Ear mites are microscopic, white crab-like critters that invade a cat or dog’s ear canal. Their diet consists of ear wax and debris in your pet’s ears. You can see ear mites with the naked eye, but you have to look closely. Where do ear mites come from, and how do you get rid of them?
Ear mites are highly contagious and can easily infect other pets in a home. More common in cats than dogs, this parasite lives inside the ear, but it can also live on other parts of the body of an infected pet. Outside cats who have contact with other cats and animals have a greater risk of being infected with ear mites, but inside cats are also at risk. The cat is a perfect host and will pass the mites on to other pets in the home.
Humans can also become a host and transmit the mites if we touch an infected animal and then touch our pets. A dog’s scratchy ears are usually from another source of infection, since they are rarely infected with ear mites. Some pets will scratch infected ears until they bleed. Skin diseases can also develop from untreated ear mite infections.
It’s important to know what an infestation of ear mites looks like in your pet’s ear because too many times a pet is treated for ear mites when the actual problem is a yeast or bacterial infection.
Symptoms to watch for include:
Head shaking or scratching around the ears
Inflammation of the ear
Sores located around the pet’s ears caused by scratching
Debris in their ears that resembles coffee grounds
An unpleasant odor
An ear mite infestation can stimulate ear wax production in the infected cat or dog. So you could see a dark waxy discharge coming from your pet’s ear. Left untreated, ear mites can cause permanent hearing loss, so it’s important to have your vet examine your pet to find the exact cause of their head shaking and scratching if you notice any symptoms. If you suspect or just want to check to see if your pet has ear mites, scratch the base of his ears which would be in the area of the ear canal. If he responds by immediately scratching his ear, that’s a sign that the tiny parasites are most likely present.
Your vet can detect ear mites quickly by looking inside the cat or dog’s ear with an instrument (an otoscope). They can also be seen under any magnifying glass or with the naked eye by closely examining debris pulled out of your pet’s ear on a Q-tip. If any of the parasites are found in one pet, all other pets in the home will also need to be treated to prevent re-infecting the one you just treated.
Treatments to kill ear mites work well, but it can take several tries if the first treatment doesn’t take into account the life cycle of ear mites. They go from egg to larvae, 2 stages of nymphs and finally adult mites in about 21 days. Treatments need to go through the complete life cycle of the mites to successfully eliminate them. The good news is advances in ear mite medications have been successful in reducing the time needed to get rid of an infestation.
Tresaderm has been a favorite of vets for years and works well, but newer medications are showing good results in as little as 2 to 4 treatments. Invermectin is an anti-parasitic medication that’s injected into the pet. However, not all dogs can tolerate the medication. The injections are a good solution to use on pets who refuse to allow anyone to mess with their ears. Cat owners who have tried to clean out or put ear drops in their cat’s ears will appreciate the convenience of an injection. Two different topical flea medications have been approved for use in eliminating ear mites: Revolution® for both cats and dogs, and Advantage Multi® for cats only.
It’s possible for humans to be affected by ear mites, but not likely. Some people have reported skin rashes when their pet was infected with mites, but it is rare and most pet owners don’t need to worry about becoming infected.
It’s best to take your pet to the vet for a professional evaluation just in case your pet has something other than ear mites. Yeast or other bacterial infections will not be cleared up using ear mite medications, and you are only wasting your time and money treating the wrong infection.
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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