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Black dog with tongue out and floppy ears

So can you imagine having tiny creatures living in your ear canal, constantly causing itchiness and inflammation?

One, or probably even the most common cause of ear infections in cats are ear mites. Ear mites are parasites that are called Otodectes cynotis. They live in the ear canal and feed by piercing the skin.

Ear mite infestation is a very common problem in cats. Unfortunately most cats that are adopted from animal shelters, or even cats with an indoor/outdoor lifestyle, will contract ear mites at some point in their lives. Ear mites spread rapidly and can be transmitted by even brief, physical contact with other animals. In pets, ear mites most commonly affect cats, ferrets, and to a lesser extent, dogs.

Ear mites are a serious problem and are deeply distressing and uncomfortable for your pet.

Infestation usually occurs in both ears and can cause intense irritation. Scratching, rubbing the ear, head shaking and ear twitching are the most frequent signs exhibited by affected cats. The degree of itching varies among individual cats.  Very commonly I find hair loss and damage of the skin behind the ears and on the neck due to the intense scratching. The most typical appearance of ear mite infestation is the presence of dark brown-blackish dry or waxy discharge in the ears. Many people are not aware of ear mites and their symptoms and mistakenly think that this discharge is just dirt.

If left untreated, ear mite infestation can spread to other parts of the body, or spread deeper into the ear, jeopardizing the ear drum integrity and putting the animal at risk of deafness.

Occasionally, a blood vessel in the ear can rupture due to the frequent head shaking, leading to a swelling that results from the blood accumulation. This condition is called Aural hematoma and requires surgical drainage.

Ear mites are diagnosed very easily by a microscopic exam of the discharge from the ear. This exam can be done in any veterinary facility, does not require sedation or anesthesia, only takes few minutes, reveals immediate results and is very affordable.

Once the diagnosis of ear mites is established, the best course of action is to thoroughly clean the animal’s ears. The medication for ear mites comes in few different options of topical drops applied on the skin or directly into the ear canal.  Treatment should be repeated after one month to kill the next generation of mites that will have hatched by then. Relief, in terms of the animal no longer scratching at its ears, will be noticeable within a few hours.

Ear mites can be prevented by applying a topical product monthly against parasites and heartworm. Because ear mites are transmitted so easily from one animal to another, if one animal has it then all the other animals in the household should be treated as well.

Quite commonly I see people attempt to treat a problem at home based on advice from the Internet. I always recommend to my clients to be cautious about using the Internet for medical advice. Beside not knowing the source’s credibility, you should know that in some instances home remedies may cause other medical problems. It is always safer to receive professional veterinarian advice that includes a thorough exam, an accurate diagnosis and prescribing the medication that is best suitable for your pet’s individual condition.