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Ear Mites in Cats

cat ear mites

Ear mites are a parasite of the ear that can affect both dogs and cats. They’re most common in young animals. Infection can occur in puppies and kittens as young as a few weeks old when the mites are transmitted by their mothers. Ear mites live and burrow in the external ear canals and cause a lot of irritation.

How do I know if my cat or kitten has ear mites?

Signs of ear mites include irritation of the ears, seen as scratching, or head-rubbing. If you’re able to inspect the inside of the ears, they may be red, sore, and often have copious amounts of dark brown/black waxy discharge.

You won’t be able to see the mite. These are tiny parasites, much smaller than fleas or ticks that you can see with the naked eye. They are also likely to be inhabiting the ear canals which are dark tunnels and not easily inspected without the right equipment. Occasionally, the mites will infect the toes that are used to scratch the ear, or the skin on the cat’s side when they’re curled up asleep. Ear mites cause hair loss and redness of the skin or feet - this can be an important sign to note!

How are ear mites diagnosed?

If you have a young kitten with two itchy ears and large amounts of dark wax, you can be very suspicious of ear mites. However, you’ll need the help of a vet to make a definitive diagnosis.

Your vet will have an otoscope, a light with magnification and a small nozzle that can inspect the lower parts of the ear canal. On some occasions, with the magnification the otoscope provides, your vet may be able to see a few tiny white dots moving around the ear. These are the ear mites and will be enough to confirm the diagnosis. If not, your vet will probably take a swab of ear wax and examine this under the microscope. Ear mites show up well under the microscope, an inexpensive and quick test.

Other diseases can cause similar signs in your cat. Head scratching can be caused by allergies to things such as fleas, insect bites, environmental allergies (eg pollens), or even food. Ear discharge can be caused by other infections such as yeast or bacteria. An ear swab (this time for cytology, requiring fixing and dying) is very helpful to look for these too. In general, ear mites will affect both ears so if just one ear is affected, it may be indicative of another cause such as a foxtail or an ear polyp.

Treatment of Ear Mites in Cats

Fortunately, there are plenty of effective treatments for ear mites. Your vet may prescribe a prescription-only anti-parasitic spot-on treatment that is also effective against fleas. Also, there are ear drops designed to treat mites that might also be recommended. Finally, a good cleaning of the ears, often carried out at the time of a vet visit, will reduce the number of active ear mites and eggs laid in the canal.

Cats don’t appreciate having ear drops applied, so ask your vet technician for a demonstration first. With the correct technique, they can be successfully used, and the course is usually finished after 5 days.

Read more:

Common Ear Problems in Cats

Swelling of the Ear (Aural Hematoma) in Cats and Dogs

How to Clean Your Dog's Ears

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your cats ear mites or another condition?

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