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Oh, Those Annoying Mites

A dog and cat scratching. Mites are a pesky problem for cats and dogs, in addition to fleas and ticks.

Mites: Microscopic Monsters that can Cause Problems for our Pets

Fleas and ticks are common among our animals, but mites are also an annoying problem that can greatly affect our pets. Extreme itching in the ears is the first sign of a mite infection, and if not treated properly, it can develop into a serious condition.

Mites are classified as arachnids or joint-legged arthropods. Overall they’re extremely small, measuring no less than 1mm in length. In some cases they’re microscopic, but they normally have eight legs.

Not all of these annoying mites feed on animals. There are some varieties that thrive in water, while others exist in soil assisting with decomposition. Other species feed on plant life, while other groups exist as parasites or predators. Most mites are fairly harmless towards humans, but some species may carry diseases and also be connected with allergies.

Ear Mites

The most common variety of these small organisms are ear mites, also known as Otodectes cynotis or asotodectic mange. They bite relentlessly and can cause irritation to humans, cats and dogs. They find their way into the external ear, which, if not treated, can greatly inflame the ear canal. It’s extremely contagious if an infected animal, such as a cat or dog, makes contact with one that is not infected.

Ear mites take roughly three weeks to develop from egg to adult. They live for about two months, and reproduce at a rapid rate. Their life cycle normally takes place on the animal they choose (the host animal), yet, it’s not unusual for them to thrive outside the animal.

Signs of infestation can include the animal vigorously shaking their head and scratching their ears. The itching may be quite severe over time and can lead to an inflamed ear, with pus appearing in some cases; torn eardrums are also possible. Should you notice this, it’s important to contact your Austin veterinarian for treatment options and instruction on how to properly clean your pet’s ears. If you have other pets, they may also be susceptible to an ear mite infection, and may also require treatment.

Symptoms of an Ear Mite Infestation

Ear mite infestations are fairly common among puppies and kittens, although older pets can also fall victim to them. Infestation symptoms vary in types of severity, but these are the most common:

  • Ear irritation leading to violent scratching at the ears
  • Extreme head shaking
  • Redness inside and outside the ears
  • A crusty and crumbly discharge from the ear canal (it may resemble coffee grounds, and has a foul odor)
  • Waxy debris in the ear canal
  • A crusted rash near the ear
  • Skin lesions, hair loss and sores near the ears and head from scratching or extensive grooming
  • Aural hematomas, or blood blisters on the ear, which occurs due to excessive scratching

Other Types of Annoying Mites

As previously mentioned, there are a variety of annoying mites, in addition to ear mites, that can cause problems for our pets. Conditions such as scabies and mange are considered part of the mite family.

Canine Scabies

Also known as sarcoptic mange, canine scabies is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei var canis. While canine scabies usually affects dogs, it can also occur in cats should they have contact with infected dogs. These particular mites are very contagious and can infest not just other animals, but people as well.

Symptoms include intense sudden itching, that may be caused by mite droppings. Tiny solid bumps may appear on the skin which can develop into crusty sores.These sores can appear on various parts of the animal’s body with a tendency to spread if not treated.

Feline Scabies

This is a very rare, but highly contagious type of an annoying mite infestation that normally infects cats. Known as Notoedres cati, these mites have a life cycle similar to the mites that cause canine scabies. This variety of mange causes severe itching with crusty skin appearing on the ears, head, and neck, with a tendency to spread elsewhere.

Walking Dandruff

Another variety of mite (cheyletiella blakei) causes what is known as walking dandruff in cats. The name derives from the mites actually moving on the cats skin. These are very contagious mites, especially in households with several cats. Walking dandruff can also affect humans. They normally have a three week life cycle, which is entirely spent feeding on their host animal.

Scaly skin, especially on the animal’s back, are the most prevalent signs of an infestation. Infested cats will have intense frequent itching and crusty skin and bumps may also develop over time. Some cats may never be infested, but may instead carry the mites to other cats and humans.

Feline Demodicosis

Another nasty infestation that’s caused by Demodex mites. There are two species of these mites Demodex cati and Demodex gatoi, both of which are often found in younger cats and is highly contagious.

Demodex mites do not normally affect their host, but they can cause demodicosis in other cats who may be suffering from another disease. Demodicosis is often found on the head and neck; it can cause hair loss in those areas and, in some cases, all over the cat’s body. Crusty, fluid filled sores can appear in addition to hair loss. This particular infestation can also be connected to diabetes, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and cancer.

In some cases of demodicosis, the severity of itching greatly varies, and the only symptom you may notice is excessive earwax. The mites are difficult to find, due to their size and their symptoms also bear a similarity to ringworm. So, if your cat shows any of these symptoms, you should have him or her tested right away.


This type of mange (also known as chiggers or harvest mites) is caused by the parasitic larval stage of mites of the Trombiculidae family. They bear a striking resemblance to spiders and normally cling to animals as well as us humans when they’re lying on the ground. In warmer climates, such as in central Texas, this infestation can occur year round.

The larvae will attach to the host, feed for several days, and leave when full. They can be seen as unique oval shaped red and orange spots that accumulate on the animal or human’s head, ears, feet and stomach. Symptoms include redness, crusty skin and hair loss. Itching can occur even after the parasite has moved on.

Fur Mites

Fur mites, or lynxacarus radovskyi, are a fairly common variety of annoying mite that tend to thrive in warmer climates, such as Australia, Brazil, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. They cause skin inflammation which results in a shaded coat that resembles a mix of salt and pepper. A dry coat, hair loss and itching are additional symptoms. The extent of itching greatly varies depending on the intensity of the infestation. One positive is that humans tend to not fall victim to fur mites.

Diagnosing Annoying Mite Infestations

One of the first signs of diagnosing an annoying mite infestation is whether your pet has made contact with an infected animal. While ear mites, for example, can cause ear disease, there are other conditions that can present the same signs, such as yeast infections, and need to be analyzed before treatment can begin.

Your Austin vet will search for and, if found, observe the mite. This can be done with an otoscope, which explores the inner ear, or by using a microscope. Your pet may need to be sedated if the infestation is severe, to further allow an examination. The vet will have access to stronger medications or miticides than what you can find in pet stores.

Treating Mites

There are a variety of medications to use for treating these annoying mites. Unfortunately, most medications cannot penetrate the eggs or pupae, so the main treatment is focused on terminating the adult and larval forms.

External insecticides that are approved for controlling fleas in your yard should also kill these type of mites. However, some of these products are extremely toxic to animals. A non-toxic option may be a better method to protect you and your pets.

If you have outdoor pets, it’s best to keep them from areas where the mites may congregate, or keep them indoors. Should you notice your cat or dog being affected by them, you should bring them to your Austin vet for treatment. If you’re a human, and you notice chiggers, try taking a hot shower and lather yourself with soap several times. The hot water and soap should kill them immediately.

Some of these medications are daily topical ones, while others may be injections such as Ivermectin, or single-use products such as Milbemite, Revolution, Advantage Multi, Simparica or Bravecto. Your Austin vet will work with you to determine the best treatment in solving this infection.

If your pets have fallen victim to these annoying mites, please contact us and we’ll work with you and your little fellas to help solve the problem.