Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs: Infection Symptoms

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Ear Mites in Cats - (C) Zachariah Atteberry

Ear Mites in a Cat – Animal Care Basics

Ear mites are eight legged parasites that feed on the wax inside of a cat’s or dog’s ear canal in order to survive. Ear mites have a three-week life cycle and can only be well viewed with a microscope or a high power magnifying glass. Ear mites are well known for causing extreme itchiness, irritation, and causing animals to inflict self-mutilation of the skin and fur as they try to get rid of them.

A severe ear mite infection may lead to ear infections and yeast infections since ear mites have the capability of infecting both the internal and external ear canal. An ear mite infestation that is allowed to continue for a long time is also likely to result in an ear hematoma, also referred to as an aural hematoma. With the many problems that ear mites can bring to your family member, you will want to tackle this problem the second you notice the symptoms of an active infestation.

Are Ear Mites Contagious?

Cats that are infected with an ear mite infection are very contagious to other cats, especially when they are outdoor cats.  Casual contact between other animals, including dogs, can actively spread the infection. Humans are almost completely immune to becoming infected with ear mites.

It is likely that if one cat in your household has ear mites, that every cat within the same household are going to have them too. Dogs are less likely to catch ear mites, however, they should be treated as a preventative measure. This is important information to bring to your vet when discussing treatment and prevention plans.

Symptoms of Ear Mite Infections

  • Head shaking
  • Hair loss
  • Brown wax in ear
  • Unusual odor from ear
  • Ear swelling
  • Injuries near ear
  • Scratching and rubbing ears

The Worst that Ear Mites Can Do

The worst possible scenario of an ear mite infestation is that your cat ends up with an aural hematoma. An aural hematoma forms when excessive scratching and head shaking causes blood vessels inside of the cat’s ear to rupture. Surgery and drainage is required to fix an aural hematoma, which will run around $500 to do. Even with surgery, your cat is likely to develop a permanent cauliflower ear. A cauliflower ear is when the the pet’s ear is crumpled.

Treatment of Ear Mites

If you notice that your cat or dog is infected with ear mites, you will want to bring your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The veterinarian will do an ear swab of the ear discharge which will be evaluated with a microscope to determine the severity of the ear mite infection. Avoid self-diagnosing as ear mite infestations can mimic yeast infection and ear infection symptoms.

Usually the only difference between ear mites and yeast infections is that yeast infections will cause the ear to swell, become very red, and hot to the touch. Ear mites are going to be appear as dark coffee grounds. The medicine prescribed for yeast infection is also different from the medicine often used for ear mites. Culturing is also important because an infection that is primarily gram negative bacteria will be treated differently from an infection with mostly gram positive bacteria.

Zymox Otic is a medication used to help with yeast infections and ear infections. This is the only good medication for yeast infections that can be purchased without a prescription. This medication is available through Amazon. Simply follow the instructions provided and it will help in clearing up the yeast infection or ear infection. I still highly recommend getting diagnostic testing done first.

Treatment of ear mites in cats or dogs is often done using one of several ear mite medications. The veterinarian will likely prescribe Acarexx, Milbemite, Tresaderm, or an ivermectin mixture. Some treatment options include administering drops twice daily for 2 weeks, while others can treat the infection in just one or two doses.

The one time you may need to ask for ivermectin specifically, as a one-time treatment, is when you have a feral cat that will be intolerant of ear drops. Ivermection is an injection that is given to a cat to kill the ear mites and can be administered when the cat is under anesthesia to be neutered or spayed. Ivermectin is also highly recommended for shelters as a cheap and effective treatment for ear mites.

Prevention of Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs

To avoid future ear mites you will want to clean your cat’s ears regularly with an approved ear cleanser every other week or more often if needed. The good thing about ear cleaners is that they contain ingredients that help soothe irritation and inflammation. You use this product by pouring a generous amount in each ear, rubbing each ear for about 30 seconds, then allowing your pet to shake. You will want to use cotton balls to clean up the debris that comes up to the top of their ear.

Avoid bringing in foster cats until they have been through a physical examination that clears them of any existing ear mites. Only use q-tips if you have been trained to properly use them in a way that does not damage the inside of the cat’s ear canal or push ear wax deeper into the ear. Using a cotton ball is often just as effective if used correctly.

Make sure to vacuum all carpeted areas and launder all bedding following the treatment of ear mites. Ear mites may still live in the environment up to 72 hours after they have been eradicated from your pet. Using a flea medication that doubles as an ear mite preventative like Revolution or Advantage Multi might also be beneficial to you.


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