Cats are avid groomers, but if you start to notice your cat paying particular attention to her ears, then you may be dealing with ear mites in cats. How do cats get ear mites? And the big question - how do you treat eat mites in cats?
Ear mites in cats and dogs aren’t just a nuisance, if not treated properly, they can leave lasting damage. Unlike other common pests, like fleas on cats, you probably won’t see mites on your cat because they are just too small.
They aren’t quite microscopic, but they are pretty tough to spot. Instead, what you’ll see is the painful and frustrating symptoms of ear mites on cats and dogs. How to treat ear mites in cats?
All About Ear Mites in Cats
Ear mites are parasites, scientifically named Otodectes cynotis.
They thrive in moist, dark, and warm environments which is why your cat’s ears are the perfect home for ear mites to flourish.
Ear mites bite into your cat's skin in the ear canal and latch on. They are a bit of a garbage pest, so they will feed on whatever debris passes by them, though blood and skin oils provide the most nutrients. These tiny little pests that can barely be seen by the naked eye can do a lot of damage as they live their full life cycle attached to your kitty.
Life Cycle of Ear Mites
Unlike many pests that drop their eggs, mites fulfill their entire life cycle while attached to your pet. The life cycle of the ear mite takes about 3-4 weeks in total, going through 5 different stages:
- Protonymphs (First Nymph Stage)
- Duetonymphs (Second Nymph Stage)
The complete mite cycle takes approximately 21 days, and a female adult mite can lay 5 or more eggs per day, allowing them to populate and potentially spread very quickly.
Ear Mites Spread Easily
Mites are highly contagious and opportunistic, so your cat can easily get mites from contact with any other animal that has the mites.
Typically, because ear infection mites are highly contagious and complete their life cycle on their host, direct contact with an infected animal is the most likely way of contracting these pests, but they can spread without a live host in a very limited capacity.
You might be thinking - But my cat is indoors! He’s never interacted with another pet! Indoor cats have a lower risk for exposure but can still get ear mites. The mites can survive up to 6 days without a host, meaning they can be tracked in on clothing, furniture, other pets, etc.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats
If your cat starts tilting her head, it might look cute, but she could be dealing with an uncomfortable infestation. Cat ear mites are quite common and, fortunately, easily treatable.
Some of the most common pests in dogs are typically less common in cats because many of our feline friends enjoy relaxing lives indoors, but they do share one common pest: the ear mite. These tiny pests love the warm, moist environment of your kitty’s ear flap canal.
Before you see any pest activity, you will likely notice some common symptoms of ear canal infections in outdoor cats and dogs. Mites lead to severe itchiness that can drive your kitty nuts, so if you see your kitty favouring her ears, then you should carry out a quick inspection to look for signs of pest activity.
Here are some other visible symptoms of ear mites in cats you may notice:
- Redness of the skin with severe irritation
- Lesions or abrasions on the back of the outer ear drops and ear mites conditions from scratching with hind legs
- Scabs or crusty debris
- Tilting or head shaking their head
Aural Hematomas in Cats
Besides the usual skin conditions and reactions you typically see with severe irritation, you may see your kitty's ear flap starting to balloon. You may chalk it up to swelling from severe irritation, but excessive scratching and head shaking can actually lead to a more severe condition called an aural hematoma.
The force of scratching and head shaking can lead to small blood vessels bursting in the ears, causing blood to accumulate in between the layers of skin and inflating the ear flap.
Aural hematomas can be very painful and can lead to further damage and possibly permanent disfiguration of the ear.
If you notice your cat’s ear inflating, call your vet immediately. The longer you wait, the more damage the hematoma can do. Treatment often requires surgery to properly drain the fluid and flatten the skin back to its normal shape.
Ear Mites vs Yeast Infections in Cats
Symptoms and signs of ear mites in your cats can be mistaken for other issues, like allergies or yeast infections. These similarities can make it challenging to diagnose mites at home. If you know what to look for, you can treat ear mites and eliminate these pests quickly and easily.
