When a cat’s ears are itchy — really itchy, like won’t-stop-scratching itchy — ear mites are one of the most likely culprits. But what are ear mites in cats, exactly, and how are they treated?
Ear mites are tiny parasites that crawl into the ear canal and take up residence. They make their meals out of the cat’s ear wax and dead skin cells, causing some serious discomfort while they’re at it.
It’s no wonder why getting rid of ear mites is one of the most common cat medical questions that vets answer.
How do Cats Get Ear Mites?
Pet-to-pet contact is the most common pathway for mite transmission. A tiny mite hops from an infested cat’s fur to the fur of another cat. The mite then heads for the new cat’s ears, trying to get there before the cat licks it off and swallows it during the grooming process.
It’s also possible for cats to get ear mites from the environment. Mites from infested animals can linger outside the body long enough to hitch a ride on a passing cat. The more a cat is around other animals, the more likely they are to get mites this way.
That’s one reason why shelter cats are susceptible to ear mites, and why mite management is such a common aspect of kitten care.
Signs of Ear Mites
Like cat fleas, ear mites equal itching. The difference is that with mites, cats will fixate on the sides of their heads. The ear-scratching can be near-constant.
Pet parents may also notice:
- Head shaking
- Dark, waxy, smelly discharge
- Red, inflamed outer ear tissue
Any of these symptoms can indicate other ear conditions, so pet parents shouldn't hesitate to get a vet’s take on the situation.
Ear mite treatment is extremely important. It stops the itching and subsequent scratching, which can cause injury to the ears and potentially leave the skin open for infection.
Untreated ear mites can also cause a dangerous infection called otitis externa, which can cause ear tissue damage and ultimately deafness.
Fortunately, ear mites are easily treatable. The first step is to clean the cat’s ears. This gets rid of extra debris and wax, soothes irritation, and eliminates some stray mites.
After that’s done, a vet will recommend one of several treatment options, which may include:
- One-time topical treatments
- Oral medications
Home remedies may also be effective. A few drops of baby oil in the affected ear, several times a day for about a month can smother and kill the mites.
Pet parents should take care to continue the course of treatment for as long as the vet recommends. Mite eggs take about 10 days to hatch, and the medication has to be there to kill those late hatchers.
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