Ear mites are more or less uncommon in cats, but they can occur. Ear mite infestations can be diagnosed easily and effectively. If the cat parent is aware of the general symptoms of this type of infestation, the medical issue can be resolved a lot faster.
In this post, we’ll look at some of the clinical signs that characterize ear mites in cats, how the infestation is diagnosed, how the health problem can be treated, and whether there are any specific things you should do to prevent the issue in the future.
Signs of ear mites in cats
The typical clinical signs that you might notice in your cat if he or she has somehow gotten ear mites are the following:
- Constant scratching or pawing at the ears
- Head shaking
- A dark discharge or crusty/waxy pieces falling out of your cat’s ears
- Hair loss around your cat’s ears due to excessive scratching
- A rash around the ear
- Skin lesions (rashes or hematomas) around the ear
If you were to be left with just one symptom from all of these, the dark and crusty discharge is by far the most typical and important one. In typical ear infections, the cat doesn’t have a dark (almost black) discharge.
There’s usually a creamy or yellowish discharge if there is any – although many cases of otitis are tricky especially because besides the scratching and head shaking, the cat really doesn’t show any other clinical signs.
How do cats get ear mites?
This might be a question that could be bothering you, especially if you have an indoor cat. In most indoor cats, the chances of them getting ear mites are low to non-existent as ear mites have to be transmitted from one host to another. They can rarely survive in the outdoor environment.
Cats who live outdoors are far more exposed to this type of infestation. However, there are cases where the cat can get it from a cattery or a cat sitter who’s come in contact with an infected animal. So, even if this is a less likely scenario, it can still happen.
Are cat ear mites contagious to humans?
Fortunately, no. Most people don’t express any clinical symptoms even if their cats have ear mite infestations. However, people who have a depressed immune system might develop a skin rash.
Ear mites are contagious to both cats and dogs, but the typical victim is represented by an outdoor cat.
A vet can diagnose the suspected infestation by using an otoscope. If the cat is unwilling to keep still during the procedure, the veterinarian can use a cotton swab to collect a sample of ear debris and then examine it under the microscope. If you go to a clinic where the vet has a microscope nearby, the diagnosis can be made in a matter of minutes.
Treating ear mite infestations in cats
Treatment is usually very straightforward, but early diagnosis is extremely important. Some cats’ ears can be so itchy that they can end up self-mutilating themselves, so that’s why taking your feline buddy to the vet as soon as possible is paramount.
There are several types of treatments currently available and we’ll discuss them all below.
1. Single use products
There are a variety of products currently available that you can use to treat and prevent ear mite infestations. Some can be applied right in the ear canal (such as Acarexx or Milbemite). These are approved for use on cats and you can usually get them from the vet. A single dose is often effective enough to treat the infection.
Other types of single-use products involve using topical products that basically have insecticides in them that penetrate the animal’s blood flow. These range from Advantage Multi (or Advocate, outside the United States) to Bravecto. Generally, the nice thing about these products is that they also kill fleas and ticks, so you get that benefit along with their ability to decimate the ear mites.
2. Topical treatments
If you have nothing against applying the treatment yourself, you can opt for over-the-counter products that contain insecticides and that are specially made for ear use. If you go down this path, you need to know that you will have to apply the treatment for a minimum of 3 weeks for it to be effective.
There is another option that you can use and it consists of relying on a product called Tresaderm, which contains a cortisone to fight off the inflammation, an antibiotic to combat the secondary bacterial infections, and thiabendazole, which can kill both yeasts and mites. This type of treatment typically lasts between 1 and 2 weeks, so it’s shorter than the first option.
If you decide to leave the treatment to your veterinarian, you might want to know that your cat is going to get around two to four injections tops. Ivermectin is a powerful anti-parasite medication that hasn’t been approved by the FDA but that is extremely effective when it comes to combating ear mites, along with other types of parasites.
However, since ivermectin hasn’t been approved for the treatment of ear mites in dogs and cats, it might be a better idea to opt for single-use products instead.
Prognosis and prevention
There can be cases where the mites seem to be resistant to the treatment, but as you might have noticed, there are quite a bit of options in terms of alternative medications. In other words, if one of them doesn’t work, you can try another.
My advice would be to avoid using home remedies to try treating an ear mite infestation. These are real parasites that aren’t easily killed by anything else than insecticides. Make sure that you always use a cat-safe insecticide that has been approved for use in ear infections. Needless to say, spot-on solutions need to be applied in-between your cat’s shoulders (on her back) not in her ear.
Regularly de-fleaing and deworming your cat is a good way of preventing ear mites as many of these medications are broad-spectrum, meaning that they can kill external and internal parasites, including ear mites.
What happens if ear mite infestations aren’t treated?
We’ve already mentioned that some cats can scratch their ears to the point where they lacerate them (or their neck and cheeks). But aside from that, the problem is that the cat creates lesions that can be entryways for other types of germs. Most of the time, a cat doesn’t just suffer from an ear mite infestation — a bacterial otitis (infection) could have been developed, as well.
When left untreated, the mite infestation can lead to additional infections, including a yeast one. External ear infections can lead to internal ear infections and over time, this can lead to the animal becoming deaf.
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