Symptoms of allergies and yeast infections can be similar to ear mites in cats, but yeast has one very obvious sign - its pungent smell. Yeast has a very well-known smell, one that can be quite off-putting.
Yeast is a fungus that always lives on your pet’s skin. Allergies and a poor diet can often allow the yeast to bloom quickly. Yeast, like mites, loves moist and warm areas, so ears are one of the best environments for yeast to thrive.
How to Check for Ear Mites in Cats
Even though ear mites are hard to see, it’s not impossible. They are small and very light in colour and can resemble coffee grounds, so you might see the small specks wiggling around, but more than likely, you will see the debris they leave behind.
Ear mite poop is usually the easiest way to identify ear mite activity. They leave behind small dark specks that look like pepper in your cat’s ear wax. They can also cause excess ear wax build-up, so your cat’s ear may look dirty, even if you regularly clean their cat’s ears.
Alone this doesn’t guarantee ear mites, but if you see what looks like pepper in your cat’s ear and you find your cat is suffering from some of the most common symptoms, then you likely have a pretty accurate diagnosis.
If you don't see any evidence of mite activity, it's still a good idea to have your cat checked out by your vet to rule out other pests, allergies, or skin and coat issues that may need immediate attention.
How to Get Rid of Ear Mites in Cats
If you suspect your cat is suffering from a cat's ear mite infestation, then don’t panic. Mites may be unpleasant, but they are, fortunately, pretty easy to evict. In many cases, you may start by treating the symptoms.
Trying to soothe the itch or preventing infection seems like it would be the most effective solution to your cat’s discomfort, but it’s only a temporary solution unless you treat the underlying issue.
Fortunately, over-the-counter medication for ear mites is sold at most pet stores, and vets can sell you potent solutions. The ear mite medications are typically an oily formula that is dropped in the ear for a few days to a week to kill off the mites at all life stages.
More severe infestations of ear mites can cause secondary infections or damage. In such situations, your cat may require an antibiotic, so talk to your vet if you aren’t sure of the right treatment for your cat’s itchy ear issues.
Home Remedy for Cat Ear Mites
Natural treatments are quite popular, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to show the effectiveness of natural remedies for cat ear mite infections. Like most natural remedies, they are effective in most cases, but it’s not a guaranteed cure for every case of ear mites.
The best part about home remedies is not just that they are natural and free of chemicals; it’s also usually that they are made of ingredients that you probably already have at home. I
If you are dealing with a severe infestation or secondary complications of ear mite infection, then talk to your vet about all of the ear mites treatment options to make sure you choose the safest one for your kitty.
Let’s take a look at 3 of the most popular home remedies for ear mites in cats:
Treating Ear Mites in Cats Olive Oil
One of the most well-known and effective natural home remedies for ear mites in dogs and cats is olive oil. It seems almost too simple to be true, but it is!
Applying small amounts of olive oil to your cat’s ear will basically suffocate the ear mites and prevent them from latching onto the skin, and make it easier to remove the mites and eggs by wiping ear mites in your cat’s ears out with a makeup pad or soft washcloth.
The oil will also act as a soothing agent to the cat's ear while it promotes healing.
Essential Oils for Cat Ear Mites
If you already lean towards natural remedies, then you likely have an arsenal of essential oils in your home to cure various issues. If so, you probably have an essential oil or two that can help soothe the itch and make your cat ears a less-than-ideal home for the mites.
Here are a few essential oils that mites hate:
- Tea Tree oil
- Lavender Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
Essential oils have the potential to be dangerous when used on cats because they are so concentrated, so they need to be diluted with carrier oil, like coconut oil or olive oil, to be safe.
