While it may look like there are coffee grounds in your cat’s ears, there isn’t (after all, what would coffee grounds be doing in your cat’s ears!?). Those little black crumbs are the work of the mighty mite. Ear mites! These parasites are an extremely common problem in our feline population and, left untreated, the itching and irritation caused by ear mites can severely damage your cat’s eardrums and hearing. Fortunately, a trip to your vet can stop mites in their tracks. But first you need to know the signs of the offending organism when you see them.
Ear mites are microscopic parasites that look like tiny ticks and take up residence in your cat’s ear canals. And, though mites don’t pierce the skin or suck on blood like fleas or ticks, they do cause serious itching. So infected cats often paw at their ears and shake their heads a lot to try to get some relief. Eventually, the ear canals will start to bleed producing small crumbs of dried blood that look like coffee grounds. Check your cat’s ears from time to time. If you notice these little black crumbs, a strange odor or even an extra build-up of ear wax, make sure to bring your cat to her veterinarian.
Here’s the good news. Treatment for these critters is available and very effective. The bad news? Ear mites are highly contagious and, though they don’t transfer to humans, any other cats and dogs in the household will likely need treatment for ear mites too.
Fortunately, your vet will know just what to do. But you can help too by not cleaning or treating your cat’s ears prior to her exam; looking at the discharge is one of the most useful diagnostic steps for your vet. Even though ear mites are common, it is possible to confuse them with other feline ear infections. Your vet will conduct a thorough exam of your cat’s ears and may take a swab of discharge to confirm the diagnosis before treating your kitty with a topical insecticide. Most modern medication requires only one treatment but with severe infections, or in cases of re-infection, more than one application may be necessary.
Once you get your kitty back home, it’s only a matter of time before all the itching is gone. And those sensitive little ears can get back to their top job -- listening for the sound of your voice (while you open the treat jar, of course).