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Understanding ear mites in cats: life-cyle, symptoms, treatment and prevention

Ear mites are extremely common in domesticated cats and kittens and if left untreated they can severely damage the ear canals and eardrum and may even cause permanent hearing loss. Ear mites live along the surface of the ear canal, however, they can occasionally be found on other parts of the body, especially the neck, back and tail. Ear mites are easily transmitted to other pets (although humans are not affected).

There are several types of mites that can invade the ear canals; the most common in cats is Otodectes cynotis.

Life cycle
The life-cycle of the ear mite takes approximately 21 days to complete. There are four different stages in the life-cycle:

  1. The eggs are laid on the surface of the ear canal and take about 4 days to hatch.

  2. The larvae from the eggs feed for a few days then rest for a day before moulting to form the nymphal stage.

  3. The nymphs feed for 4 days then moult and feed again for approximately another 4 days before moulting again and becoming adults.

  4. Adult ear mites feed off the skin flakes and secretions in the ear canal and lay their eggs to begin the next generation.

The mites stimulate the production of wax by glands situated in the ear canal. This causes excessive production of wax and a thick brown layer of ear wax in the canal is almost always a symptom of ear mite infestation. The mites appear as tiny white moving objects on the brown wax.

If your cat shows the following symptoms, she may has an ear mite infestation:

  • Scratching the ears

  • Shaking the head

  • Bleeding in the ear canals

Treatment and prevention
Depending upon the medication used, the ears may need to be treated for up to 4 weeks until all mites are killed. Many ear mites live all over the body, including the back and tail and so these areas should also be treated. Be sure to use products approved for use on cats and treat all household pets, as ear mites are easily transferred.

Treatment of ear mites should commence by cleaning the ears to remove excess debris and discharge using a cat specific ear cleaner. The ears should then be treated with a topical preparation (ear drop) to kill the mites. This treatment should be continued for 2 weeks after the cat is cured to ensure that all ear mites are killed as they progress through their life-cycle.

The cat should also be treated with a flea product as this will help to kill any ear mites on other parts of the body. The home should also be treated for parasites using an indoor flea spray.

Always seek advice from your veterinarian to confirm diagnosis and ensure you are using the most appropriate treatment for your cat. Remember that incorrect use of ear cleansing solutions or ear drops can permanently damage your cat’s hearing.