Ear mites in cats are tiny parasites that live in the ear canal. These parasites respond to a warm and dark environment such as a cat’s ear – they survive in it by feeding on earwax and exfoliated epithelium.
Ear mites in cats cause irritation and inflammation, and possibly secondary infections.
Ear mites must be detected and treated in time, since, in some severe cases, untreated mites can even lead to hearing loss and loss of balance in the cat.
But, how to be sure your cat has mites? How can you differentiate between ear mites and wax? These two might seem similar at first glance, but, if you take a better look, you’ll notice some differences.
Let’s see what factors are important to distinguish between ear wax and ear mites.
1. The Color
All cats have earwax that is brown in color, so it is not easy to distinguish it from ear mites. However, you will still notice some differences if you observe your pet’s ears more closely.
Although this is sometimes possible, it is not very typical for cats to have large amounts of wax in their ear. WebMD explains that a healthy cat should have very little or no wax, and her ears should be pink and clean inside.
In cats with ear mites, a very dark discharge, almost black, can be seen covering the inside of the ear canals, and in some cases even leaking out of the canal.
Ordinary earwax will be light brown in color, and will not have any smell, while ear mites will stink, and this will be a symptom that you will notice very quickly.
2. Cat’s Behavior
Felines with a bit of ear wax aren’t likely to show any unusual behaviors.
On the other hand, chances are that, if your cat has mites, you’ll immediately notice some kind of change in her.
According to Janina Taenzler and her associates , some of the most common signs of ear mites in cats are frequent scratching of the ears, head shaking, and mild to severe dermatitis.
Ear mites can be really dangerous for your cat’s health, causing her even to have problems with balance. This happens when the infection spreads to the cat’s middle and inner ear.
Of course, none of these symptoms will appear with the regular cat ear wax.
3. Additional Presentations On Cats’ Bodies
Since ear mites are highly contagious, they can migrate to other parts of the cat’s body and make her feel like her entire body is itchy.
As Susan Little and Kathryn Duncan point out, these body presentations – such as miliary dermatitis of the head, feet, or tail due to ear mites are less common, but still possible to see.
Have you seen your cat rolling in the dirt, and you couldn’t figure out why she was doing this? She had probably tried to relieve an itch caused by ear mites.
If this is the case, your cat isn’t having just wax in her ears, but rather mites that are extremely uncomfortable to her.
How To Treat Ear Mites In Cats?
If you notice symptoms such as a bad odor spreading from your cat’s ear area, a dark discharge coming out from her ears, or her scratching and shaking her head excessively, this indicates ear mites in her.
As soon as you notice these signs, you should take your kitten to a veterinarian.
He will diagnose the ear mite infestation by using an otoscope, which is, as Cornell Feline Health Center explains, an instrument used to explore the depths of the cat’s ears.
The ear mites treatment refers to applying ampoules on the cat’s skin once, or as needed.
Since ear mites often cause bacterial or fungal infections, it is also necessary to give cats drops that are a combination of antibiotics and corticosteroids. The drops are given for 1 to 2 weeks, depending on what your veterinarian advises you to do.
Here it is very important to emphasize that ear mites are extremely contagious, and that the sick cat needs to be separated from other pets.
Should You Clean Your Cat’s Ears?
Normally, cat’s ears don’t require regular cleaning. However, in some situations, when there is a bad odor, or discharge coming from your cat’s ears, you’ll need to clean them.
Before doing so, you should consult your veterinarian on how to do it. Take a look at the video below showing the process of a cat’s ears cleaning.
If your cat is struggling with wax build-up, or she suffers from ear infections often, you will need to clean her ears regularly.
So, you’ll need to use cotton balls and a good ear-cleaning solution. If your cat refuses to cooperate, you should also have some tasty treats to bribe her!
You need to be careful not to cause trauma to your cat’s ear canal, so it’s not advisable to use Q-tips.
If you have any doubts about how often you should clean your cat’s ears, the best would be to consult your veterinarian.
What’s the final verdict on the cat ear mites vs wax issue?
You might not see ear mites easily, but you’ll notice some common signs of this infection, such as smelly discharge dark in color, as well as cats displaying signs of discomfort, like excess scratching and head shaking.
Ear wax is also brown, but has a much lighter shade of brown, and doesn’t have an unpleasant smell.
Cats with a bit of ear wax shouldn’t manifest any symptoms of pain or discomfort, while cats with ear mites will obviously struggle with symptoms that will disrupt their everyday life.
If you notice any of the potential symptoms of ear mites in your cat, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
This infection is easily treatable, but can cause severe consequences if not detected on time.
 Taenzler, J., de Vos, C., Roepke, R.K.A. et al. Efficacy of fluralaner against Otodectes cynotis infestations in dogs and cats. Parasites Vectors 10, 30 (2017). DOI, Retrieved June 05, 2023.
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