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Angela has three cats that are licking themselves bald. She's not sure why, but she did mention in passing that one of the cats had ear mites but had been cured. Can ear mites cause cats to over-groom? Get the answer in this week's post.

Ear mites can cause symptoms that don’t seem to be directly related to the parasite. Photo by Antonino Visalli on Unsplash

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have eight healthy cats all rescued from near death as tiny babies. They got all their shots and care done by SPCA . Two of them began licking themselves bald some time ago, but now I have a third cat starting to do it! What is going on? Could it be worms? Their food has not changed. I did have ear mites in one cat, but it was cured. Can ear mites cause a cat to lick their fur off?

~ Angela

Thomas: The short answer, Angela, is yes–ear mites can cause a cat to lick their fur off.

Bella: But in order to help you understand what makes that happen, we’re going to discuss ear mites, how they get on your cat, and what happens in an ear mite infestation.

Tara: Ooh, just the thought of ear mites makes my ears itch! And all those rustling noises they make in the ear canal, and the relentless itchiness? Yuck!

Thomas: In order to understand why these infestations happen, you need to know what cats are most likely to get ear mites. Cats who go outside are obviously exposed to all kinds of parasites, including those nasty mites.

Bella: Kittens are more likely to get mites than adult cats, too.

Thomas: Ear mites are highly contagious between cats. Mothers can pass them on to their newborn kittens, and cats that snuggle or share bedding can also share mites.

Bella: They can also pass back and forth between cats and other pets–so if you have dogs or ferrets or other pets in your household, they may have gotten mites, too.

Tara: If there’s one thing that should relieve you, though, Angela, it’s that ear mites can’t be passed to humans. I guess they just don’t like people’s ear canals as well as they like ours.

Thomas: When the mites get in the ear canal, they start breeding. The irritation they cause, causes the ears to produce extra wax.

Bella: And when a cat has ear mites, you’ll see a nasty-smelling accumulation of black goo in your cat’s ears that’s a combination of ear wax and mite droppings. He’ll also relentlessly scratch at his ears because of the itch and the disturbing noise of all those mites crawling around.

Tara: Sometimes a cat can scratch so much that they develop an aural hematoma–a blood clot on the ear flap. That constant scratching can also potentially cause damage to the ear canal and eardrum.

Thomas: But what does this have to do with cats licking themselves bald?

Bella: First of all, the mite can’t hop onto a cat’s body like a flea, and they don’t typically hang out on blades of grass waiting for a host to come walking by like ticks do. These mites are tiny, and all they can do is crawl.

Tara: As William Miller Jr., VMD, a professor of dermatology at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says, “If the newly acquired mite is taking a stroll along a cat’s backside or belly, the animal will groom it away with its tongue and swallow it.”

Thomas: If there are a lot of these mites, which are a type of mange mite, they can cause skin irritation and itchiness, which can result in cats that lick themselves bald.

Bella: So, what do you do about ear mites? Well, the first thing is a trip to the veterinarian. This is crucial because there are some bacterial and fungal infections that can mimic ear mites, and the only way to tell for sure is for the vet to take a sample of your cat’s ear gunk and examine it under a microscope in order to look for mites or other nasties.

Tara: After your vet confirms a diagnosis of ear mites, the first thing she’ll do is give your cat’s ears a good cleaning. Then you’ll get medicated drops to put in your cat’s ears.

Ear mites are the bane of feline existence. They cause incredible amounts of itching and scratching that can damage the ears if not promptly treated. Sometimes they can even be found on other parts of the body. What can you do to treat ear mites? We've got some answers for you in this post.

Thomas: Not gonna lie; we cats are not big fans of having stuff put in our ears!

Bella: But once your cat realizes how much relief she’s getting, she may be a lot more agreeable to treatment.

Tara: It’s crucial that you use the medicated drops for as long as your vet tells you to. Don’t stop just because your cat seems to be feeling better. There’s a reason vets recommend doing the ear drops for seven to 10 days.

Thomas: There are lots of home remedies for ear mites, and some are more effective than others. We don’t recommend doing home treatment without a diagnosis from the vet, because your cat may have a different type of infection.

Bella: But one thing you can do in order to help a cat suffering from ear mites is to use topical remedies that not only kill fleas and ticks but that kill mites, too.

Tara: The topical remedy will also kill any mites that are on your cat’s skin.

Thomas: You’ll also need to wash all your cats’ bedding in hot water to kill any mites or mite eggs that might be hiding in their beds.

Bella: This may include washing your own bedding if your cats like to sleep on your bed.

Tara: Now, we do need to say that ear mites are not the only thing that could cause a cat to groom themselves bald. Cats can sometimes be irritated by things in the environment like a new detergent or air fresheners. Cats can also develop food sensitivities that can cause them to lick their fur off. And as you said, sometimes stress can do it, too.

Thomas: The bottom line is that ear mites can cause itching and discomfort in other parts of a cat’s body, but so can other things not related to parasites.

Bella: We’d recommend a trip to the vet, first of all. She may do a test called a skin scraping, in which she’ll look for mites, bacteria, or other signs of skin disease. If your cat turns out to have mites, she’ll prescribe one of those topical products that kills mites as well as fleas and ticks.

Tara: She may also have you wash your cats’ bedding, as we recommended, but if the cause of your cats’ overgrooming is mites, the topical should kill them and their eggs before they have a chance to take hold in the ears.

Thomas: Keep in mind that the topical needs to be used correctly in order to be effective. We’d recommend using it monthly for quite some time, in order to make sure you get every last one out of your cats’ environment.

Bella: What about you other readers? Have you had cats with ear mites? Did the mites spread to other parts of their bodies? What did you do to treat your cats’ ear mite infestations? Please share your answers in the comments!