Ear Mites in Cats

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Key takeaways

Ear mites are a common parasite found in the ear canal of cats. These microscopic creatures live on the surface of the skin, feeding on skin oil and ear wax.

  • Ear mite infections are characterized by dry, granular, black discharge in the ear canal
  • Symptoms of ear mites include shaking of the head, scratching of the ears, and accumulation of ear wax and discharge
  • Diagnosis includes ear swab to examine the discharge under microscope and confirm the presence of mites
  • Treatment plans include topical insecticides, oral drugs or injections
  • Ongoing treatment is required to ensure no further infestation
  • In some cases, ear mite infestations can lead to bacterial and fungal infections
  • Most cases of ear mites resolve with appropriate treatment
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A closer look: Ear Mites in Cats


Ear mites are common in cats. Infestation occurs through close contact with other animals carrying ear mites. Most cases have a good prognosis with appropriate long-term treatment. Left untreated, ear mites can cause secondary bacterial or fungal infections. In some cases, bacterial or fungal infections appear similarly to ear mites, and vice versa, which can result in ineffective treatment. Veterinary attention ensures appropriate treatment with topical insecticides, oral drugs, or injections as appropriate.

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Risk factors


Outdoor cats or cats in homes with other pets are particularly prone to contagion. If treated appropriately, ear mites cause no harm. Treatment only kills nymphs and adults, not eggs, thus multiple applications are required to prevent ongoing infestation.

If left untreated, ear mites result in ear infections or skin disease. Symptoms of ear infections include:

  • Pain when the ear is touched
  • Severely itchy ear
  • Pus draining from the ear
  • Greasy yellow or brown crusts in the ear
  • Foul odor
  • Redness of the ear canal
  • Waxy buildup in the ear canal

Possible causes


Ear mites are a parasite commonly found in cat ears. Infection happens upon close contact with an infested animal. The entire life cycle of these mites occurs in the ear canal of the host, meaning one exposure is enough to cause serious infection. The life cycle of ear mites is fairly long, taking between 18 and 28 days.

Main symptoms


Testing and diagnosis


Veterinary attention is required to distinguish ear mite infestation from fungal or bacterial infections. Diagnostic tools include an otoscope to examine the ear canal, and swabbing the ear canal for microscopic analysis. In some cases, ear mites can spread to other regions of the body. These mites are diagnosed by skin scraping.

Steps to Recovery


Ear mites are treated with topical insecticides, oral drugs, or injections. Treatment strategies are determined based on the age of the cat, the severity of the infestation, and the presence of secondary infections. Over-the-counter and prescription products are available. While over-the-counter products are effective, other infections can be mistaken for ear mites. Veterinarian attention ensures an effective, safe, and cost-effective treatment plan. All animals in the home must be treated for ear mites, as the mites are easily spread between animals. Treating only one animal in the household allows for rapid re-infection once the treatment protocol ends. A complete life cycle of mites lasts 18 to 28 days. Currently available topical, oral, and injected drugs kill nymph and adult ear mites, but do not kill eggs, leaving them within the ear canal to hatch at a later point. To prevent continuing infestation, repeated treatment is required to kill any emerging nymphs and adults. Performing another ear swab approximately one month after starting treatment allows for confirmation that the infestation has resolved.

Prevention


Ear mites easily spread from animal to animal. All animals sharing a home with an infected animal require simultaneous treatment to prevent repeated spread between animals. Transmission is prevented through avoiding contact with infected animals. Cats kept indoors are less likely to contract ear mites, as they are unlikely to contact other animals with an unknown infestation status.

Are Ear Mites in Cats common?


Ear mites are a common parasite. They are the most common cause of ear inflammation in cats. Pet parents may mistake other conditions like fungal infection for ear mites, resulting in inappropriate selection of over-the-counter medications.

Typical Treatment


Typical treatments include:

  • Topical insecticides
  • Oral insecticides
  • Injected insecticides

In case of secondary infections, treatments include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungals

References


Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
No Author - Writing for Companion Animal Parasite Council
Michael W. Dryden , DVM, PhD, DACVM - Writing for MSD Veterinary Manual
PetMD Editorial - Writing for PetMD

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