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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have been treating my cat’s ear mites for six days now. I used Vitamin E 400 IU on a cotton ball, wipe it out, and leave some to soothe the irritation. But now her ears are red and have crusty stuff on them, and she’s acting sad. What do I do?

~ Heather

A cat with ear mites

Dark, crusty gunk in the ear is a sign of ear mite infection.

Siouxsie: Well, Heather, while there are home remedies for ear mites — and most sources recommend using olive oil or almond oil rather than Vitamin E oil — it sounds like your cat may be suffering from a more serious condition.

Thomas: Sometimes cats with ear mites develop secondary bacterial or yeast infections, which can cause just as many problems as the mites themselves.

Dahlia: Those infections can sometimes even cause permanent hearing loss if they’re not properly treated.

Siouxsie: So the first thing you need to do is take your cat to the vet in order to make sure that you are, in fact, dealing with ear mites rather than something else.

Thomas: The fact that your cat’s personality has changed and she’s acting sad, as you say, could be an indication that she’s in pain — and this makes a vet visit even more important.

Dahlia: If you’ve ever had an ear infection, I’m sure you know how much it hurts!

Siouxsie: When you go to the vet, he or she will take a swab of the gunk in your cat’s ears and examine it under a microscope for evidence of mites. If he or she finds them, you will be given ear drops to kill the mites and instructions on how to administer them.

Thomas: Your vet will also be able to determine if your cat has a yeast or bacterial infection and give you the medicine to treat that condition as well.

Dahlia: Veterinarian Dr. Laurie Huston has a brief but informative page on ear mite diagnosis and treatment at her website, which you might want to review.

Thomas: You’re doing the right thing by cleaning your cat’s ears with a cotton ball rather than a swab. If you use a swab, you can push the wax and mites further down into the ear canal, and possibly cause further damage.

Dahlia: Sometimes ear mites can “camp out” on the skin around your cat’s ears and even get on her claws if she’s doing a lot of scratching. Because of this, some vets recommend a full-body treatment with an insecticide or using a spot-on flea/tick/mite treatment.

Siouxsie: Ear mites are highly contagious between animals, so if you have other pets in your home, they should be treated as well.

A graphic representation of the ear mite life cycle

The ear mite life cycle

Thomas: The ear mite’s life cycle last three weeks. It starts when the mite lays an egg, which hatches in four days. Three to 10 days after hatching, the six-legged larva develops into the protonymph stage. Three to five days after that, it molts into the next stage, at which point it attaches to an adult male mite and, if the new mite is female, she becomes fertilized and begins to lay eggs.

Dahlia: Because the life cycle lasts three weeks, treatment must be continued for the entire life cycle in order to eradicate the mites.

Siouxsie: When it comes time to give the medication and clean the ears, you want to be sure to do it properly so you don’t cause extra damage. For those of you who haven’t done this before, here’s a video from the staff of Battersea Cats and Dogs Home on how to administer ear drops and ointments to a cat:

(In a reader? Watch the video here.)

Thomas: So, Heather, we hope we’ve been able to help out a little bit. Good luck to you and your kitty.