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The signs and treatment of ear mites in cats

As a cat owner you will probably have to deal with ear mites at some stage. Ear mites are very contagious and this means that cats can easily become infested. Read on to find out why you should be concerned about this condition, the signs of ear mites in cats and how to treat the problem.

What are ear mites?

Ear mites are parasites that live in and around your cat's ear canal, where they feed on earwax, tissue fluid and skin flakes. These are tiny and spider-shaped creatures.

A single ear mite is less than half a millimetre in diameter. To naked eye they look like small black dots in your cat’s ear. Ear mites reproduce rapidly and with a severe infestation there could be over 2000 mites in one ear.

On average, the life cycle of an ear mite is about three weeks. Cats, dogs, ferrets and foxes could all play host to these parasites.

How ear mites affect your cat

Once ear mites have settled in your cat's ears, the female will lay between 15 and 20 eggs at a time. The eggs hatch after about three weeks and the larvae will slowly but surely develop into fully grown adult mites.

Ear mites not only irritate the ear canal but also produce a lot of saliva, which stimulates the sebaceous glands in the ear canal to produce more wax.

This combination of inflammation and irritation causes severe itching and your cat’s excessive scratching could easily lead to an infection. Because ear mites are very difficult to see with the naked eye it could be weeks before you notice any of the signs of ear mites in cats.

How do cats get ear mites?

One of the biggest problems with ear mites is that they are extremely contagious. As a result there is little you can do to prevent an infestation, especially if your cat is outdoors a lot. Young cats are especially susceptible to ear mites.

When your cat comes into close contact with another animal that has ear mites, the chances are good that the parasites will hop across. Furthermore, these parasites can survive for a few days without a host, so indirect transmission is also possible.

Because the mites settle in the ears of many different types of animals your cat could get them, not only from contact with other cats, but also from dogs and even rodents. Ear mites are rare in cats that live alone indoors, but there have been cases of infestation in indoor cats.

All breeds of cats can get ear mites; these parasites have no preference for a particular breed or cats of a particular size. However, kittens and any cats with a low resistance are more susceptible to ear mites and so you should check their ears more often.

Signs of ear mites in cats

You might have realised by now that it is difficult to tell whether your cat has ear mites because they are tiny and sometimes live deep within the ear canal. However, your cat will show some of the signs of ear mites in cats, especially ear irritation and itching. But these signs could have a number of other causes as well. The signs are:

  • Your cat scratches more often, not only their ears, but also their cheeks. Sometimes this is accompanied by whining or loud meowing
  • Your cat's outer ear is dirty and red
  • Your cat has more earwax than usual, which could be either liquid or in the form of solid plugs.
  • There are scabs inside your cat's ear
  • Your cat is flattening their its ears a bit
  • You notice bumps the cat’s ear canal
  • Your cat shakes its head a lot or tilts it to the side all the time
  • Because of the pain, your cat could also be irritable, or even aggressive
  • Your cat’s ears have a foul odour

Your cat could itch and scratch so much that the skin behind their ears or on their neck gets damaged and raw.

You should schedule an appointment with your vet if your cat shows any of the signs of ear mites in cats. Only a veterinarian can determine whether your cat actually has ear mites and then prescribe the appropriate treatment.

The vet can usually see the ear mites clearly with their otoscope because it has a magnifying lens. Because your cat’s ears are inflamed they will be sensitive while being examined, but it won’t hurt. If the mites are very deep in the ear canal the vet might take a swab and examine it under a microscope before treating ear mites in cats. In exceptional cases, it might also be necessary to take X-rays.

Treating ear mites in cats

Unfortunately you will always need to treat ear mites in your cat because they will not go away on their own. If treating ear mites in cats is delayed for too long you run the risk of chronic ear infections. Your cat could also infect other animals, not only those in your own household but also those they encounter outside. Obviously you wouldn’t want to burden other cat owners with the same problem.

In order to make the correct diagnosis, your vet needs information about your cat’s general health, when you first noticed the symptoms, whether your cat spends a lot of time outdoors and has contact with other animals.

