If your cat is shaking her head and scratching her ear, she may be suffering from otodectes cynotis, better known as cat ear mites. These tiny parasites dwell in her ears, feeding off of the wax and debris over the course of their three-week lifespan. If left untreated, your cat can develop a secondary bacterial ear infection.
A Common Problem in Felines
Ear mites are highly contagious through casual contact with other infected cats and dogs. If one pet in the home has ear mites, the others will likely become afflicted. If your cat goes outdoors, she can bring home the mites if she comes into contact with another cat that harbors them. Facilities where large numbers of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are housed together, such as pet shops, shelters and breeding facilities, are common sources of ear mites on cats and dogs. The result is frequent ear mite diagnoses when newly adopted pets are presented for their first veterinary examinations. Fortunately for pet owners, ear mites generally do not affect human ears.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats
If your kitten or cat has cat ear mites, you will notice any of the following symptoms:
- Excessive scratching at one or both ears
- Rubbing her ears on surfaces, such as the carpet
- Shaking her head
- An ear that may not stand straight up at all times
- Redness and inflammation of one or both ears
- Strong odor from the affected ears
- Appearance of debris that resembles coffee grinds
- Scratches or scabs on her face and head around the ears
Ear mites in cats cause severe itchiness and can make your cat very miserable. If you notice any of these signs, bring your cat to see her veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis and begin the simple treatment that will offer her quick relief.
Diagnosing Cat Ear Mites
Ear mites are arthropods that are nearly unobservable with the naked eye. Once you describe your cat’s symptoms, your veterinarian will employ one of two methods to diagnose the problem. He will inspect your cat’s ear canal and take a swab of the dark brown debris, which he can smear on a slide to look at through a microscope. Alternately, if your veterinarian has a digital otoscope, he can place the scope into the ear canal and view a dramatically magnified image on a monitor screen. The cat ear mites will appear as white bugs with eight legs, actively crawling along the walls of your cat’s ear canal.
Complications Caused by Ear Mites On Cats
Imagine how it must feel to have a large number of bugs crawling inside your ears constantly. Your cat is very unhappy, scratching incessantly in a vain attempt to relieve the itch and annoyance. The excessive scratching and intense head shaking can result in scratch wounds to her face, which can become infected, and aural hematoma, a condition in which the vessels in the ear rupture as a result of trauma and the pinna of the ear becomes a fluid-filled pocket.
As the ear mites burrow and feed off of the tissue debris in your cat’s ear, the canal becomes inflamed. An increase in earwax production ensues, building up in the canal until it results in obstruction. Your cat’s ear becomes vulnerable to bacterial infection, and an untreated ear infection can result in damage to the eardrum.
Treatment of Ear Mites In Cats
Your veterinarian will prescribe drops to apply into your cat’s ear to treat the condition. Some products require one treatment only to kill the adult mites and the eggs. Other products need to be applied for a number of days to kill the adults, followed by a period of no treatment so that the eggs can hatch, and then a second round of treatment is administered to kill the newly hatched mites. In either scenario, you veterinarian will want to examine your cat’s ears once again after treatment is completed to verify that the mites have been completely eradicated.
If your cat is also suffering from an ear infection, your veterinarian may recommend that you use an ear cleaning solution to remove debris from your cat’s ears, and he may prescribe an otic antibiotic ointment to treat the infection.
If other cats or dogs are also members of your family, they probably also have ear mites. You will need to treat all of them simultaneously to avert reinfection back and forth between pets. Wash all pets’ bedding thoroughly. If your cat goes outdoors, ask your veterinarian about flea control products that also prevent mites on cats to prevent future ear mite misery.
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