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How Do Cats Get Ear Mites?

Updated July 19, 2017

According to Dr. Debra Primovic of PetPlace.com, ear mites are a common problem that affects almost 90 per cent of all cats. Most common in kitten and outdoor cats, this parasite is highly contagious and can spread easily in multi-cat households. Though it is possible for dogs to be infected, it is not as common as it is with cats. Humans are generally immune.

While there are several different types of ear mites, the most common is Otodectes Cynotis. This tiny, crablike, eight-legged parasite lives in a cat's ear canal, feeding on the wax and oils. They do not suck blood like fleas but they live off their host in a three-week life-cycle causing severe inflammation and discomfort. If left untreated, ear mites can cause an aural hematoma where blood vessels inside the cat's ear rupture from severe head shaking and scratching. This advanced progression of the infection may require surgical correction. The mites can also spread to the skin, causing itching of the back, neck and tail areas.

Infection

According to Dr. Debra Primovic of PetPlace.com, ear mites are a common problem that affects almost 90 per cent of all cats. Most common in kitten and outdoor cats, this parasite is highly contagious and can spread easily in multi-cat households. Though it is possible for dogs to be infected, it is not as common as it is with cats. Humans are generally immune.

While there are several different types of ear mites, the most common is Otodectes Cynotis. This tiny, crablike, eight-legged parasite lives in a cat's ear canal, feeding on the wax and oils. They do not suck blood like fleas but they live off their host in a three-week life-cycle causing severe inflammation and discomfort. If left untreated, ear mites can cause an aural hematoma where blood vessels inside the cat's ear rupture from severe head shaking and scratching. This advanced progression of the infection may require surgical correction. The mites can also spread to the skin, causing itching of the back, neck and tail areas.

Diagnosis

Since ear mites are such a common problem among cats, diagnosis of this affliction is fairly simple. According to the ASPCA, pet owners should look for the following signs and symptoms:

Excessive head shaking, scratching and ear rubbing. Brownish black, waxy discharge that resembles coffee grinds in the ear area. Ear inflammation. Hair loss and lesions from scratching near the ear area. Strong odour from the ear.

Upon noticing any of these warning signs, take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a conclusive diagnosis as ear mites can sometimes be confused with other bacterial ear ailments such as yeast infections. The examination will usually consist of the vet using a lighted otoscope to magnify the mites and draw them out of the cat's ear wax. If this proves to be inconclusive, an ear swab of the discharge will be taken and viewed under a microscope. A skin scraping may also be taken if lesions are present.

Treatment

Treatment for ear mites begins with the veterinarian cleaning the cat's ears of debris with cotton and an ear cleanser. If the infestation is severe, sedation and a hospitalised ear flushing may be required.

The second step in treatment is a course of antibiotics or medicated ear drops that will be applied by the veterinarian and then continued at home. Commonly used drugs include milbemycin (Milbemite), ivermectin (Acarexx) and Thiabendazole (Tresaderm). If the mites have spread to the skin, a topical flea medication will need to be used as well.

Once treatment begins, relief from ear mite symptoms comes relatively quickly. It is imperative, however, to complete the full course of antibiotics and to see your vet for a follow-up visit to make sure these parasites are eradicated. It is also advisable to to have other pets in a multi-pet household checked if they have come in contact with a cat diagnosed with or showing symptoms of ear mites.

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About the Author

Roseann Losito-Raia has over 15 years of experience as a published freelance writer for "The Inside Connection," "The Music Paper" and "The Musician's Exchange." Since graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Long Island University, she has worked as a marketing and advertising manager in the music and DVD industry.