Ear Mites in Cats


Feline Ear Mites Infections

If you see your cat shaking his head and scratching his ears excessively, or if there is an abnormal odor emanating from his ears, he may be suffering from ear mites. Ear mites are the most common mite to infest cats – almost 90 percent of all cats become infested – and they are very contagious, usually spreading to most cats in the household.

Ear mites are tiny crab-like parasites that live in the ear canal and head of cats, and sometimes their bodies. Imagine thousands of these tiny insects crawling around in your cat’s ears. The mites live on the surface of the skin in the ear canal, where they feed on tissue debris and tissue fluids, but they can also spread to the skin. When this happens, your cat’s back, neck and tail areas will itch. The presence of mites can cause severe inflammation in your affected cat’s ears.

Although they can occur at any age, ear mites are more common in kittens and younger cats because they haven’t built up an immunity. The mites have a three week cycle and can survive off the host for several weeks. Unlike fleas, they do not pierce the skin or suck blood.

What to Watch For

  • Irritation and scratching
  • Increased earwax
  • Thick, black crusty ear discharge
  • Scratching ears
  • Shaking his head
  • Skin lesions around or on the ears from scratching
  • Diagnosis of Ear Mites in Cats

    Symptoms of ear mites often mimic other ear diseases. For example, a yeast infection might also produce a black exudate in your cat’s ears. Since using anti-mite preparations may aggravate an ear infection, an accurate diagnosis is imperative. But that’s fairly easy for your veterinarian. Ear mites are visible by using a lighted otoscope that magnifies the mites; the light from the otoscope draws the mites out of the ear wax and causes them to move around on the wax. If mites do not show up on examination, your veterinarian will take an ear swab of the discharge and examine the exudate under a microscope.

    Ear mites are highly contagious. All other pets – mites can be also be transferred to your dog – should be examined and treated simultaneously.

    Treatment of Ear Mites in Cats

    Your veterinarian may begin treatment by cleaning out your cat’s ears before applying medication. Some of the newer medications do not require thorough cleaning before applying medication. Your veterinarian may either apply medication or prescribe medication for use at home. For information on how to administer ear medication, go to How to Administer Ear Medication to Your Cat.

    If your cat’s skin is also affected, you will have to apply a topical medication to the skin. After following the prescribed course of treatment, you will need to return to your veterinarian for follow-up examinations.

    Home Care and Prevention

    You can prevent ear mites by drying your cat’s ears after bathing, checking his ears for foreign matter and promptly visiting the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble.

    In-depth Information on Ear Mites in Cats

    Ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, are common parasites that live in the ear canal of cats. These microscopic white insectscan occur at any age but are more common in younger cats. The most common signs of ear mites are itching at the ear area and discharge of black exudate. Mites can also spread to the skin and when this happens cats will “itch” all over their backs, necks and tail areas.

    Ear mites spend their entire life on the host. The female lays her eggs in the ear and in the surrounding fur. The eggs hatch after a four-day incubation period, and the larva feeds on ear wax and skin oils for about one week. It then molts into a “protonymph,” which in turn molts into a “deutonymph.” This deutonymph does not develop a gender until it mates with an adult male. If the result is a female, she will be laden with eggs.

    In-depth Veteinary Care of Ear Mites in Cats

    Diagnosis In-depth

    Your veterinarian will be able to diagnosis the presence of ear mites if your cat is young, his ears are full of wax or a black, crusty exudate and the insides of the ears have an unpleasant odor.

    Ear mites are contagious! You should have all your pets checked for ear mites and, if necessary, treated.

  • A complete medical history and physical examination, with special attention to the ears and skin, is important in determining the cause of the discharge, scratching or head shaking. Ear mites are most often diagnosed by your veterinarian looking into the ear with a lighted otoscope that magnifies the mites so they can be seen.
  • Cytology Exam. This involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and examining it under a microscope. A swab is mixed with mineral oil and placed on a microscope slide. The ear mites can often be observed.
  • A skin scraping may also be performed if your cat shows general skin lesions.

    Some pets may require additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the ear abnormalities. Pets with recurrent ear infections, those who respond poorly to treatment, pets with generalized skin abnormalities, or those with other health problems,

    may need additional diagnostic tests. These tests are not typical with simple ear mite infections. These additional tests may include:

  • Culture and sensitivity. This test is helpful in diagnosing bacterial infections. The procedure involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and sending it to a laboratory to identify the specific bacteria present. The bacteria are exposed to multiple antibiotic samples to determine what will kill them most effectively.
  • Radiographs (X-rays) or CT scans. These may be done to determine the health of the ear canal and bone, and may be used to evaluate the extent of involvement.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) and biochemical profile. Blood tests may be completed to check for contributing factors to the infection as well as to determine the presence of a concurrent disease.
  • Skin tests.
  • Allergy tests. Your veterinarian may want to determine if your pet has allergies that may irritate the ears, as well as the skin.
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