“My cat has ear mites!” is heard frequently at my clinic.

Ear mites are microscopic, spider-like parasites that live in the ear canals of pets. These mites can also infect dogs, but they are not transmissible to humans. They are an annoying parasite, but fortunately easily treated.

Ear mites eat ear wax and skin oils, causing itchiness, inflammation and a larger buildup of waxy debris in the ear canal. Mites live for on animals for short periods and generally are transmitted when an animal with ear mites comes in physical contact with another through crawling, falling over or rubbing it. The classic signs of an ear mite infection are head shaking; brown, crusty discharge in the ears; and ear scratching.

If you have an indoor cat that does not come into contact with other cats, curing an infection is easy. If your animals go outside, they can be re-exposed.

Some over-the-counter ear mite treatments are effective, but if your cat has an ear infection, I recommend having it properly diagnosed by your veterinarian. Although ear mites are found frequently on cats, they are not the only type of ear disease. Bacteria, yeast, allergies and polyps also can affect cats’ ears and are more frequent causes of ear problems than mites.

Some of the prescription medications for ear mites are milbemycin oxime (MilbeMite Otic), ivermectin (Acarexx) and selamectin (Revolution). All are effective and rid mites with one application. Topical treatments that consist of drops placed in the ear canal also are effective, but these need to be used for days or weeks.

A positive diagnosis of ear mites is made using an otoscope, an instrument that looks deep into the ear and allows your veterinarian to see mites crawling in the ear canal, or by examining swabs of ear discharge under a microscope and observing live mites or mite eggs.

Many people tend to think of ear mites as a mild condition, and some cat owners don’t think they need to be treated. This is untrue. Ear mites are extremely uncomfortable for cats –the itching, biting and the noise of the mites in the ear canals are a real torment. In addition, cats with chronic ear mite infections can develop inflammatory polyps in their ear canals. Cats that scratch their ears vigorously due to the infection can create a type of blood blister on their ear flap called a hematoma that requires surgery to fix.

Over-the-counter ear mite medication may work on a cat with itchy ears, but your indoor cat is not in contact with other cats, the ear problem is likely due to something else. The quickest way to resolve ear problems in cats is by getting a proper diagnosis by your veterinarian, then receiving the correct treatment.

Dr. Elaine Wexler-Mitchell photoWritten by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
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