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Ask A Vet: How Can I Tell If My Cat Has Ear Mites?

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Ear mite infestation is a common for kittens and sometimes adult cats. Ear mites are just what they sound like: tiny bugs that live in the ears of affected cats. They live and reproduce inside the ear canal and their activities are certainly irritating for their feline host. The kitty will probably need a vet’s help to get rid of these itchy and pesky troublemakers because the inflammation they cause can predispose him to secondary infections. Over-the-counter treatments may not work completely.

How can the average cat or kitten owner tell if their pet has ear mites? Here are some ways to tell:

If your cat is shaking his head or scratching at his ears, he is trying to tell you something. Ear inflammation (with or without the presence of mites) can cause itching. Since cats do not have fingers to rub or scratch at their ears, they often resort to using their hind legs or rubbing their ears on the ground or furniture. If you see your cat or kitten constantly shaking or scratching at his ears, it is a warning sign for ear mites.

There should never be a foul odor or drainage coming from the ears. Normal ears are dry and do not smell particularly foul. They should be lined with skin that is the same color as normal skin, not bright red. If you see dark brown “chunks” coming out of your cat’s ears, something is wrong and ear mites are a common cause.

If your cat resists you touching her ears or head, there could be a problem. While it is true that the ears are very sensitive and contain many nerves, normal ears do not hurt with regular petting or scratching or even play. Cats generally love to have their faces and heads rubbed. Regular handling should never be painful, so if your cat is avoiding you stroking her head or ears, she is trying to tell you something.

Remember, ear mites are not the only cause of these signs, so if you notice them, please call your veterinarian.  Although there are over-the-counter preparations to treat ear mites, it is always best to let your vet examine the brown discharge under a microscope to know for sure. Once you have a diagnosis, your vet can help you decide which treatment options fit your cat and his/her particular issue.

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