Ear Mites

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The PetStuff Online Newsletter
Volume 1 Issue 8  October 1, 1999

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Produced by Dr Dan

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"Buggy Ears - Ear Mites"

The Ear Mite's proper name is "Otodectes cyanotis" ( Latin for "Picker of the Ear" ).   This name tells it all.  Ear mites are extremely common. Greater than 50% of dogs, cats and fox are carriers of ear mites. Most infestations are subclinical and inapparent, but secondary bacterial and fungal infections can cause a nasty external ear canal infection and much irritation and discomfort for your pet.

"Ear Mites" drive pets "Buggy"
Can you imagine 1000's of little mites crawling around inside your ear canals? Just the movement of these mites in this sensitive area can drive a cat or dog buggy! As the mites crawl around inside the ear canal they browse on cerumen (ear wax) and as the ear becomes more irritated the lining begins to secrete serum (clear component of blood). The serum, cerumen and ear mite frass combine to form a thick, black, crusty substance that may nearly close off the ear canal.   The irritation and blockage of air flow can set up the ear for a secondary bacterial or fungal infection.

In many cases diagnosis is easy: Just take a peek with an otoscope and you can see the little, white mites scurrying about. In other cases, you may see the characteristic, black, crusty wax in the ear canals and on the ear flaps, but not see the mites.  In these suspect cases, it is always wise to take a Q-tip full of the wax and smear it into a drop of mineral oil and examine it under a microscope. The presence of the mites or eggs confirms the diagnosis.

The life cycle of ear mites
Ear mites spend their entire life on the host. Adult mites mate and lay eggs in the ear canals and on the surrounding fur. The eggs hatch to form larvae which then molt to become nymphs, which molt again to form adults. They never leave the animal. See the illustration below.

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How are Ear mites treated?

One of the biggest causes of treatment failure is not removing the exudate BEFORE applying the medication. Every bit of the black, crusty exudate must be removed from the ear canal before any medication will work.  This is best accomplished by gently flushing the ear canal using an ear bulb (available from drug stores). Mix up a solution of warm water and liquid dishwashing detergent (just enough detergent to slightly color the water) and fill the ear bulb. The tip of the bulb is held loosely in the ear and the water/soap solution is gently squeezed in allowing it to bubble out carrying the debris (Never block the free passage of the solution out of the ear or you could rupture the ear drum). This process is repeated three or four times until the ears are clean. The ears are then rinsed with warm, clear water and dried. Q-tips are not recommended because they carry the dirtiest contamination deeper into the canal making the infection worse.  If you do not feel comfortable cleaning the ear, you should consult your veterinarian.

Ear mite medications commonly contain a pyrethrin insecticide and vehicle such as mineral oil.    These medications can be purchased across-the-counter from many pet stores or veterinary hospitals.

Since ear mites are easily passed from one pet to another by close contact, ALL animals in the household must be treated at the same time to ensure success.

A second reason for treatment failure is not treating long enough. The treatment schedule that has worked for me over the years is as follows:

All ear exudate is cleaned from the ear canal.

Ear mite medication is instilled deeply into the ear canal and massaged thoroughly to disperse. As you massage, a "gooshy" sound should be heard as the medication is dispersed. The medication is applied once a day for three days in a row.

A week is allowed to pass without treatment.

The ears are cleaned again and the medication is applied once a day for three more days.

Another week is allowed to pass without treatment.

The ears are cleaned and the medication is applied once a day for a final three days.

The reason for this schedule is to interrupt the entire life-cycle.  Each week more eggs will hatch and new mites will colonize the ear. By the end of the third week we have killed all stages of the ear mite life-cycle and we should see no more problems. Occasionally, if bacterial or fungal infections have caused damage to the ear canal, an antibiotic or antifungal cream or ointment may need to be used.

Can people get Ear Mites?
No, and thank God for that.    Can you imagine trying to sleep with bugs crawling around inside your head?    Just remember to clean the ears thoroughly BEFORE treatment and treat long enough and it should be easy to rid your pet of these common pests.

