Mites are the very definition of “small but terrible”. These tiny parasites feed on the skin and exudates of animals, causing extreme itchiness and inflammation.
Ear mites are a common problem among household pets. While not usually life-threatening, mites can drastically decrease your pet’s quality of life. They can predispose the animal to other infections that will affect the cleanliness and safety of your home.
So how do you know if your cat is suffering from ear mites?
What Are Ear Mites
Ear mites are very small parasites that have a special affinity for the auditory organ. The most common ear mites of companion animals are Otodectes cynotis and Notoedres cati. Otodectic mange is usually confined to the ear, while notoedric mange (also known as feline scabies) can spread from the ear to other parts of the head, neck, limbs, and tail area.
Ear mites are pretty hard to spot. If you can get an infected cat to sit still long enough, you might notice tiny white dots moving in his ears. However, you will need a microscope to fully appreciate their oval bodies and three pairs of tapering, hairy legs. Notice their resemblance to the other members of the class Arachnida (that’s right, they’re distant cousins to spiders and scorpions).
Ear mites are pretty picky about their food. They prefer the skin exudates of cats, dogs, foxes, and ferrets. So if you live in a multi-pet household and one cat has it, you had better have everyone else checked too. But there is some good news: human infection is rarely recorded.
Ear mites are usually transferred by direct contact between an infected animal and a non-infected animal. They do not survive for too long without a host, so they are not usually found crawling around the grass or pavement. If your cat likes to go outdoors and meet/mate/fight other cats, she has a higher likelihood of catching an ear mite infection.
How To Spot An Ear Mite Infection
The perpetrators might be difficult to see, but the effect on your cat is going to be hard to miss.
Excessive Scratching And Head Shaking
If your cat is scratching her ears like there’s no tomorrow, it’s a red flag for ear mite infection. If you have hundreds of mites crawling all over your ear flap, eating skin exudate, and laying eggs, you’d be desperate to take them out too.
Unfortunately, no amount of scratching or head shaking can get rid of these parasites. In fact, it makes your furry friend’s condition worse. Cats scratch so much that they cause hair loss and wounds in their ear canal that allow bacteria and fungi to cause secondary infections. Aural hematomas are common among ear mite-infested cats due to the rupture of blood vessels within the ear. This requires draining at the veterinary clinic.
Ear Inflammation And Debris
Infected ears tend to be red from the scratching and the body’s natural inflammatory response to the mites. Because the parasites stimulate the ceruminous glands of the ear, there is a build-up of brown to black wax that often resemble coffee grounds. If you are unfortunate to catch a whiff of it, you’d know how foul it smells. In advanced cases, the wax may block the entire canal and cause problems with hearing and balance.
If the condition is left untreated, the affected skin becomes hard, thick, and dry. Combine that with hair loss and wounds from continued scratching and you’ll have a very sorry looking cat indeed.
How The Vet Confirms The Infection
It’s important to note that intense scratching and ear inflammation can be caused by things other than ear mites. Bacteria, fungi, other kinds of parasites, irritating chemicals, and physical obstruction of the ear canal can manifest the same way. And even if you’ve actually seen the
This is why it is vital to go to a veterinarian before trying to treat any kind of ear infection at home.
Your vet will most likely use an otoscope to see the inside of your cat’s ear and visualize the mites. Ear swabs will be taken and assessed in the lab to confirm the diagnosis and check if there are concurrent bacterial or fungal issues that will need treatment as well.
A physical exam will be done to check if the infection has spread to other parts of the body. In extreme cases, a neurological exam may be warranted. This is only for situations in which the infection appears to have infiltrated much deeper into the ear canal, possibly reaching the nervous system.
Most ear mite infection treatment plans for mild to moderate cases will require medications to be given at home. Your cat will possibly have to wear the cone of shame to minimize further damage by scratching.
At-home treatments usually consist of an ear cleaning solution followed by an ectoparasiticide that is designed to work in the oily environment of the ear canal. Ridding the ears of wax and debris is essential to remove hiding places for the mites to escape coming into contact with the ectoparasiticide. Other medications may be given to address complications like wounds and concurrent infections.
Your role as a cat owner is extremely important! Following the vet’s directions on how to administer and how often to administer will lead to the eradication of the infection in a couple of weeks.