If you’re not a fan of the creepy-crawly and have to call for backup when you see a spider on the wall, you’ll be happy(ish) to know that ear mites in cats and dogs are barely visible to the naked eye.
The size of a pinhead, these tiny terrors love to set up residence inside a pet’s ears. And, much like the worst tenants ever, dog and cat ear mites can be a real pain to get rid of.
What Exactly Are Ear Mites?
Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis if you want to impress your friends) are parasites belonging to the arachnid family. Their 4-stage lifecycle, going from egg to larvae to nymph to adult, takes around three weeks to complete.
Mites need a host – your dog or cat – to survive. They choose the pets’ ears because they feast on all the oils, dead skin cells and ear wax inside. Yeah, we know – gross! But to mites, it’s like a Thanksgiving buffet.
Keep in mind, ear mites can live up to 6 days without feeding on a host, which is why you’ll need to embrace your inner clean freak when you’re dealing with a mite infestation.
Vacuum your carpets thoroughly – this is not the time to skip the corners! – then follow with a flea powder, which will eliminate mites at all stages of their lifecycle. Repeat in two weeks. Also, regularly wash and dry pet bedding on the hottest setting. (Do this every 2 weeks to avoid mites in your home.)
How Common Are Ear Mites in Cats & Dogs?
Ear mites are very common, particularly for our feline friends. (It’s estimated that 90% of cats will get ear mites at some point in their lives.)
Puppies and kittens are especially at risk for ear mites.
Why are the "fur babies" more susceptible? Because of their close living spaces. They can also contract mites from their mamas.
But that doesn’t mean your pet is off the hook if they’re past kitty or puppyhood. Outdoor cats often get ear mites, as they’re more likely to encounter other cats or critters that have mites.
How Do Pets Get Ear Mites?
Though they can’t fly, mites are still pretty "athletic" and can easily crawl from one pet to another. They’re so contagious, in fact, that if one pet in the home has mites, you’ll want to treat ALL your pets for mites, as they can pass from cats to dogs and vice versa and back again until you find yourself in a maddening cycle of ear mites.
Mites aren’t just spread from the usual activities like pets napping and playing together. They’re also spread by sharing blankets, sleeping spaces and soft toys.
Can humans get ear mites? Yes, but it’s very rare. Perhaps you’re thinking, "Of course I won’t win a Mega Millions jackpot, but I will be the one to get ear mites." If you’re worried about it, you’ll want to stop sharing a bed with your pet and keep them off the furniture until the mites are all gone.
Cat Ear Mites Vs. Wax: What to Look For
Normal pet ear wax ranges from pale yellow to light brown. Although, if your pet loves to roll around in the dirt (who doesn’t?), then it could look darker or dusty colored. With ear mites, the wax will be very dark brown or black, resembling coffee grounds. It may also be reddish-brown due to the debris mixed with dried blood in the ear from all the scratching.
If you want to dig a little deeper in determining if it’s mites or excess wax, you can try and spot these tiny parasites by placing debris from your pet’s ear on a dark surface, then examining it in the light with a magnifying glass. You can also take a video on your phone and then enlarge it. If mites are present, they’ll look like small white specks moving around in the debris. (Eww.)
How to Get Rid of Ear Mites in Dogs & Cats
There are several OTC options for getting rid of ear mites in cats and dogs, and if you decide to go this route, rule #1: you HAVE to start with a clean ear.
Why? Otherwise, you won’t get rid of the mites!
When your pet’s ear is full of ear mite debris and wax, the liquid medication will just sit on top of all the yuck without actually reaching the mites. Mites are smart little (insert your favorite swear word here) that like to dig tunnels and lay their eggs beneath the surface of the ear skin.
Don’t let the mites outsmart you. If you clean the ear first and remove as much debris as you can, the medication can reach the mites and do its job.
Important: the ear cleaner you use is paramount.
If you use an ear cleaner with alcohol, fragrances or peroxide, it can sting your pet’s tender ear tissue. And if your dog or cat is dealing with mites, we can guarantee their ears are already in rough shape due to all the itching. If the cleaner burns their ears, it will be no easy feat to get them to sit still when you add medication to their ears.
What’s your best choice? Sure, we may be a bit partial, but vets, groomers and thousands of pawsome dog and cat parents swear by Oxyfresh Pet Ear Cleaner.
This gentle but "mitey" dog and cat ear cleaner is the fastest way to soothe the itch and irritation caused by mites, giving your fave furball some much-needed relief.
Plus, only Oxyfresh has the power of Oxygene® to neutralize harmful bacteria and ear odors and clean out wax and mite debris like the alpha dog it is.
Best of all, it will NEVER sting or burn your pet’s ears. It’s 100% free of alcohol, fragrances and peroxides.
Use it throughout your pet’s mite treatment to remove mite debris and keep the itching at bay.
Is a Trip to the Vet Necessary With Ear Mites?
We get that it’s sometimes a hassle to pack your cat up and go to the vet, but in the case of mites, it’s a smart choice for many pet parents.
First and foremost, visiting the vet will ensure that you get a proper diagnosis for your pet, as other conditions, like yeast and bacterial ear infections, tumors or trauma to the ear can cause similar symptoms.
Additionally, if your dog or cat has an ear infection because of mites (this is the case with 50% of cat ear infections), you’ll need to get the infection properly treated so it doesn’t cause damage to your pet’s ear. (A strong odor is often a clue that the pet’s ears are infected.)
Whether you go OTC or make a trip to the vet is up to you. The important thing is to act fast. The non-stop itching is painful and annoying to dogs and cats, and left untreated, it can lead to hearing loss or infection.
Now that you’ve attended (and passed!) Ear Mites 101, it’s time to show those pesky parasites who’s boss. You've got this!