Ear Mites in Cats
Ear mites are tiny crab like parasites, if left untreated, can cause a bacterial and yeast infections and, in extreme cases, rupture of the ear drum leading to seizures and deafness. Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are the most common cause of outer-ear inflammation in cats - especially kittens and young cats. Frequent ear scratching and head shaking are the most often seen symptoms.
When a mite-infested cat constantly scratches its ear, it can tear open tiny blood vessels in the ear flap, which can lead to swelling (known as hematoma) and permanent disfigurement.
Ear mites are very contagious and pass easily between the same species as well as between one species and another for example to dogs . Ear mites can even be passed to humans as transient carriers to other animals . They live on the surface of the skin in the ear canal, where they feed on tissue debris and tissue fluids. -illustration thanks to Hill's Pet Foods
Cats' reactions to mite infestations vary. Some cats don't seem bothered by even a large number of mites, but other cats itch intensely with only a small number. The former may be hypersensitive to mite saliva, so just a few mites in the ear canal can cause irritation. Also, mites stimulate the wax-producing glands inside the ear. The buildup of wax can then cause inflammation and lead to even more discomfort for the cat. One symptom of a mite infestation is a buildup of dark wax that looks something like coffee grounds.
Eventually, even mite-sensitive cats seem to build up an immunity to mites, which explains why mites make young cats suffer more than older cats. For example, it's not unusual for kittens to show all the signs of having mites while their mom shows no sign of discomfort whatsoever - although she also is harboring mites. Increasing immunity over time also explains why a return visit from mites is not as uncomfortable as the first visit.
A veterinarian can be fairly sure that a cat has ear mites if the cat is young, its ears are full of the wax described above, and the insides of its ears have an unpleasant odor. However, to confirm the diagnosis, your vet will probably inspect the inside of your cat's ears with a magnifying otoscope or visualization with the aid of a microscope. The warmth from the light of an otoscope draws the mites out from the ear wax and causes them to move about on the dark surface of the wax where they're relatively easy to spot.
It is essential that a veterinarian starts treatment by cleaning out the cat's ears. Flushing out debris gets rid of a large number of mites. It is not suggested, however, that an owner remove the debris because damage could be done to the cat's ears.
After cleaning, vets typically treat mites with medication, usually in the form of drops, that not only kill the parasites but also prevent secondary infections and reduce inflammation. It's imperative to continue the course of treatment at home for at least a month to cover the complete 3 week life cycle. If treatment is stopped too soon because the cat stops scratching, developing mites will reach adulthood and multiply. A re-examination by your veterinarian is essential.
Mites infestations can sometimes be persistent. In a multicat household, for example, an asymptomatic cat with mites could repeatedly reinfect a recently treated cat. So all cats and dogs in a household would need to be treated.
Although they normally live in the ear, sometimes mites migrate and are found outside a cat's ear, such as on its neck, rail, or rump. In these cases, the animal must be treated with a reputable flea product in the form of a shampoo, spray, or powder.
Veterinarians sometimes treat stubborn cases of mites with "off label" use of the drug ivermectin, which has not been formally approved for this use by the FDA, but has found to be effective in combating ear mites. More recent advent in the treatment of mites is the use of the following:
Frontline Spray by Merial Several drops of this medication are applied topically into the ear canal if there is no damage to the ear drum.
Revolution by Pfizer applied topically to pets every two weeks for three treatments then then used monthly if necessary to prevent recurrence if your pets are exposed to other animals with ear mites.
Acarexx by Blue Ridge Pharmaceuticals (a subsidary of IDEXX Labs) or Meilbomite -both are a topical ivermectin product is a once or twice application to the ears will eliminate ear mites.