What is that brown, waxy, smelly crud in your cat’s or dog’s ears? The ears seem so itchy, too! It might be the tell-tale signs of ear mites. Unlike dogs, cats tend to have relatively few ear problems, but ear mites are the most common exception (allergies could also be the culprit). For dogs, who tend to be more prone to other bacterial and yeast infections in the ears, mites could be confused with something else, so a proper diagnosis is important. All pet owners should know not to take it lightly if you suspect your pet has mites as the damage could become severe.
The mites that we find in cat and dog ears are most often a species of mites called Otodectes cynotis. They are tiny—about the size of the head of a pin, so viewing them with the naked eye is best left to the youthful with perfect vision. (Generally, their presence will be confirmed with a microscope to be sure that Otodectes cynotis is, indeed, the source of the problem.) They feed on epidermal debris that is naturally present within the ears. Sometimes, they are found on other parts of the body, but ears are their favorite place.
They reproduce rapidly. Eggs take just four days to hatch, then 18-28 days to reach maturity.
Ear mites spread from contact with other animals that have an infestation. This is why it’s a common problem with outdoor cats, in particular. They don’t fly or hop to find their hosts; they crawl. Being so tiny makes it easy for them to crawl under the radar until they’ve found their ideal home in your pet’s ears. It is warm and protected there since ears are one of the few body parts that our flexible felines and their less fastidious canine counterparts can’t reach to lick during their grooming sessions.
If left untreated, yes, they can be. Inflammation, painful lesions, and infections are likely to happen as the infestation worsens and the pet scratches at the painful and itchy ears, causing further damage. The longer this goes, the greater the potential for this external infection to progress deeper into the ear and damage the eardrum.
After having it confirmed by a veterinarian that ear mites are indeed the creepy, crawly culprits, your vet will thoroughly clean the ear, removing wax and debris. Treatment methods can vary from a specific topical flea and tick preventive that also addresses ear mites to liquid ear drops. Your vet will select the best option for your pet based on their history.
Suspect ear mites? Call us!