What Causes Ear Mites in Cats?



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Known alternatively as Otodectes cynotis, ear mites are one of the most common problems cats and their owners encounter. Ear mites can occur from infections, grassy undergrowth outdoors, or social interactions.

What Causes Ear Mites in Cats. A black, grey, and white cat scratching its ear crouched on a path.

If your cat has ear mites, it will be in discomfort, and you might notice it curled up in a corner, aggressively scratching its ears. But, to unsuspecting cat owners, it might never occur to think about an ear mite infestation.

In this article, I will cover all the signs of ear mites, what to do if your cat has them, and preventative steps you can take to ensure they never come back!

How Do Cats Get Ear Mites?

Ear mites are highly contagious and typically found in feral and outdoor cats.

They are typically spread via social interaction with other infected cats. One infected cat can contaminate the whole litter.

Are Cat Ear Mites Contagious to Humans?

Don’t worry! They can’t spread to humans and are localized to cats and occasionally dogs.

If your cat is outgoing and has recently encountered a street cat, and you start noticing odd behavior, it might be due to the mites in its ear canal. While indoor cats are less likely to suffer from an ear mite infection, they aren’t immune to it. Even infected dogs can also pass it along.

Once your cat is infected, the bedding, tools you use to groom them, and any surface they come near will become infected. The insect can live up to 6 days on contaminated surfaces, providing ample opportunity to infect other household cats.

Where Do Cat Ear Mites Come From?

You will typically find ear mite infestations in the woods, grassy areas, or spaces with poor hygiene. If you live in such an environment, you should take preventative measures to ensure the safety of your feline friend.

Ensure your spaces are well maintained, cleaned, and disinfected regularly. After storms, don’t let the debris accumulate; clear it as soon as the weather allows.

Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats

Knowing what to look out for can make a difference for your pet. The following are all signs your kitty might be suffering from ear mites:

  • Redness around the ears is due to either swelling, inflammation, or both.
  • Violent rubbing or head shaking because of pain.
  • Damage around the ear. Look for any scratches, recent scabs, or hair loss around the ear, and check for ear discharge. Cats with ear mites often have excessive scratching issues.
  • Dermatitis.
  • Pus.
  • An unpleasant odor is coming from the ear.
  • Your cat will have black or brown ear wax. You might also find blood or ear mite droppings in its ear wax if it has scratched its ear enough to damage it.

Diagnosis of Ear Mites in Cats

A sample of ear discharge is examined under a microscope, and if ear mites are found, your cat will be recommended a course of antibiotics for treatment. However, they are too small to see with the naked eye, so always consult a veterinarian, as it could be a different infection.

Ear mites are not life-threatening, but they’re an uncomfortable experience for your feline friend and can cause infections if left unchecked. In worst-case scenarios, it will require surgery.

Treatment for Ear Mites in Cats

It is easy to treat ear mites if you follow your vet’s advice. However, DIY treatments and over-the-counter medication usually do not have the same effect, and cats might not be responsive to such therapies.

The first step is thoroughly cleaning your cat’s ear canal from any discharge. It helps ease irritation and get rid of some of the mites. From there, the vet might choose any of these follow-ups:

One-Time Medication for Cat Ear Mites

This vet treatment is usually quick and painless, returning your cat’s ear to prime shape. It is highly recommended that you only use the medication your vet prescribes.

One-Time Skin Treatment for Cat Ear Mites

These treatments from the vet are applied to the skin and usually eliminate the infection. You use these once a month to prevent any chances of reinfection.

Medication Course for Cat Ear Mites

Your vet might prescribe a medicinal course if a one-time application does not eliminate the infection.

You should also treat any other pets you have at home, even if they do not show symptoms, because the infection might surface in them later.

Two-Step Treatment for Cat Ear Mites

After your cat’s ears have been thoroughly cleaned, your vet will give you mite drops to apply. The course typically lasts seven days.

