A common, but yet often over-diagnosed cause of ear problems in cats is the presence of ear mites. While common in outdoor cats, young kittens or cats from unclean environments and/or shelter situations, the incidence of ear mites in adult indoor cats is very low, and often over-diagnosed by both veterinarians and animal guardians. Adult cats more typically have secondary bacterial or yeast infections, often from underlying allergies.
What are ear mites?
Ear mites are tiny spider-like mites which may potentially colonize the ear canals of cats, as well as other areas on the skin and hair coat for a short period of time. Ear mites seem to thrive in warm, moist areas of the body, as well as areas in the ear canals, where air flow is reduced. They will often burrow into the ears, causing irritation, inflammation and an increased waxy discharge.
What are the symptoms of ear mites?
Affected pets may shake their heads, or itch at their ears, which may be painful, in addition to having a foul odor. Some animals will scratch their ears very intensely causing secondary scabbing and bleeding of the ear flaps. Some cats may experience secondary bacterial and/or yeast infections. Animal guardians will often notice the appearance of a black or darkish brown debris in the ear canals which resembles coffee grounds in the ears of affected cats.
Are ear mites contagious?
While ear mites are not typically contagious to humans, they are contagious to other cats and/or dogs in the immediate environment. Diagnosis of ear mites typically requires veterinary exam with an instrument known as an otoscope, as well as microscopic evaluation of the discharge, which typically reveals the mites.
How are ear mites treated?
Over the years there have been many products marketed which are effective in killing ear mites. Early in my veterinary career, many veterinarians used the topical medicine Tresaderm which, while effective, would take several weeks of twice daily application to completely kill the ear mites. More recently there have been new products developed including topical Acarexx, or milbemite, which are immediately effective after one application. Probably my favorite product in killing ear mites today is topical Revolution, which is not only effective in preventing fleas and/or heartworms, but also certain parasites such as ear mites in cats. Advantage Multi is another topical prescription product which is also effective against mites. Finally, topical pyrethrins, such as Eradimite is an economical and effective choice in treating and controlling ear mite infestations. It is important to treat all animals in a single household, even if the problem is diagnosed in only one animal.