Contagious Ear Mites

By: Rachel Broune

Small parasitic insects that live in the ear canal of an animal, and that are able to survive outside the ear for only very short periods of time.

Ear mites are extremely contagious. They can be passed from the mother animal to her offspring. Additionally, the mites are easily spread to other pets within the household including cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice, ferrets, etc. Humans are not affected.

There are numerous products available for ear mite eradication. Most older and over-the-counter products contain insecticides which do not kill incubating mite eggs. Because of this limitation, such products must be used for at least the duration of the 21 day life cycle of the mite. Some specialists recommend a 30 day treatment course with such products.

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.

Ear mites produce a black or brownish waxy debris in the ear canal, which looks very much like coffee grounds. Live mites can be seen in this debris with a magnifying glass or by spreading a small amount on dark paper and watching for tiny, moving white points.

If your pet is suffering from ear mites they will likely be constantly shaking their heads and scratching at their ears to rid themselves of the nasty pests and endless irritation. Telltale signs of the problem can be seen if you actually look into the ear itself. The ear may appear red and inflamed from all the scratching and although you will not see the mite culprit, there will be indications that it exists. You may notice a build up of wax within the ear as well as numerous black specks (likely spots of dried blood). In those cases where the ear mites have not been treated immediately or effectively, the mites will actually move down into the ear canal and cause an infection of the middle ear. This means that the animal may appear to be off balance and might be unable to hold its head up straight.

Checking your pet for ear mites is the first step to successful diagnosis and treatment. Things to look for when checking your pet for ear mites would be grey or black spots in the ear, otherwise known as exudates (blood, puss, etc.). Signs of ear mite infestation include persistent and excessive scratching of the ears, repeated shaking of the head (as if they're trying to shake the mites loose), as well as fever and a generally lethargic attitude. The most prominent "telltale" symptoms of an ear mite infestation are the shaking of the head and the buildup of exudates in the ear.

Make a mixture of 1/2 ounce of almond or olive oil and 400 IU vitamin E in a dropper bottle. Warm to body temperature and put about 1/2 dropper full in the ear, massaging the ear canal well for a minute or so. Let your pet shake its head and then gently clean out the opening with cotton swabs. Q-tip type applicators may compact material already in the ear canal. Apply the oil every other day for six days. Then let the ears rest for 3 days.

Ear mite infection can be treated topically after removal of debris from the ear. Various antiparasitic medications are available for use in the ears. Households with multiple infected pets can be treated with oral or injectable ivermectin.There is also a product labeled for treatment of ear mites in cats known as selamectin that is used on the skin and lasts for one month.

A commercial vinegar-and-water douche comes in handy at the oddest moments. Be sure to apply it externally, though. Pour it over your pet and rub it in. Sponge it on the face. Use rubber gloves to protect yourself from the skunk odor. Don't let the animal get wet again, because water will wash out the vinegar and the smell will return.

Consider using an anti-yeast medication, since secondary yeast infections are commonly found with ear mite infestations.

Ear Nose and Throat
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