Ear Mites in Cats

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Ear mites (otodectes cynotis mites) in cats are common. They are parasites that cause a condition known as otodectic mange. While not life-threatening, ear mites are contagious to other animals and can cause severe irritation to your feline companion.

Ear mites can affect both cats and dogs, but are especially common in cats. Recognizing the symptoms of ear mites in cats will help you treat the condition before it leads to complications like infections or damaged eardrums.

Signs & Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats

Symptoms of ear mites in cats are relatively easy to recognize if you know what to look for:

  • Head-shaking
  • Scratching at ears
  • Drooping ear flap
  • Dark brown material in the ear
  • Inflammation
  • Pus

Ear mites infest your cat’s external ear canal. Symptoms can range in severity depending on the level of the infestation. They can affect one or both ears, and their presence often causes inflammation and intense itchiness. Cats affected by ear mites will scratch at their ears and shake their heads to attempt to relieve their discomfort, and you may notice that their ears droop.

In severe cases, ear mites can lead to inflammation of the outer ear as well as the external ear canal. The cat’s ears may appear red and inflamed, and you may notice pus or a dark material resembling coffee grounds in your cat’s ear canal. Ear mites can also lead to torn eardrums.

How Did My Cat Get Ear Mites?

Ear mites are contagious, typically spreading from one infected animal to another. As mites can also infest dogs and wild animals, there are plenty of opportunities for your cat to come into contact with mites daily, particularly if your cat goes outside or has spent time in an animal shelter.

Cats can also catch mites from contaminated surfaces, like bedding and grooming tools, and environments like boarding facilities.

Diagnosing Ear Mites in Cats

Your veterinarian will examine your cat for clinical signs as well as assessing their overall condition. Then your veterinarian may recommend taking a skin scraping or ear swab to look for signs of ear mites, like the mites themselves and their eggs. If ear mites are not found, but their presence is still suspected, your veterinarian may recommend treating for ear mites anyway. In these cases, a diagnosis is made once symptoms begin to resolve.

Ear mites are a common, routine problem for cats. Depending on your cat’s condition, however, your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostics to search for other underlying diseases, like secondary bacterial or yeast ear infections.

Treating Your Cat for Ear Mites

Ear mites in cats are a treatable condition. Both systemic and topical treatments are available, including systemic selamectin, moxidectin, ivermectin, and milbemycin. Your veterinarian may also clean your cat’s ears with an appropriate cleaning solution.

In some cases, additional treatment measures may be necessary to treat secondary infections. Scratching can open your cat’s ears to fungal and bacterial ear infections, which will require medication to resolve.

Is There a Cure for Ear Mites?

There is a cure for ear mites. Medication can resolve your cat’s symptoms and eliminate mites, as long as you follow the instructions and treat for the prescribed amount of time.

Are Ear Mites Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?

Ear mites are contagious to other pets. While humans cannot contract otodectes cynotis, dogs, cats, and other pets can catch the mites. Most veterinarians recommend treating other pets in the household for mites even if they are not symptomatic. This will prevent the spread of the parasites and will also reduce the risk of reinfection. Ask your veterinarian about any additional steps you can take to decontaminate your home.

What Is the Cost of Treating Ear Mites?

Luckily, ear mites are relatively affordable to treat. While the cost may vary by practice and is dependent on the severity of the infection and the number of cats in the household, you can expect to pay for the initial office visit, medications, and additional follow-up visits.

Recovery and Management of Ear Mites

Managing your cat’s recovery is just as important as the initial treatment. It is tempting to stop administering medication when the symptoms start to resolve, especially in cats that may be difficult to restrain. However, failure to treat for the entire period may result in a relapse of symptoms, as mites in different stages of the life cycle may survive. Additionally, treating all other at-risk pets in the household will help reduce the risk of recurrence and prevent the spread of the mites.

Preventing Ear Mites

Ear mites are not always preventable. Cats can contract ear mites from other cats and dogs as well as infested environments. However, recognizing the symptoms of ear mites in cats can help you identify potentially infected animals, allowing you to take the appropriate steps to keep your cat safe.

Is There a Vaccine for Ear Mites?

There is no vaccine for ear mites.

Summary

Ear mites in cats are common, but can cause severe irritation and are highly contagious. Thankfully, they are easily treatable. If you notice any symptoms of ear irritation such as head shaking, scratching or inflammation, you should get your cat examined and treated promptly, to avoid secondary infections or torn eardrums.

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