Ear mites in cats are one of the most common infestations. They are the cause of outer ear inflammation especially in kittens and young cats. Frequent ear scratching and head shaking are the most common symptoms, usually there is a peculiar odor emitting from the ear. When a mite-infested cat constantly scratches its ear, it can tear open tiny blood vessels in the ear flap, which can lead to swelling and permanent disfigurement.
Signs of Ear Mites in Cats
• Irritation and scratching
• Increased earwax
• Thick, black crusty ear discharge
• Scratching ears
• Shaking his head
• Skin lesions around or on the ears from scratching
Ear mites are tiny crab like parasites that live in the ear canal. If left untreated they can cause infections outside and inside the ear. The mites feed on tissue debris and ear wax, they can also spread to the skin on the outside body of the cat. Although they can occur at any age, ear mites are more common in kittens and younger cats since they have not yet built up an immunity.
The mites have a three week cycle and can survive off the host for several weeks. Unlike fleas, they do not pierce the skin or suck blood. Ear mites spend their entire life on the host. The female lays her eggs in the ear and in the surrounding fur. The eggs hatch after a four-day incubation period, and the larva feeds on ear wax and skin oils for about one week. It then molts into a "protonymph," which in turn molts into a "deutonymph." This deutonymph does not develop a gender until it mates with an adult male. If the result is a female, she will be laden with eggs.
Ear mites in cats are very contagious and can easily pass between cat to cat or between species such as dogs. Ear mites can even be passed to humans as transient carriers to other animals.
The reaction to mite infestation can vary from cat to cat. Some cats may not be bothered by a large amount of mites while other may have severe itching from only a small number. Cats that are hypersensitive may be allergic to mite saliva. Mites stimulate the wax producing glands in the ear causing a buildup of wax that can lead to inflammation and discomfort for the cat.
In ear mites in cats, eventually even the most hypersensitive cats will build a resistant and an immunity to mites. It is for this reason why young cats suffer more than older cats. For example, it is common for kittens to show all the signs for having mites while the mother cat shows no sign of discomfort even though she may be carrying them. Increasing immunity will occur over time.
A veterinarian will diagnose whether or not your cat has ear mites. If the cat is young and its ears are full of a blackish wax emitting an unpleasant odor the vet can be fairly sure that the cat has ear mites. To confirm the diagnosis, your vet will inspect the inside of your cat’s ear with a magnifying otoscope. The warm light of the otoscope draws the mites out from the ear wax causing them to move around on the surface of the wax where they are easy to spot.
The veterinarian will start treatment by cleaning out your cat’s ears. Flushing out the dark waxy debris gets rid of most of the mites. In order not to cause damage to your cat’s ear, do not attempt this at home. In doing so might cause damage to your cat’s ears. After your vet cleans the ears, medication is usually in the form of drops that not only kill the parasites but prevents secondary infections and reduction of inflammation. It’s important to continue the treatment for at least a month to cover the complete 3 week cycle of the mites. Just because your cat stops scratching does not mean that developing mites have not reach adulthood, do treatment for at least a month. In a multi-cat household, treat all cats, even though they might not have symptoms, most likely they are carriers. Also if you have dogs, treat them too, remember ear mites in cats are very contagious.