You adopted your new kitten and things couldn’t be better! EXCEPT she won’t quit scratching her ears! She is constantly shaking her head and scratching away, so much it is keeping you up at night! You know she is miserable, and if she hurts, you hurt. You have heard of something called “ear mites” before, and so you do your Google search. Yep, sure enough, all the symptoms are there.
But what do you do now?
First, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Ear mites have very distinct symptoms and side effects, but ear infections can reflect a lot of those symptoms and there could be something much bigger going on. You do not want to treat your new baby for something that is not the cause of the problem. Also, ear mites are barely detectable by the naked eye. Your veterinarian can take a swab of the inside of the ear and look at it under a microscope to determine if it is ear mites or another medical condition.
Ear mites are small parasites that are commonly found on dogs and cats, although cats are more likely to be affected. These parasites crawl around and chew on the inside and outer rim of the ear. If left untreated, this can lead to major ear infections, and even ear drum damage.
One of the first symptoms of ear mites is scratching. The mites move around and chew, and you can imagine that this must be uncomfortable. Your pet might also shake their head quite a bit. If you look in the ear canal, you will see brown debris that looks like coffee grounds. You might also see large dark chunks of wax mixed with the coffee-ground like debris. Add all these up, and the likelihood of ear mites is pretty good. Other things to look for are hair loss around the ears, a strong odor, and even scabs on or around the ear, usually from excessive scratching. Remember, some animals are more resistant to infection so they may show none of the symptoms, but they could still have ear mites.
In order to treat ear mites, you must kill the eggs that are laid. The typical life cycle of an ear mite is 3 weeks, so you want to ensure you treat long enough to kill the entire life cycle of the mite. Typically you will start with an ear cleaning to get rid of all the debris and excrement out of the ear canal. This can sometimes require general anesthesia if the buildup is bad or it is too stressful on your pet. After a thorough cleaning, you will then want to use a miticide to kill the mites. (Eradimite and Revolution are two good choices, but your veterinarian will prescribe one.) It is important that when you apply the medication you massage the base of the ear thoroughly to make sure it gets all the down in the canal so that the mites and eggs are killed.
Ear mites are highly contagious, so if there are other animals in the home they need to be treated as well, even if they are not showing any symptoms. Mites do not live away from the body for very long, so a thorough house cleaning should be enough as well. If your cats are being treated, remember they will need to have their tails cleaned since they usually sleep with their tails curled up by their heads. Some veterinarians will also suggest a flea treatment be applied to all animals in the home.
Remember, it is not the end of the world. More than 50% of cats will get mites at some point in their lives. It is fairly easy and cost effective to treat, but it is important to start treatment at the earliest signs of symptoms. Typically after 3-4 weeks, your household will be back to normal and you won’t even remember the initial shock and slight irritation of treatment for your pet.
On a good note, ear mites are not zoonotic, meaning they are not something passed from pets to humans. Even though your ears may itch when you are cleaning your pets, you are more than likely safe.