Next Week
October 8th - Anal Sac Disease & Scooting
October 17th - Feline Leukemia Disease


1. Introduction: Why Do We Need Humans?

So you've decided to get yourself a human being. In doing so, you've joined the millions of other cats who have acquired these strange and frustrating creatures. There will be any number of times, during the course of your association with humans, when you will wonder why you have bothered to grace them with your presence.

What's so great about humans, anyway? Why not just hang around with other cats? Our greatest philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries, but the answer is actually rather simple: THEY HAVE OPPOSABLE THUMBS.

This makes them the perfect tools for such tasks as opening doors, getting the lids off of cat food cans, changing television stations and other activities that we, despite our other obvious advantages, find difficult to do ourselves. True, chimps, orangutans and lemurs also have opposable thumbs, but they are nowhere as easy to train.

2. How And When to Get Your Human's Attention.

Humans often erroneously assume that there are other, more important activities than taking care of your immediate needs, such as conducting business, spending time with their families or even sleeping. Though this is dreadfully inconvenient, you can make this work to your advantage by pestering your human at the moment it is the busiest.  It is usually so flustered that it will do whatever you want it to do, just to get you out of its hair. Not coincidentally, human teenagers follow this same practice.  Here are some tried and true methods of getting your human to do what you want:

Sitting on paper: An oldie but a goodie. If a human has paper in front of it, chances are good it's something they assume is more important than you. They will often offer you a snack to lure you away. Establish your supremacy over this wood pulp product at every opportunity. This practice also works well with computer keyboards, remote controls, car keys and
small children.

Waking your human at odd hours: A cat's "golden time" is between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning. If you paw at your human's sleeping face during this time, you have a better than even chance that it will get up and, in an incoherent haze, do exactly what you want. You may actually have to scratch deep sleepers to get their attention; remember to vary the scratch site to keep the human from getting suspicious.

3. Punishing Your Human Being

Sometimes, despite your best training efforts, your human will stubbornly resist bending to your whim. In these extreme
circumstances, you may have to punish your human. Obvious punishments, such as scratching furniture or eating household plants, are likely to backfire: the unsophisticated humans are likely to misinterpret the activities and then try to discipline YOU. Instead, we offer these subtle but nonetheless effective alternatives:

* Use the cat box during an important formal dinner.

* Stare impassively at your human while it is attempting a romantic interlude.

* Stand over an important piece of electronic equipment and feign a hairball attack.

* After your human has watched a particularly disturbing horror film, stand by the hall closet and then slowly back away,   hissing and yowling.

* While your human is sleeping, lie on its face.

4. Rewarding Your Human:

Should Your Gift Still Be Alive? The cat world is divided over the etiquette of presenting humans with the thoughtful gift of a recently disemboweled animal. Some believe that humans prefer these gifts already dead, while others maintain that humans enjoy a slowly expiring cricket or rodent just as much as we do, given their jumpy and playful movements in picking the creatures up after they've been presented. After much consideration of the human psyche, we recommend the following: Cold blooded animals (large insects, frogs, lizards, garden snakes and the occasional earthworm) should be presented dead, while warm blooded animals (birds,rodents, your neighbor's Pomeranian) are better still living.    When you see the expression on your human's face, you'll know it's worth it.

5. How Long Should You Keep Your Human?

You are only obligated to your human for one of your lives. The other eight are up to you. We recommend mixing and matching, though in the end, most humans (at least the ones that are worth living with) are pretty much the same. But what do you expect? They're humans, after all. Opposable thumbs will only take you so far.

Images used in this publication taken from Hill's Atlas of Clinical Anatomy, Published by Veterinary Medicine Publishing Company, Inc.   A publication donated to veterinarians by the Hill's Pet Food Company to teach clients about their dogs and cats in sickness and in health.   Hill's Pet Food Company produces Hill's Prescription Diets and Science Diet Premium Pet Food.

Have A Nice Weekend

Later,  Dr Dan