What are Ear Mites?
Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are a tiny spider like parasitic mite that infect the ears. They usually live in the ear canals but can live on other parts of the cat’s body.
This is by far the most common ear disease of cats and is extremely widespread no matter how well looked after the cats are.
If you look inside the ear of an infected cat you will see dark reddish brown or black debris throughout the ear canal. This debris comprises of ear wax, blood and ear mites are visible to the naked eye and can be seen as white dots among the dark debris. You may even see them moving around.
The life cycle, which takes about 3 weeks, occurs in the ear, from egg laying to death of adults. Mites are believed to live off the host only a fairly short time (10-20 days).
What are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in cats?
Ear mites are terribly uncomfortable for your cat. Imagine how it would feel having thousands of little bugs running around in one of your most sensitive areas. Usually the first symptom you notice will be your cat scratching his ears or shaking his head due to the extreme itchiness that the mites cause.
You may notice that your cat’s ears appeared flattened or laid back. The ears may be painful to touch and he may cry in pain when you touch them or while he/she is scratching them. You may also notice a foul odour coming from the ears.
Cats may cause damage to their ears by scratching them. Often their ears will bleed as a result of this. They may also shake their ears with such intensity that small blood vessels are broken and hematomas form.
Ear mites thrive in the warm moist area where the air flow is restricted. They feed on epidermal debris & ear wax. They burrow into the ear, causing inflammation and irritation which the body responds to by producing more wax.
Are Ear Mites Contagious?
Ear mites are very contagious and can be passed on from cat to cat or cat to dog and visa versa so it is important to treat all of your pets at the same time.
All cats in a household should be treated as the mite is very contagious.
Humans are not affected by ear mites.
Otodectes is a particularly difficult mite to kill. If left untreated, complications may occur eg. secondary infection with pus-producing germs, haematoma due to scratching or chronic thickening of the ear lining.
Effective treatment must aim at killing and/or removing every mite and returning the lining of the ear to normal.
The vet will look in your cat’s ear with a magnifying instrument called an otoscope and may inspect the debris from the ear under a microscope for a more definite diagnosis. Ear mite infections can be serious if left untreated resulting in damage to the ear canals and eardrums and leaving deformity of the ears and possible deafness.