You’re listening to your favourite music on a relaxing Friday night, and you just noticed that your cat is headshaking vigorously. Could this be that your cat is enjoying your music as well? Maybe, but it occurred to you that you’ve noticed him scratching around his ear areas quite regularly this past week. Otherwise, he seems quite healthy and still has the energy to go outside the house. What’s going on with your cat then? Well, given these signs, one of the potential causes to keep in mind would be ear mites!
Ear mite infection is one of the most common causes of ear scratching for dogs and cats. The mite responsible for this is named Otodectes cynotis. It takes about three weeks for Otodectes mites to develop from eggs to adults. Adults then live for approximately two months, and they feed on the skin debris. Yikes, talk about being just gross!
Ear mites can be seen (barely) by the naked eye as a small white dot but usually must be confirmed by using an otoscope or by examination of the ear wax sample under the microscope. Infection from ear mites produces a dry black ear discharge that is said to look like coffee grounds. This discharge is made up of the ear mites themselves, blood, ear wax, and inflammatory biochemicals.
Most ear mite cases are from cats (typically the outdoor cat). With that being said, dogs can still be infected with these creepy crawlers although they usually develop ear infections from other types (eg. yeast, bacteria). These ear mites can be readily transmitted from host to host via physical contact. Because of this relatively easy mode of transmission, all household pets must be treated once one case is confirmed. How about us humans, can we be infected? Well, according to the Veterinary Information Network, skin rashes have been reported (very rare), and it is considered that the human pet owner is extremely unlikely to experience any symptoms if their pet has ear mites.
Thankfully, there are a lot of products available for treating ear mites. Most of these medications are topical products (can be applied directly into the ears or behind shoulders), and some are in the form of injections (not commonly used mostly due to potential hypersensitivity). Please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian for more details regarding these creepy crawlers!
Written by: Raymond Reboja, DVM
Resource: Veterinary Information Network