Ear mites in cats are nasty little creatures and a common occurrence in the United States.
An ear mite infestation can be unpleasant for your cat, and, at the very least, inconvenient for you.
It can also be a little scary, being that the ear is first, a way into the body, and second, so close to the brain and the eyes.
How do you identify ear mites?
Ear mites are tiny crab like parasites that usually live in and around a cat's ears.
They often live on the cat's head, however, and can live on other parts of the body or in the environment.
If left untreated, your cat may develop bacterial and yeast infections. In extreme cases, they can cause a rupture of the ear drum, and may lead to seizures and deafness.
Feline ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are the most common cause of outer-ear inflammation in cats. Kittens and young cats are especially susceptible. Frequent ear scratching and head shaking are the most often seen symptoms.
The entire life cycle of the parasite occurs in the cat, and takes about three weeks to complete. As such, to fully eradicate them, the treatment for ear mites should be continued for a full month.
Ear mites in cats cause severe irritation of the ear canal. This then leads to the classic sign of ear mites in cats: the production of dry, black, waxy exudates. This basically is an oozing build up of wax that dries out and can look something like coffee grounds.
If you want to see what ear mites look like in a cat's ear, here's a photo at Wikimedia Commons.
As can happen with parasites, secondary bacterial infection is not uncommon. Remember that parasites tend to prey on those with weak immune systems, so it's important to keep your cat as healthy as possible.
In addition to the black crusty exudate in the ear canal, symptoms include constant scratching at the ears, head shaking, and loss of hair around the ears.
In addition, the wax build up itself can cause your cat even more irritation and discomfort. In severe cases there can be ulceration at the back of the ear as a result of excessive scratching.
When a mite infested cat constantly scratches its ear, it can tear open tiny blood vessels in the ear flap, which can lead to permanent disfigurement.
Some cats don't seem to be at all bothered by a severe mite infestation, while others can be very agitated by a small number of mites. Younger cats are typically more bothered than older cats.
In addition, an initial infestation of ear mites is typically more bothersome than subsequent occurrences. This may be explained by a seeming build up of immunity over time.
Ear mites in both cats and dogs are very contagious. They can be passed easily from cat to cat, as well as from cat to dog and back. Some mites are species specific, but ear mites can even be passed to humans as transient carriers to other animals, including other cats.
There are other causes of ear diseases in cats, and since treatment follows diagnosis, a professional diagnosis should be made. If you suspect that your cat has ear mites, then your vet should do a proper diagnosis before any treatment is administered.
Your vet may use the warmth of a light to draw the mites out of the wax in order to see the white mites crawling on the dark wax. Magnifying instruments may be used as well in order to get confirmation of the infestation.
Treating ear mites in cats starts with cleaning out the cat's ears. The dry crusty wax may be softened with mineral oil prior to the cleaning.
Flushing out the ears removes a large number of mites and dislodges the crusty wax. This should be done only by a veterinarian, as damage to the ear could result if it is done improperly.
After the ears are cleaned, an actual ear mite treatment can be used. It is important to also use a flea control medication on the rest of the body at the same time. This is to take care of any mites that have migrated to some place other than the ear. Doing this will lessen the chances of a recurring infestation.
While they can be effective, over-the-counter remedies will typically take longer to work than the ear mite treatment preparations from your veterinarian. Take note of the recommendation to treat your cat with flea medication above. Chronic infestations of ear mites in cats can be due to the mites migrating to another part of the body, so you'll want to make sure they don't come back.
While over the counter remedies may not work as well, you can now purchase many prescription pet medications online at a lower cost than buying it from your vet. In addition, you can also buy cat health insurance plans online that may cover a substantial portion of the cost of your cat's health care, including prescription medication in some cases.
When ear mites are discovered in one cat, any other cats and dogs in the home should be examined and treated accordingly. Containment is vital if you want to avoid spending your time treating one animal after another for mites.
Many cat parasites can be transmitted to humans. This is known as a zoonotic disease.
While it is said that ear mites are not zoonotic and that humans can't get them, the Marvista Vet site mentions that humans "have been reported to develop skin rashes rarely..."
Dr. Mike Richards says that "there have been reports of ear mite infestation in people."
Either way, people can be transient carriers. So, since ear mites in cats can also be spread to humans and back to your cats or other pets, it is necessary to take some precautions.
Until the mites have been eradicated completely, which can take up to one month, physical contact should be limited. Do not cuddle affected cats and kittens close to your face, or let them sleep on or near your pillow. This is sometimes easier said than done!
An occurrence of ear mites in your cat is unpleasant for your cat, and inconvenient for you. Treatment may take quite some time, but the good news is that this is a very treatable condition.
In more stubborn cases, "off-label" drugs may be used. This means that a drug that is not normally designed or approved for treating ear mites in cats will be administered. Your veterinarian can tell you if this is a recommended course of treatment based on your individual circumstances.
Columbia Animal Hospital - read more about mites from this veterinary source.