Also, keep in mind that these essential oils shouldn't be ingested; they should only be used topically in places where your cat can't lick at them. If you are unsure of how to use essential oils with your cat safely, then we recommend a different treatment.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Ear Mites in Cats
Apple cider vinegar is a long-used natural remedy for many ailments and conditions, but you may not know how useful it is for treating ear mites in cats.
It’s an effective anti-fungal and anti-bacterial that can be used to treat ear mite infestations, including bacterial or yeast infections. Additionally, apple cider vinegar can help to adjust the skin pH in your cat’s ears, making the area a less hospitable environment for the mites to survive.
Apple cider vinegar alone to eliminate the ear mites from your kitty. You can also combine it with an essential oil or olive oil to increase effectiveness.
Untreated Ear Mites in Cats
Ear mites in cats may seem like a mild annoyance that’s easy to treat, and they are, but if they go untreated for too long, they will start to do some serious damage to your cat’s ears.
Ear mites are literally feasting on your cat’s skin, and they will start to do real damage to the delicate skin of their ears and delve deep into the ear canal if you don’t act quickly. Your cat could end up with a bacterial infection that could do even further damage to the skin and spread beyond the ears.
Mites love ears but will opportunistically spread to other parts of your cat's body that provides a tasty food source. This could lead to an intense itch, hair loss, and abrasions in the skin.
How to Prevent Ear Mites in Cats
With the right, timely treatment and appropriate after-care, ear mites are usually a simple fix, but as we always say with any pest infestation, prevention is the best method. You can’t predict where mites will be or which animal they are traveling on, so the best way to protect your pet from mites is to keep them healthy.
A strong immune system, healthy skin, and a good diet will make your cat a less ideal host for these opportunistic pests. Mites prefer an acidic environment, meaning low pH, so feeding a high-quality alkaline diet, like raw cat food, for three weeks will deter mite activity.
Cat Ear Problems Mite After Care
Getting rid of mites is the first step, but depending on how bad the infestation is and how much damage was done to your cat’s ears, you may need to consider different methods for helping to heal your cat’s ears after the mites have been eliminated.
Residual itch, dry skin, open sores, and even fur loss will take time to heal, but you can help speed up the process and make your cat more comfortable.
Here are some of the best topical treatments to support healing:
- Aloe Vera - has natural soothing properties to eliminate itching and retain skin moisture.
- Coconut Oil - soothes and conditions skin and contains anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, and anti-fungal properties.
- Fish Oils - Omega fatty acids help to condition skin and coat internally and reduce inflammation that causes the itch.
- E-collars - Sometimes, your cat is her own worst enemy. They'll scratch at their ears and shake to try and soothe the itch, but they are actually making the issue worse. E-collars can stop your kitty from scratching long enough to allow the skin to heal.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are ear mites in cats?
Ear mites in cats are tiny parasitic (Otodectes cynotis) insects that infest the ear canal to feed on the ear’s secreted wax and oils. Ear mites are highly contagious and can spread easily between cats and other pets.
Can ear mites cause deafness in cats?
Bacterial infections caused by ear mites can reach the eardrum or nerves of the cat’s ears, which can result in permanent hearing loss. Timely mite treatment safeguards your cat's hearing and reduces the risk of secondary complications.
Can ear mites be transmitted to humans?
While ear mites can transmit from pet to pet, ear mites pose no risk to humans. Regardless, prompt treatment is still vital.
How can I prevent my cat from getting ear mites?
Routinely clean your cat's ears and maintain good hygiene to prevent ear mite infestations. Keeping your cat indoors and away from infested animals also reduces the risk.
Can ear mites lead to other health problems?
Yes, untreated ear mites can lead to secondary complications such as bacterial infections and hearing loss. Prompt veterinary care is crucial to resolve the ear mite infestation and prevent damage to your cat’s ears or hearing.
Are over-the-counter treatments effective for ear mites?
For mild infestations, many over-the-counter and home remedies can be effective. However, for more advanced cases or situations where infection is a concern, it's recommended to consult a veterinarian for accurate diagnosis and treatment.