Mites are so difficult to see in a cat’s ears that your vet has to rule out other related conditions. A bacterial or yeast ear infection, dirt in the ears and certain allergies could all have similar symptoms.

When you visit your vet they will first clean your cat's ears very well and rinse them with lukewarm water. This removes most of the ear mites right away. Then they will apply an ointment to the inside of your cat’s ears which not only kills the remainder of the ear mites but also relieves the itching.

You will probably be asked to schedule another appointment with your vet after about three weeks so that they can check whether the ear mite infestation has cleared up completely.

Continue treating ear mites in cats at home

Depending on the severity of your cat’s ear mite problem, the vet might give you either more ointment or a pipette with liquid to take home. The pipette with liquid for treating ear mites in cats works just like spot-on against fleas - you just have to squeeze it onto your cat’s neck.

Ointment will need to be applied to the inside of your cat's ear. Even cats that don't normally mind being touched could be quite aggressive when you try to apply the ointment because, at this point, their ears are very sensitive.

You don’t need to be too concerned about any of the wounds caused by your cat’s scratching. They will heal on their own once your cat stops scratching when the ear mites, and the itch they caused, are gone. If your cat does not stop scratching you can use a protective collar. However, you should avoid these collars if possible because they are very uncomfortable and make eating and drinking difficult.

Furthermore, it is a good idea to treat your other pets preventively. Ear mites are so contagious that there is a good chance that all of your other pets will have them as well.

Pets can also transmit ear mites to humans. Fortunately, your symptoms will usually be limited to some itching in your ear. In rare cases a skin rash could occur. Ear mites are generally not able to survive very well in the human ear and the mites and associated complaints will usually disappear within a few days.

Prevention is better than treating ear mites in cats

Let's start with the fact that it is not possible to prevent ear mites in a cat completely. Cats that go outside and come into contact with other animals are at risk of being infected. So you are not a negligent owner if your cat comes home with ear mites.

What you could do is to clean your cat's ears regularly. There are various wipes and cleaners for this, but you can also just use a cotton cloth and lukewarm water. Always clean your cat’s ears from the inside out, otherwise you will just sweep the debris deeper into the ear canal.

You won't hurt your cat by cleaning their ears, but chances are that they won't like it very much. If you are unable to clean both ears in one go, you could do one side a day.

The benefit of cleaning your cat’s ears regularly is that there is a good chance that you will remove the first ear mites and so prevent the infestation from getting worse. Always make sure that your cat's ears are dry - a wet ear canal is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Ear mites can also survive for a few days outside of your cat’s ears, so it is important to keep your home clean. Places where the cat sleeps and any blankets, pillows and baskets should be washed regularly using a hot program on your washing machine.

Do ear mites cause pain?

The ear mites themselves don't cause pain. They do, however, cause irritation which is why itching is one of the main signs of ear mites in cats. You can imagine how annoying the itch inside your cat’s ear would be, especially because they cannot scratch there.

The continuous scratching on the outside of the ear could cause open wounds which will eventually be painful. Ear mites alone will never make a cat seriously ill.

What if your sick cat won't eat?

A cat with ear mites will feel uncomfortable and might not want to eat. This will, of course, worry you even more. However, it is good to know that a cat can go without food for at least two days, after which most cats will start eating on their own again.

You could try and stimulate your cat’s appetite a bit by placing food that smells really good in a quiet place for a few days. Yarrah's salmon pâté can be used for this purpose. It is supplemented with organic seaweed and without any added chemical fragrances, colours and flavours, pesticides and GMO.

The organic cat food chunks with MSC fish also appear to stimulate cat’s appetites. The chunks completely absorb the flavours, making them taste even better. Additionally, wet cat food is rich in moisture and will help your sick cat to stay hydrated.

If you feel really sorry for your cat, Yarrah's snacks are also a godsend. You can easily break the organic chews into smaller pieces so that your cat can decide when they have had enough. The mini snacks for cats are already very small and consist of 97% meat. Perfect for spoiling your cat - and the added protein helps with healing.

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