It’s natural for your cat to get a little itchy now and then—almost any body part can have a normal itchy spot. Or, perhaps the itch is caused by a mild irritation or allergy. You’ll definitely notice, though, when your cat’s casual scratching turns into obsessive, harmful behavior. If this scratching is centralized by the ears, you might have something more than a regular itch on your hands. Your cat might have ear mites.
What are ear mites?
Ear mites, known as Otodectes cynotis, are tiny parasitic insects that live in the ear canal of animals. They feed on the skin debris, cell fluids and blood within the ear. Besides the crazed itching they induce in your feline friends, ear mites can actually cause permanent damage to your cat by chewing through tissue and causing infections within the ear. If left untreated, these infections can cause more serious health problems for both the ear and your cat’s overall health.
Perhaps one of the most annoying things about ear mites is that they spread very easily. They crawl along animal’s bodies and can easily infect other household pets, although they generally do not affect humans. Mites are common in both dogs and cats, but cats tend to be afflicted more often.
Symptoms to watch for
Unless you are doing routine ear checks of your cat, you probably won’t notice a problem with ear mites until your cat starts scratching at its ears like crazy. Here are some major signs of ear mites to look out for:
- Incessant scratching at the back or inside of the ear
- Raw spots on the back or insides of ear
- Compulsively shaking head
- Red or inflamed ears
- Foul odor in the ears
- Reddish-dark brown, crumbly debris within the ear
- Hematoma—the breakage of blood vessels within the ear from excessive shaking or scratching
If you suspect your cat has ear mites after witnessing one or more symptoms listed above, try removing some of the debris from your cat’s ear using a cotton ball. Spread the debris onto a tissue and examine it under bright light, looking for signs of movement. If movement is clear, your cat probably has mites.
If you are unsure, take your cat to the vet and have its ears inspected. There’s a chance it could be ear mites, or something else like a bacterial infection that needs to be treated.
Kicking ear mites to the curb
Once your cat is diagnosed with ear mites, you need to follow two important steps to remove them. These steps may be able to be completed at home, but you may need a vet’s help, especially if your cat has an irritable temperament:
- Clean the ears: First, you’ll need to get mites out of your cat’s ear by cleaning it with an ear cleaning solution and a cotton ball or tissue. Never use a cotton swab, as this can potentially injure the ear canal or drum. Put the solution in the ear and massage it gently to bring up debris from farther in the ear. Wipe debris away using the cotton ball or tissue.
- Topical treatments: Once the ears are clean, you can apply a topical treatment to kill any remaining mites. Some ear miticides with natural insecticide ingredients can be found in pet stores, or your vet may be able to prescribe one. The vet may also prescribe medications for existing ear infections and other issues. Use medication for as long as directed (this could be a little over a week) to make sure the mites are completely gone.
Once you have cleaned the ears and applied treatment, you may also want to treat your cat with flea products to kill any mites hiding in its fur. Be sure to check other pets for mites to ensure they haven’t spread and also clean any blankets, cloth toys and bedding that may be housing mites to prevent re-infestation.
Keeping the mites away
Since ear mites spread so quickly from animal to animal, the best thing you can do to prevent mites is by regularly checking all of your pet’s ears and cleaning them when necessary to ensure ear mite infestations don’t occur. If you suspect your pet has ear mites, keep them away from other pets as much as possible so they do not spread.
If you notice your pet acting strangely or scratching relentlessly at its ears, don’t delay in checking for debris or taking it in to the vet. Not only are they annoying to your pet, they can cause serious damage to the ears. Taking quick action against mites can save your cat’s ears, along with its sanity!