Ear Mites in Cats

Ear Mites in Cats

Imagine the annoyance and irritation of a colony of microscopic bugs moving around in your ears 24/7. Otodectes cynotis, also known as ear mites, are most commonly found in cats, but can occasionally be seen in dogs, rabbits, and ferrets. Ear mites are not life threatening but can definitely affect the patient’s comfort and quality of life.

Transmission

Ear mites spread very easily from animal to animal via direct contact. Mites can survive for a limited time in the environment, meaning they can be picked up from shared items such as bedding, although less likely.

Ear Mite Eggs

Symptoms

Patients may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Dark, waxy, “coffee ground” looking debris in the ear
  • Strong odor from ears
  • Scratching at the ear
  • Tilting head
  • Head shaking
  • Ears flattened to head
  • Hair loss and/or skin sores around eyes and ears
Adult Ear Mites

Diagnosis

Observing the black debris in the ear canal of a cat gives us a clue to the presence of ear mites. It is difficult to see the tiny mites with the naked eye without some form of magnification. The mites may be seen moving in the ear canal with an otoscope. A swab of the debris is taken and placed on a slide and analyzed under microscope to confirm the presence of live or dead mites, or their eggs.

Treatment

Treatment of this parasite is relatively easy. The ears should be cleaned to remove the debris so the mites can more readily contact the medication. Historically, cats were given injections two weeks apart to treat. With the development of new products, the patients can be treated topically with a flea & tick preventive that also kills mites, such as Revolution Plus®. There are also topical prescription medications that you can put directly in the ear, such as Milbemite®.

If left untreated, the patient may develop a skin infection around the ear from persistent scratching, an outer ear infection, and an inner ear infection (which may lead to damage to the ear drum causing hearing loss or loss of balance).

It takes approximately 3 weeks for mites to develop from egg to adult. The treatments only affect the adults, not the larvae or pupae. Therefor a recheck and follow-up care after the initial visit and treatment may be required.

Prevention

Prevent your cat from coming in contact with other unknown cats. Keep them on a monthly flea & tick preventive such as Revolution Plus®. Dogs who become infested commonly are in close contact with a feline friend. If one patient in the household has ear mites, the others should also be checked and treated with preventives.

Zoonosis

Ear mites may cause a mild, temporary rash for people. Studies show they have not survived on human skin long term. Treating the pet will resolve the issue for the human.