Ear Mites -- They're Creepy and They're Crawly

Ear mite - Otodectes cynotisEar mite - Otodectes cynotis

One of the most common problems seen in cats is ear mites. Ear mites are tiny crab like parasites that live on the surface of the skin in the ear and feed on ear debris and tissue fluids. Almost 90 percent of cats become infested with ear mites at some point in their life. Ear mites can infest cats of any age.

Mites are most frequently seen in kittens. Adult cats tend to tolerate the mites better. This tolerance can mask the symptoms, making regular examination and attention by you more important.

Ear mites are highly contagious. They are easily passed from the mother cat to the kittens or they can also infest dogs, rabbits and rodents in the same household. This mite is not zoonotic; it cannot be transmitted from animals to humans.

Symptoms. Affected animals will scratch their ears and shake their head. The ear canal may be filled with dark discharge that resembles coffee grounds. The amount of discharge depends on the severity of the infestation. The irritation can lead to secondary ear infections, which further complicate the situation. If the problem is left untreated, severe damage to the ear canal and eardrum can occur, possibly resulting in permanent hearing loss.

Mites can spread. When infestation is severe and untreated, mites can spread to other body parts causing skin irritation. Common areas include the neck, rump, and tail. This is due to the curled position that cats assume while sleeping.

Diagnosis of the problem is easily done by a veterinarian. A good history and physical exam is needed. Microscopic visualization usually confirms the mites.

Treatment includes cleaning the ear. Once the ears are cleaned, examination of the canal is needed to determine the amount of inflammation and damage the ears have. A commercial ear product is then applied to the cat to kill the mites. This product will need to be applied every 2-4 weeks for 3 treatments. Daily ear cleaning and topical antibiotics may also be needed if a secondary infection is present. Re-examination by your veterinarian is essential with this problem.

Once the infestation is cleared, a monthly preventative is recommended. Examination and treatment of all household pets should be done at the same time to prevent transfer to other pets or reinfestation.

If you see your cat scratching his ears frequently or see dark discharge in the ears, see your veterinarian as this problem can be very uncomfortable and harmful to your cat.