an ear mite infestation?

Some or all of the following symptoms may indicate your cat has ear mites and needs to be looked at by your vet: –

  • Scratching the ear or the area around the head and neck
  • Shaking head
  • Small brown waxy deposits (resembling coffee granules) obstructing the ear canal
  • Strong odour in the ear
  • Inflammation of the ear
  • Hair loss

What are the causes of ear mites?

Ear Mites are distinguished by the small brown deposits left by these tiny white parasites, just inside the cat’s ear and can block the ear canal. Infestation is caused by contact with an affected animal or it’s bedding and is very easily transmitted. It doesn’t take many ear mites to cause an intense allergic reaction which the cat will try to relive by scratching and rubbing their ears.

What are the risk factors of an ear mite infestation?

If left untreated, the constant scratching can cause sores and a chance of infections. The cat’s repetitive scratching and intense head shaking can cause blood vessels inside the cat’s ear to rupture causing an aural hematoma (pocket of blood). If ear mites go untreated they can cause permeant damage and in severe cases, the cat’s hearing can be affected.

How are ear mites diagnosed?

If your cat is showing some or all of the above symptoms, take her to your vet for an accurate diagnosis as certain bacterial infections can mimic the symptoms of ear mites. Your vet will either take an ear swab which will be looked at under a microscope or use an otoscope to look inside the ear for the presence of mites.

What treatment is there for ear mites?

The affected areas will be thoroughly cleaned and an anti-parasitic medication applied to the skin followed by a course of treatments, usually ear drops administered at home.  If your cat has developed a secondary infection, he will also be given a course of antibiotics.

How to prevent ear mites

Avoid you cat coming into contact with affected animals. If one of your household pets has ear mites, it should be isolated from other pets and all animals should be treated as a precaution, as directed by your vet.

Many spot flea treatments also prevent and treat ear mites.  This can be a very good alternative as such treatments can be a lot less stressful for your cat than ear drops.   Seek advice from you vet for the most suitable treatment for your pet.

Periodically check your cat’s ears for any signs of ear mites may help you catch an infection early.