Ear mites are minute parasites seen mostly in the warm summer months, during which infestation is common in cats and kittens. Ear mites may cause intense scratching in some cats often leading to bacterial infections through ruptured blood vessels and cuts. Inflammation of the outer ear due to mite infestation is often seen in kittens still nursing on their infested mother, characterized by the felines shaking their heads and frequently scratching their ears.
Passed on easily from species to species, ear mites are highly contagious. Pet owners may unwittingly become “carriers” of mites although they may remain asymptomatic and have no outward signs of infestation whatsoever. Mites stimulate the glands in your pet’s ear canal resulting in an overabundance of wax often seen as a dark brown granular substance. If you own multiple pets, all must be treated at the same time to prevent re-infestation.
The life cycle of an ear mite lasts three weeks from egg to an adult mite ready to mate. The ear mite usually lives on the ear canal’s skin feeding on ear wax and oils. Mites lay eggs that hatch into larvae after four days incubation, which in turn feed on ear wax and oils for a week before molting. After the first molt, they are called proto-nymphs. These proto-nymphs molt a second time turning into deuto-nymphs, which are neither male nor female. Deuto-nymphs mate with a male, molting a third time. After the final molt the mite will either be pregnant with eggs of her own due to the mating, or will be a male ready to mate with deuto-nymphs, beginning a new life cycle.
Persistent mite infestation is best treated by your veterinarian in order to kill the mites and prevent secondary infection caused by excessive scratching. Treatment must be adhered to for at least three weeks in order to break the life cycle of the mite and halt the infestation. After the infestation and the infection has been cleared powder, spray or drops may be used regularly to keep mites at bay.