Treating ear mites in cats

Ear mites are a common feline problem that can make your cat miserable. Check out these effective treatment options.

Abby recently adopted a young cat from her local shelter. He was in good health except he was constantly scratching his ears and shaking his head. “I noticed they had this dark stuff inside them,” Abby says, adding that she drew it to her vet’s attention at the kitten’s first checkup. The diagnosis was ear mites, a common problem in young cats, although they can occur at any age.

The scientific name for ear mites is Otodectes cynotis. These pests prefer to inhabit an animal’s ear because of its moist environment, and the wax that is used as a food source. However, they can also be found on the hair surrounding the ears and occasionally on other areas of the body. Ear mites can also survive in the environment for short periods.

Common signs of ear mites

• Ear odor
• Head shaking or a slight head tilt
• Scratching primarily at ears, but also the head and neck
• Scabs on the back side of the ears as a result of scratching • Hair loss around ears • Redness and inflammation inside ears
• A painful or sensitive ear
• A dark brown discharge that looks similar to coffee grounds

How are they diagnosed?

Ear mites are very tiny and difficult to identify without magnification. Diagnosis requires placing a small amount of the ear discharge on a slide with some mineral oil, and examining the slide using a microscope. If you think your cat may have ear mites, consult with your veterinarian to assist with diagnosis and treatment.

Getting rid of mites

Since ear mites are highly contagious, it is recommended that all animals in the household be treated. The house should also be thoroughly vacuumed and cleaned to prevent your cat from becoming re-infected. The cat should also be bathed, cleaning thoroughly around the head, neck and ears, to kill the mites that crawled to other areas of the body.

Ear mites can be treated with both traditional and holistic medicine. Conventional treatments include prescription topical ear medication like Tresaderm, which contains an antibiotic to treat secondary infections; a steroid to reduce skin inflammation; and a parasiticide to kill the mites.

Injectable options include Ivermectin; it may be helpful for cats that will not allow their ears to be cleaned and medicated, but adverse reactions can occur in any individual regardless of the breed. Single use prescription topical medications may also be used; they eradicate ear mites with a single treatment, although ear cleaning is still required to remove wax and debris.

Holistic medicine

You can take a more natural approach to treating ear mites.

If making your own ear cleaner appears daunting, you can purchase natural ear cleaners or mite remedies at a holistic pet store – one example is Ark Naturals’ Ears All Right For Pets Natural Ear Mite Remedy.

Cleanings should be performed every three days, for a total of three to four treatments. When cleaning your cat’s ears, use a dropper to apply approximately four drops of oil-based solution to the affected ear. Massage the ear for approximately one minute. Then clean the ear and remove the debris using a Q-tip or cotton swab. Note: Q-tips should only be used in parts of the ear that can be seen to prevent damage to the ear drum!

Essential oils may be added for additional benefits. Before using essential oils on your cat, however, please consult with a holistic veterinarian, as some can be toxic to felines. For example, peppermint and tea tree might seem good choices, but they are harmful to cats. Here are some other oils that may be added to the cleaning solution. Oils from organically grown plants are best.

Catnip: can help treat mites
St. John’s wort: heals skin, reduces inflammation and infection
Rosemary: inhibits ectoparasites, reduces inflammation

After the ears are cleaned, topical organic aloe gel (with no added scents, artificial colors or preservatives) can be applied to the ears. Aloe is cooling, helps reduce inflammation, and treats secondary bacterial infections.

With proper treatment, the prognosis is good and your cat should be fully cleared of these pests in a matter of weeks. Take your cat to the veterinarian for a follow-up physical exam one month after treatment has been completed to ensure the problem has completely resolved.

Can ear mites be prevented?

The answer is yes. Keep your cat separated from any animal that has been diagnosed with ear mites. Maintaining good general health is also very important in preventing parasites, including ear mites. Diet is crucial; feed your cat a well balanced, high quality, low carbohydrate food. Supplements such as probiotics, Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin C can also be used to support his immune system.

Though not life-threatening, ear mites can cause your cat a lot of misery and discomfort, so it’s wise to nip them in the bud at the first sign of a problem. He’ll be much happier for it!

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