While they are a common external parasite, ear mites are highly contagious. They can severely irritate both ears and skin in cats and dogs causing excessive itching. Our Fort Collins vets explain.
Ear mites (otodectes cynotis mites) are commonly found in cats and are part of the arachnid class of animals. This extremely contagious external parasite makes its home on the surface of the ear canal, and sometimes on the skin's surface.
They are tiny, but you may be able to notice them as quickly moving white spots if you've got good eyesight. They have eight legs, with a noticeably smaller pair of hind legs (ear mites in cats pictures can be found by using your favorite online search engine, and the thumbnail image for this post shows a buildup of black wax inside the ear of a cat with ear mites).
They can cause severe irritation in our feline friends. While ear mites are fairly easy to treat, if left untreated they can lead to severe skin and ear infections. When we see cats with suspected ear infections, ear mites are often the underlying cause. Ear mite infections in humans are rare, and are not generally considered a risk to people.
Causes of Ear Mites in Cats
You might start to read about ear mites and wonder how these parasites make their way into your cat's ears to make them so miserable. Some cat owners will end up asking their vet, 'What causes ear mites in cats?' Due to being highly contagious, ear mites can spread easily from one infected animal to another. While they are most common in cats, ear mites can also be found in dogs and other wild animals. If your cat spends time in boarding environments or outdoors and gets too close to another animal or touches a contaminated surface such as a grooming tool or bedding, ear mites can easily be transmitted.
Shelter cats also commonly contract ear mites, so be sure to check your newly adopted cat for ear mites and schedule a routine exam with your vet as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Ear Mites
The most common signs of ear mites in cats include:
- Hair or loss or irritation due to excessive scratching around the ears
- Dark crusty or waxy discharge from the ear that looks like coffee grounds
- Head shaking
- Scratching at ears
How to Treat Ear Mites in Cats
Many a pet owner who has dealt with ear mites in their furry friend has likely frantically typed 'How to get rid of ear mites in cats' into their favorite search engine, looking for solutions. Fortunately, when it comes to ear mites in cats, treatment is relatively straightforward. If your vet diagnoses your cat with ear mites, an anti-parasitic medication will be prescribed. These medications are available in oral or topical form. The veterinarian may also clean your cat's ears with a cleaning solution designed for this purpose and prescribe a course of antibiotics depending on the severity of the infection.
Your vet will also assess if there are any secondary infections present from the infestation and treat them as required. Your vet will probably suggest you return to the office in a week or two to ensure the mites are gone and that further treatment is not necessary.
Due to the contagious nature of ear mites, your vet will probably also prescribe medication for any other household pets to ensure the infestation doesn't continue.
Using home remedies for ear mites in cats is not advisable. While there are some methods that can kill mites, many at-home treatments do not kill the eggs of the mites. So while it may appear that the mites are gone, the infestation will start again when the eggs hatch.
How to Prevent Ear Mites in Cats
Arranging a monthly checkup and ear cleaning with your vet will help to keep ear mites from gaining a foothold. Set yourself a bi-weekly reminder to clean your cat's kennel, bedding and your house to reduce the risk of an infection occurring at home. Your vet at South Mesa Veterinary Hospital can recommend parasite prevention products for your cat.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always follow your doctor's advice regarding asthma or other allergy symptoms.