Ear mites can get stuck on the fur and other parts of the cat’s body. Therefore, you are highly recommended to bathe the cat with an anti-parasite shampoo to ensure it is mite-free.

Your cat’s treatment depends on the infection’s severity and your cat’s comfort level. For example, some cats are incredibly unresponsive to mite drops, whereas others have skin too sensitive to apply some treatments. Consult your vet and choose how best to meet your pet’s needs.

What Happens If Cat Ear Mites Are Left Untreated?

A cat will likely suffer from damaged canals or develop bacterial infections if left untreated. It may also develop deafness.

A repeated infection has a long-term effect on the skin. It gets thicker, flakier, and greasier. If you notice this, your cat needs further treatment from the vet.

Other issues that might arise from leaving ear mites untreated are torn eardrums. In addition, the cat can develop behavior issues due to increased irritability every day. It won’t be easy to enjoy food, drink, and usual playing due to the intense itchiness, leading to it obsessively scratching its ear.

How To Prevent the Infection in Cats?

Due to the lifespan of ear mites, a repeat outbreak is typical. Anti-mite lotions, when applied to the skin, prevent these infestations from taking place, and it helps with fleas, roundworm, and other nasty critters.

Changes in Your Cats Moods or Behavior

A cat with ear mites will act slightly differently. For example, you might notice more irritation, excessive scratching, and an unbalanced posture that favors the uninfected ear.

Additionally, cats with ear mites might also suffer from loss of balance. If you see your cat walking disoriented along with any other warning signs, it is an excellent time to call the vet.

Chances of Reinfection of Ear Mites in Your Cat

If your cat cannot get over the 21-day life cycle of ear mites or you can’t properly take care of the first infection, reinfection is likely to happen. Ear mites can be incredibly persistent, which is why preventative measures are recommended.

How Clean Should My House Be to Prevent Ear Mites in Cats?

Your surroundings should be clean and dry. Ear mites favor woody, moist areas and thrive in these environments.

If your pets have any favorite spots where they usually like to spend their time or nap, ensure those places are always clean. Regular ear check-ups and general upkeep help keep ear mites away from most homes and cats.

What To Do To Stop My Cat From Scratching?

If your cat does not stop scratching its ears despite treatment or you cannot take it to the vet, a protective collar can help reduce scratching.

However, these collars are uncomfortable for cats as they can make eating, drinking, and regular physical activity awkward. Do not ignore the scratching. If left unchecked, they can open the skin of their inner ear to cause more infections.

When Do I Stop Treatment at Home To Eradicate Cat Ear Mites?

Do not stop treatment until you finish the entire course your vet has advised.

Symptoms might start to resolve relatively quickly, but if you do not follow the entire course, chances of reinfection are high, and your cat will remain agitated for longer than it has to.

This is because ear mites have different stages of their 21-day life cycle. So until you get rid of every single one, you cannot eliminate the chance of reinfection.

How Long Do Cat Ear Mites Take To Go Away?

Ear mites take three weeks post-treatment to go away completely. Once they all die out, your cat should be mite-free, and you can stop worrying.

However, preventative medicine helps you save money in the long run by curbing infections in the first place, so it is a good idea to invest – both for your cat and your wallet.

Final Thoughts on Cat Ear Mites

Ear mites are a common problem that is routine for vets and cats alike, so do not fret too much if your cat wakes up with them one day. The potential deafness and torn eardrums are all worst-case scenarios, and most owners spot infections long before it ever gets that bad.

In terms of treatment, they are affordable and easy to manage, and after the initial visit, you can nurse your pet back to total health at home.

They are quite a nuisance, though, and your cat will undoubtedly itch up a storm and damage its ear if you ignore the signs! But remember, they cannot be seen, so watch for symptoms.

Before you go, you might find these articles helpful:

How To Clean Cats Ears – A Step-by-step guide

How To Trim Cat Nails

How To Pill A Cat

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