Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are tiny crab like parasites that live in a cat's ears. They feed on the ear's secretions and tissue debris. They are really not visible to the eye but with a good magnifying otoscope a veterinarian may confirm their presence. The warmth produced from the light of the otoscope will cause them to move about becoming visible against the black ear wax from the cat's ear.
A good sign of an ear mite infestation is the presence of a dark wax in the ear. Some cat owners describe them as appearing as if somebody poured coffee grounds into their cat's ears. This dark discharge is really composed by dead tissue and the waste products produced by the mites. Ear mites are often seen in kittens, especially those raised in barns or outdoor environments.
What symptoms do they cause?
Ear mites are not to be taken lightly. They can cause a variety of symptoms. A cat affected by ear mites will tend to shake its head, scratch its ears and exhibit that typical discharge discussed above. In severe cases, a cat may develop a serious ear infection that may also damage the ear drum or even affect the middle ear causing balance problems. Treating cat ear mites is important.
What causes ear mites in the first place and are they contagious?
Now that we know what ear mites are and what they do, what causes them in the first place may be a good question. There is really no other cause than exposure to another pet that has ear mites. Ear mites are very contagious! The infestation may also cross species and affect dogs. However, they rarely affect humans and when this happens it is a very rare occurrence.
How to Know if your Pet has Ear Mites
There are two pretty accurate ways to recognize if your pet has actually ear mites.
- Gently pull your cat's ear flap downwards rubbing it, if the cat has mites, the mites will begin to move about causing the cat to begin to scratch.
- Ear mites are very small but they can become visible. Try to collect some debris from the cat's ear and place this debris on a black surface. Place under a lamp, the heat of the lamp and the light should cause the mites to wiggle about.
Ear mites are treated with prescription medication available by prescription. There are some over the counter medications but the most effective are prescribed. A common medication is Tresaderm. Home remedies should be only attempted in mild cases, where there are no signs of infection, an ear rash or pain.
Home Treatments for Ear Mites
This once a month topical that's applied between the cat's shoulder blades helps cats get rid of worms, fleas, ticks and ear mites. It may take some time but it is effective. Revolution helps ensure that the eggs in the ear don't hatch and the product protects the cat from being re-infested for the next 30 days, explains veterinarian Dr. Bruce.
When treating for ear mites it is very important to clean the ears as much as possible. Often, not properly cleaned ears are a cause for reluctant ear mite infestations. Some mineral oil or baby oil can be effective in removing the gunk. A few drops of warmed up oil in each ear kept for at least one hour should soften the debris. Do not allow the cat to shake its head until you are done. Afterward, mix 1 part white vinegar in 2 parts distilled water and clean up the ears with this mixture using cotton balls.
Mineral oil or baby oil should smother the mites and give some temporary relief. Pets do better if the oil is slightly warmed up. A few drops in each ear every other day may be helpful. You may have to do this for up to a month to eradicate the population. Mineral oil works by drowning the ear mites causing them to not get enough air. While this may work by killing the ear mites indirectly, consider that it can be messy and it won't work as well as prescription medications, explains veterinarian Dr. Christian.
Garlic and Olive oil
Another natural option is to warm up some olive oil and instill a few drops in the ear every other day. To make the olive oil even more effective, you can try crushing four garlic cloves and let the cloves seep overnight in the oil. Then remove from the oil and warm up the oil and insert in the ears.
Whichever oil is used, the ears should be treated every other day for at least one month. Even though the adult mites will be smothered there will be some eggs that will grow and their life cycle lasts at least 21 days.
When your cat' s ears are cleaned out, you can try some over the counter pyrethrin-based product which is made from chrysanthemums. When you apply the product, make sure to massage the base of the ear for about 3 to 5 minutes so the product absorbs. However, while pyrethrin-based products may be effective, make sure that it's labeled safe to use in cats and kittens and it's always best to consult with a vet before use. Some cats may develop allergic reactions or side effects from over the counter pyrethrin products.
For Further Reading: Signs Your Cat Has Ear Mites
*Disclaimer: All remedies suggested are not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your pet is sick please refer to your veterinarian for a hands on examination. If your pet is exhibiting behavior problems please refer to a professional pet behaviorist.