Are ear mites contagious to humans or other animals?
The presence of ear mites in the ear canal of cats and dogs causes irritation and intense itching. These pesky parasites are also called ear canker mites or otodectic mites. They are very small and are barely invisible to the human eye. Ear mites thrive by feeding off skin oils and ear wax. Coffee ground-like ear wax is often a prominent symptom in affected pets. Keep reading to find out if these pesky ear parasites are contagious to you and your pets.
What are ear mites?
The most commonly seen ear mite species in pets is Otodectes cynotis. This species is responsible for 90% of ear mite infections in felines.
Ear mites are very contagious. They can easily travel from ear passages of affected cats or dogs to any other pets in close contact even if only for a brief period. The main route of infestation is from the dam (mother) to the offspring. Other routes of spread include contaminated combs, brushes, bedding, or other grooming accessories.
Are ear mites contagious to humans?
Humans are not definitive (preferred) hosts of ear mites. But there are cases of ear mite infestation in people. Although quite rare, some of these cases are traced back to ear mite-infested pets in the family. To survive, mites need a host. They are unable to last long on environmental surfaces.
Close contact with a pet that is harboring ear mites, such as sharing a bed with your cat or allowing your dog on the furniture, increases the risk of being infected. Ear mites from your pet’s ears can travel to your bedding or furniture and attach to other pets or you.
Take note, however, that you can also get ear mites by playing with anyone’s pet that has ear mites or by sitting on a couch or sleeping on a hotel bed where ear mites are present.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Humans
Just like in dogs, the presence of these pesky parasites in the ears of people can be very uncomfortable. Tell-tale signs of ear mites in humans include:
- Persistent ear itchiness
- Redness around the ear area
- Black or brown-colored ear wax
- Irritation in the ears
- Tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, or humming sound in the ear)
- Sense of increased ear pressure
Symptoms tend to differ between persons. You could exhibit all of these signs or only a few. If left untreated, ear mite infestation in humans can cause damage to the ear canal leading to loss of hearing.
Some people develop a temporary itchy rash when there are pets infested with ear mites in the household. But these cases are very rare.
If you develop any of these symptoms, have your ears checked by your doctor right away. The sooner you get professional medical attention, the sooner appropriate medication can be administered to kill ear mites and their eggs. Also, you should make an appointment with your vet to have your pet checked for ear mites.
How to Prevent Ear Mite Infestation in Humans
- Keep a close eye on your pets. Be alert for any signs indicating the presence of ear mites in their ear passages so you can seek professional help immediately.
- Dark-colored ear discharge from your pet’s ears is a red flag that should be brought to the attention of your vet. If there’s an ear mite infestation, your pet’s ears will be cleaned by your vet and the appropriate medication will be prescribed to address the infection. These may include antiparasitic treatments and a round of antibiotics if a bacterial infection is present.
- Work with your vet in creating a preventive health program that will include measures to protect your dog or cat (and others in your household) from future infestations.
- If you have a multi-pet household, your vet may recommend treating all pets even if only one pet is showing signs of infection.
- An infected pet should be kept separated from other family pets.
- Avoid sharing a bed or furniture with your pet.
- Sanitize and wash any items (such as their bedding and chew toys) that your pet uses regularly.
My cat has ear mites. Are they contagious to my other pets?
Ear mites are highly contagious, and animals become infested by direct contact with another infested animal. Infestations can occur in animals of any age, but cases are more common in young cats and dogs.
Transmission from the affected mother to the newborn often occurs soon after birth. Aside from cats and dogs, ear mites can also infest rabbits, ferrets, and other pets in the household.
The signs of ear mite infestation in pets are similar to that of humans. In severe cases, skin lesions may spread to other parts of the body, such as the neck. At first, pet owners might think that their pets have bacterial or yeast infections in the ear, but a thorough checkup and microscopic exam by a vet can reveal ear mites in the ear canals. Occasionally, ear mites may cause an itchy, papular, crusting skin eruption, especially on the neck, rump, or tail. This condition is called otodectic acariasis.
Ear Mites in Ferrets
In ferrets, the symptoms include ear scratching and shaking their heads, but many are asymptomatic. Other symptoms that may be present include inflammation of the external ear and dark brown ear wax (but it’s normal for ferrets to have dark-colored ear wax). Secondary otitis media or interna with neurologic deficits, most commonly head tilt, is uncommonly seen secondary to ear mite infestation in ferrets.
How to Prevent Pets from Getting Ear Mites
Protecting your pet from ear mite infestation requires a multi-pronged approach. It involves the following:
- Prevent your pet from having close contact with other dogs or cats until you’re sure they’re free from ear mites.
- Steer clear of public places where dogs are close to each other, such as in dog parks and kennels.
- If your pet has had contact with an infected animal, monitor your pet closely for signs of mite infestation.
- If you have a multi-pet household, make sure that all your pets are treated for mites even if only one is showing symptoms.
- Any pet bedding must be washed in hot water and placed in a dryer that is set to hot.
- Wash all your pet’s toys and surfaces that the infected cat or dog uses.
- Make a habit of checking your pet’s ears regularly. Early detection of potential ear issues enables you to seek prompt medical attention. The earlier an ear mite infestation is detected, diagnosed, and treated, the better it will be for your pet.
- Ear cleaning is necessary, but you have to consult your vet about how often it should be done and what product to use. Removing any dirt, debris, or excess ear wax from the ear canal can create a more inhospitable environment for ear mites because they derive nutrition from these materials.
- There are topical medications that can help protect your pet from ear mite infestations. Some of these products have ingredients that can kill ticks, fleas, and ear mites, and are applied behind your pet’s shoulders once a month. Regular use of these products can help ensure adequate protection for your pet. It is highly recommended that you consult your vet about the best product for your pet.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s ear mites or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.