You squint your eyes in the early morning, awoken by sounds of pink beans pounding on fur and cartilage.
Geeze, Mochi, itchy ears much?
You attempt to doze back off, but Mochi is back at it again. And again. And again.
You sit up from your pillow to look at your cat. Now you’re worried. What’s got this poor kitten’s ears so itchy?
If your cat’s got the ear-scratching blues, it might be the result of cat ear mites. Read on to learn more about ear mites in cats, how they happen, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.
What Are Ear Mites?
Ear mites, or otodectes cynotis, are tiny, spider-like bugs that can lodge into your cats’, dogs’, and humans’ ears. They feed on ear wax, dead skin, and oil and have a typical life cycle of approximately 18–28 days.
While ear mites aren’t prevalent in cats and kittens, infestations can occur, especially in outdoor cats. And though they don’t often bite, ear mites are highly contagious—and can lead to a secondary ear infection and severe ear damage if they aren’t treated appropriately with a medicated ear drop.
Fortunately, an ear mite infestation is completely curable if you diagnose it with speed and know how to give your pet the proper care. An adult ear mite can breed and propagate in just a few weeks, so it’s crucial to stay keen on any potential symptoms early on and prevent as much of the spread as possible.
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What Causes Ear Mites in Cats?
Any time a cat comes in contact with nature or other animals, there’s a chance they may catch an ear mite looking to hitch a ride on their ears.
So, how do cats get ear mites? The most common ways cats contract ear mites are:
How to Spot Ear Mites in Cats
When it comes to identifying cat ear mites versus wax, it can be tricky to tell the difference. The easiest way to determine whether a cat has ear mites is by observing how they treat their ears. If she paws, scratches, or swats at her ears, this may be a sign that ear mites are trying to crash the party.
The most common signs of ear mites in cats are:
- Excessive head shaking
- Frequent ear scratching
- Dark ear wax or discharge
- Red or swollen ear canals
- More frequent body scratching
- Strong odor coming from the cat’s ear
Bear in mind that ear mite symptoms can look different for every cat due to their unique disposition—so remember that you know your kitten better than anyone else. If your gut is telling you that something is “off” with their ears, listen to your instincts.
Diagnosing Ear Mites at Home: Signs to Look For
Because different felines display different stress behaviors, it can be challenging to self-diagnose ear mites in cats without a trained veterinarian.
To that end, it can be helpful to know what other physical signs to look out for before popping your kitten into the travel carrier and heading to the vet. Other common signs of ear mites in cats include:
- Coffee-ground-like discharge – Sometimes, ear mites in cats can end up looking like coffee grounds or dirt falling out of your cat’s ears. This can happen when the tiny mites combine with dead skin cells, ear wax, and blood in your cat’s ears.
- Ear redness – Ear mites often cause ear canal inflammation and irritation. These symptoms could, however, be caused by several other ear-related cat ailments, which is why a veterinarian needs to perform a checkup to deliver their diagnosis.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Cat Ear Mites
At the vet, the doctor will examine your cat’s ears or the ear discharge that has fallen out. A microscopic device can help determine if the discharge is ear mite-related or caused by another condition.
If your vet discovers ear mites in your cat’s ears, they’ll work with you to create a treatment plan that’s best for your kitten.
If they don’t find ear mites, pat yourself on the back for bringing your pet in anyway—it’s always important to have any ear irritation you notice checked out by a vet to ensure the health and hearing of your cat.
How to Get Rid of Ear Mites Cats
Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best ear mite treatment for cats and your household. In most cases, following their recommended protocol should clear out cat ear mites a few weeks after they begin treatment.
Some cat ear mite treatments can be administered at home, but you’ll want to ensure you follow your vet’s instructions as carefully as possible so as not to cause additional damage to your cat’s ears.
Some common ear mite treatment options include:
5 Ways to Prevent Ear Mites in Cats
Cat ear mites can cause ear aches for your perfect furball and plenty of heartaches (or headaches!) for you and your household. The best thing you can do as a pet owner is to learn to prevent ear mites before they ever become an ear problem.
To keep ear mites out of your kitten’s ear canals, try these five tips:
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Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Ear Mites: Tiny Critters that can Pose a Major Threat. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/ear-mites-tiny-critters-can-pose-major-threat
The Spruce Pets. Ear Mites in Cats. https://www.thesprucepets.com/about-ear-mites-dogs-and-cats-3384667
Small Door Veterinary. Ear Mites in Cats. https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/medical/ear-mites-in-cats
Highland Veterinary Clinic. The Symptoms, Causes and Treatment for Cat Ear Mites. https://www.highlandvet.net/the-symptoms-causes-and-treatment-for-cat-ear-mites#:~:text=What%20causes%20cat%20ear%20mites,veterinary%20offices%20with%20poor%20hygiene
VCA Animal Hospital. Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ear-mites-otodectes-in-cats-and-dogs#:~:text=A%20diagnosis%20is%20made%20by,be%20properly%20examined%20and%20treated
Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. Ear Mites. https://www.marvistavet.com/ear-mites.pml
Washington Dog and Cat Hospital. Ear Mites in Cats: Causes, Treatment & Prevention. https://www.washingtondogandcathospital.com/site/blog/2022/03/31/ear-mites-in-cats-causes-treatment--prevention
Trupanion. Ear mites: all you need to know. https://trupanion.com/pet-care/parasite-prevention/ear-mites#:~:text=How%20to%20prevent%20ear%20mite,of%20an%20infection%20at%20home.