Ear Mites & Infections
What are ear mites?
The ear mite Otodectes cynotis is a surface mite that lives on cats, dogs, rabbits and ferrets. It is usually found in the ear canal but it can also live on the skin surface. The entire ear mite life cycle takes place on animals. Cats become infested by direct contact with another infested animal. The mite is just visible to the naked eye and can be seen as a white speck moving against a dark background.

What are the clinical signs of ear mites?
Ear mites are the most common cause of feline ear disease and infection. They are the second most common ectoparasite found on cats; the most common is the flea. Infestations are most common in kittens and young cats although cats of any age can be affected. Clinical signs of infestation vary in severity from one cat to another and include combinations of:
  1. Ear irritation causing scratching at the ears or head shaking
  2. A dark waxy or crusty discharge from the ear
  3. Areas of hair loss resulting from self-trauma - scratching or excessive grooming
  4. A crusted rash around or in the ear
  5. An aural hematoma - a large blood blister cause by rupture of small blood vessels between the skin and cartilage of the ear usually on the inner aspect - caused by scratching at the ears
  6. Skin lesions most frequently affect the ear and surrounding skin but occasionally other areas of the body may be affected.

How are ear mites treated?
Three steps are required to successfully treat ear mites:
  1. Treat the ears of all affected and susceptible pets
  2. Treat the skin of all affected and susceptible pets
  3. Treat the indoor environment because the mite is capable of limited survival off pets
Your veterinarian will advise you about which insecticidal products are suitable. There are several ear medications licensed for the treatment of ear mites. There are no products licensed for use on the house or on an animal's skin but many products licensed for flea control are effective.
Your veterinarian may ask you to continue the treatment regime for at least twenty-one days after which your veterinarian may re-examine the cat to ensure that the mites have been eliminated.

Do ear mites affect people?
Ear mites may cause a temporary itchy rash on susceptible people if there are infested pets in the household. Eradication of the mites from the pets will cure the problem.

Infections

How common are ear infections in cats?
Infections of the external ear canal or outer ear caused by bacteria and yeast are common in dogs but not as common in cats. Outer ear infections are called otitis externa. The most common cause of feline otitis externa is ear mite infestation.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?
Ear infections cause pain and discomfort and the ear canals are sensitive. Many cats will shake their head and scratch their ears attempting to remove the debris and fluid from the ear canal. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellow discharge is commonly observed.

Don't these symptoms usually suggest ear mites?
Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms including a black discharge, scratching and head shaking. However, ear mite infections generally occur in kittens and outdoor cats.
Ear mites in adult cats occur most frequently after a kitten carrying mites is introduced into the household or if they have encountered a cat with ear mites. Sometimes ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal which leads to a secondary infection with bacteria or yeast. By the time the cat is presented to the veterinarian the mites may be gone but a significant ear infection remains.

Since these symptoms are similar can I just buy some ear drops?
No, careful diagnosis of the exact cause of the problem is necessary to enable selection of appropriate treatment. There are several kinds of bacteria and fungi that may also cause an ear infection. Without knowing the kind of infection present, we do not know which drug to use. In some cases the ear infection may be caused by a foreign body, tumor or polyp in the ear canal. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. It is important that the cat be examined to be sure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured.

How should I apply medication to my cat's ear?
It is important to get the medication into the horizontal ear canal or lower part of the ear canal. The cat’s ear canal is shaped like an “L” and careful attention must be given that you apply the medication into the entire ear canal. This is best done by following these steps:

Gently pull the ear flap straight up and hold it with one hand.
Apply a small amount of medication in the vertical canal or upper part of the ear canal while continuing to keep the ear flap elevated. Hold this position long enough for the medication to run down to the turn between the vertical and horizontal ear canal.
Put one finger in front of and at the base of the ear flap and put your thumb behind at the base.
Massage the ear canal between your fingers and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.
Release the ear and let your cat shake its head. If the medication contains a wax solvent debris will be dissolved so it can be shaken out.

If another medication is to be used apply it in the same manner.
When all medications have been applied, clean the outer part of the ear canal and the inside of the ear flap with a cotton ball. Do not use cotton tipped applicators, as they tend to push debris back into the vertical ear canal.
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