Have you noticed swelling, debris, or inflammation in your pet's ears? You may have a case of ear mites on your hands.
Ear mites are parasites that commonly show up in both dogs and cats. The little pests spread rapidly from pet to pet and can cause serious health problems for your animals. Fortunately, an ear mite infestation is easily treatable.
Here's all you need to know about ear mites in cats:
What are ear mites?
Mites are a type of arachnid — a class of eight-legged arthropods that includes spiders and scorpions. The most common type of mite is the otodectes cynoti, a Greek word that literally means "ear biter of the dog." Despite its name, the otodectes cynoti is responsible for 90% of ear mite cases in cats and just about 50% in dogs.
Scientists classify ear mites as topical parasites because they live on the surface of your pet's skin and feed on blood, ear wax, skin oils, and the exterior lining of the ear canal. Almost microscopic, these creatures appear clearest when they are crawling against a white background. Many cat owners say that mites look like the period at the end of a sentence.
Mites begin life as an egg. They then become a larva, move through two sequential nymph stages, and finally morph into adults. The complete egg-to-egg cycle takes 18-28 days. Typically, everything happens within the host's ear canal. Sometimes, however, mites make their homes on other parts of the body. Wherever they live, mites do not burrow into the skin. They only feed on epidermal debris.
How to tell if my cat has ear mites.
Imagine how you would feel if millions of pesky little creepy-crawlies began running around in your ears! Ear mite symptoms in cats first show up when yourpet begins scratching or shaking her head more than usual.
Mites also give away their presence by the black or brown debris that gathers in the cat's ear. You may even spot a black crust starting to form at the opening to the ear canal. This crust looks a lot like coffee grounds, and it can give off a foul odor — not surprising since it's composed of wax, blood, ear debris, and mites themselves.
If your cat repeatedly washes or scratches around his ears, you may spot bald patches appearing near the ears. Your pet may inflict so much trauma on the area in an effort to get rid of the mites that he causes an aural hematoma, which is a large blood blister.
How do cats get ear mites?
Ear mites are highly contagious. They can move from cat to cat simply by the two animals brushing up against each other. If your cat loves to play, wrestle, cuddle, or sleep on another cat (or dog) that might have mites, these two could be trading parasites.
As soon as an ear mite lands on a new host, it immediately makes its way to the ear. The parasite remains at risk of being scratched off or (worse) licked off while it's strolling along the cat's back. Once the mite finds safety in the ear canal, however, it can begin to work it's dark magic, laying eggs, gorging on blood, and making your pet's life unpleasant.
By now, you know that ear mites are bad news for pets and their people. The question is how to treat ear mites in cats.
Ear mite treatments for cats.
How do you get rid of ear mites?
Don't do this alone. Take your animal to the vet. The vet's staff can do a thorough ear exam and determine if the mites you suspect are in fact alive and active.
Vets usually clean out the ear and dose it with medicine to kill the infestation. They may also prescribe ointment or drops for you to treat the animal at home. If the mites have caused an infection, the vet will likely send home a course of antibiotics.
Generally, you can find the most potent medicine for ear mites in the vet's office. Some people swear by homeopathic remedies or over-the-counter products. These may work very well, but it's our contention that a cat is always healthier and happier when under a responsible vet's care.
Treatment for ear mites in cats is usually pretty straightforward. Make sure to get your animal to the vet at the first sign of any parasite and keep up the prescribed course of treatment as long as your vet says.