Q: My vet says my cat has ear mites. It’s horrible and it’s not going away even though we’ve tried lots of medications. Help!
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A: Ear mite infections may well be the itchiest experience a cat can suffer. Dogs are susceptible, too, but they’re much less in the habit of harboring this particular mite.
Ear mites are small parasites that can live anywhere on an animal’s body but dwell particularly in the ears. Ear mites sustain themselves by eating skin cells, blood and earwax. They deposit their waste (a dark, crusty debris) in the ears. They also mate and produce eggs there.
The mite’s entire life cycle is only about three weeks and the mite spends its whole life inside the ear. They’re contagious to some other animals (for example, to dogs and ferrets), but generally speaking, they’re not considered contagious to humans.
The most common signs of ear mite infection include:
▪ Dark, crusty debris in the ears;
▪ Itching, scratching and head shaking;
▪ Red and inflamed ears;
▪ Scratches, wounds and hair loss around the ears.
Ear mites are microscopic. Examining ear debris under a microscope is the easiest way to diagnose them. If ear mites are strongly suspected but not identified during testing, treatment is sometimes initiated anyway since they’re wily creatures that can sometimes hide well enough to remain undetected.
Fortunately, ear mite infestations are highly treatable. Parasiticide ear drops will kill the mites. The new generation versions you can get through your vet are highly effective and super easy to use at home (instilled only every two weeks until the infection is resolved). Other topical parasite medications (like Revolution) can also kill ear mites, though this approach can take longer to bring pets the relief they need in the face of a debilitatingly itchy infection.
But here’s the thing: In my experience ear mite infections are often misdiagnosed. Some pets who suffer itchy ear infections may actually be suffering from yeast and/or bacterial infections that need to be treated along with the parasite-killing drugs. (Many of these infections can be the result of the ear mites having debilitated the ear over time.)
In plenty of cases, however, ear mites are never a factor. Instead, a form of allergic skin disease may be the culprit. And that’s a disease that can be hard to diagnose and treat. If the infection isn’t going away, consider seeing a veterinary dermatologist.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.