What causes ear mites in cats?

You do your best for your cat. You keep a clean home. You keep the cat inside. And yet your cat has just come down with a case of ear mites. What’s going on here?

Tiny But Tough

The actually tiny mite that causes such misery in the ears of cats and dogs is not well known. It was thought that they only lived in cat or dog ears, but that didn’t explain why well taken care for cats (especially kittens) that had limited contact with strange cats or dogs would still come down with a case or ear mites.

It is thought that cat and dog ear mites can not only live on the surface of the pet’s body, but probably can go into a sort of hibernation in furniture fibers and maybe even the ground, somewhat in the same way that fleas can. They apparently can stay in a coma until opportunity knocks. We still don’t know how this entire life cycle works.

What We Do Know

We do know that most adult cats develop an immunity to ear mites, especially to the irritating saliva in the mites’ bites. Kittens do not have this immunity. One theory is that cat ear mites stay dormant on the mother cat and then migrate to the kittens, somehow detecting that the kittens’ ears are far more desirable to be inside of. It’s also thought that microscopic mites may hitch a ride on your hands when you pet a stranger’s pet and then go home to pet your own.

Ear mites in cats are highly contagious. If you treat one cat for ear mites, you really should have all of the cats in the household treated. Treat your dogs as well. If ear mites do hitch a ride on people, then they don’t seem to harm people at all. It doesn’t matter how clean your home is in order for your pets to pick up tiny passengers.

If you’re feeling a little paranoid at this point, take a deep breath and relax. Ear mites in cats can be easily treated. However, you can’t ignore your cat’s ear mites. You have to take your cat to the vet. Just cleaning out your cat’s ears will not help. Treatment usually consists of drugs and shampoos. Regular protection for fleas often also protects against ear mites.

In one sense, cat and dog ear mites are remarkable creatures. They’ve survived just to be a parasite of those species. They apparently can survive being dropped from great distances and months or years of staying dormant. In all likelihood, they evolved inside and outside of feline and canine ears. If your pets do come down with a case of ear mites, it does not necessarily mean that you did anything wrong.

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