Ear mites in cats are fairly common in the United States. They can be very unpleasant for your cat, and, at times, dangerous.
Some cats seem to develop immunity to mites, so younger cats are more likely to to be afflicted. Cats with suppressed immune systems are likewise at higher risk. If left untreated, they can lead to accompanying secondary bacterial and yeast infections.
What are they? — Mites are the most common cause of outer-ear inflammation in cats. They are tiny crab-like parasites that typically live in and around a cat’s ears, and also on the head. In more extreme cases, they can cause a rupture of the ear drum, and may lead to deafness and even seizures.
Sensitivity to mite infestations varies, with some cats appearing less bothered by it than others. Younger cats are typically more sensitive than older cats.
What are the symptoms? — The most common symptoms of ear mites in cats are frequent scratching of the ears, and head shaking due to irritation of the ear canal. The obvious sign is a build up of dry, black wax that often resembles coffee grounds.
Secondary bacterial infection is not uncommon with mites, and some cats may experience hair loss around the ears as well. The waxy build up may cause additional irritation in the ear.
Excessive scratching may cause ulceration at the back of the ear. In extreme cases, this may lead to permanent disfigurement.
Treatment — Treatment of ear mites in cats should be done by a veterinarian in order to avoid possible damage to the ear. Treatment begins with cleaning out the cat’s ears.
Mineral oil may be used to soften the wax. Flushing out the ears removes a large number of mites and dislodges the wax at the same time.
After the ears are cleaned, an ear mite treatment can be administered. Flea control medication is often used to prevent a recurrence of infestation by any mites that have migrated to some place other than the ear. Over-the-counter remedies will typically take longer to work than the ear mite treatment preparations from your veterinarian.
Since ear mites in cats can also be spread to humans and dogs, it is necessary to take some precautions. Physical contact with affected cats should be limited. In more difficult cases, your veterinarian may administer “off-label” drugs. This is a very treatable condition, although treatment may take some time in more severe instances.
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