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Mites on Cats

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: February 22, 2018
Mites on Cats

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Parasites, both external and internal, are one of the main enemies when it comes to our pets' general welfare and health. But if we stop to think about how annoying it must be to have tiny beings proliferating in our ears or skin, we can understand how important it is to know everything about mites on cats, their symptoms, treatment and contagion.

To do this, AnimalWised offers you this content as a general guide, to prevent this annoying infestation, or to stop it if it is already present in our pussycat.

You may also be interested in: My Rabbit Has Dry Skin - Mites and Skin Disease

The most common mite: Otodectes cynotis

This mite (a species of tiny spiders that seem to have the gift of ubiquity, as they are adapted to all possible environments), lives in the ears of dogs and cats, but may be the most common external parasitosis diagnosed in cats,along with pulicosis. Their life cycle lasts about three weeks:

  • The eggs hatch after about 4 days in the ear canal.
  • The larva that emerges feeds and begins to pass through several nymphal stages.
  • Finally, after 21 days of hatching, we have an adult ready to reproduce and perpetuate the infestation.

They live about 8 weeks, but they dedicate their whole time to intense reproduction.

Their color is whitish, and females are twice the size of males, but in no case exceed 0.5 mm. However, we can not catalog them as microscopic, because if you have a cooperating cat and good eyesight, you can spot them with relative ease by using an otoscope.

Although its habitat is the ear canal, in severe infestations it can spread to a wider area of ​​the head's skin and face of our cat, and it is sometimes possible to detect some specimen lost around other areas of the body, although finding them around these area is usually anecdotal. It appears most frequently in the upper part of the tail, due to the cat's habit of sleeping coiled.

It feeds on the outer surface of the auditory canal skin (it does not dig galleries) and its saliva leads to irritation and itching, causing hypersecretion of the glands in the ear.

Mites on Cats - The most common mite: Otodectes cynotis

Symptoms of Otodectes cynotis

Otodectes cynotis is one of the main causes for otitis externa in cats, especially in young kittens. The symptoms are easily recognizable and there is no need for a massive infestation to see that our cat is suffering from them. In addition, there may be cases of hypersensitivity to these parasites (as with fleas). The most frequent and characteristic are:

  • Dry exudate or oozing in a brownish-yellow or blackish color, similar to coffee or charcoal. Under normal conditions, the inside of our cat's ears should be pink and should not have exudate of any kind. However, if time passes and no remedy is available, there may be secondary contamination with bacteria or fungi, thereby varying the appearance and color of the secretion.
  • Intense itching and frequent head jerking. Scratching injuries soon appear, and will be frequent in the back of their ears, cheeks, even in the neck (as when humans suffer otitis and notice a itching sensation in the throat). Erythema and secondary scabs due to scratching may also occur on the cheeks and upper eye area.
  • Otohematomas. Sometimes marked pruritus, causes the scratching to end by breaking the vessels and capillaries of the atrial cartilage, causing the accumulation of blood. The ear acquires the typical appearance of a pie. If if a drainage remedy is not applied, a clot is formed which later becomes fibrous, leaving a "wrinkled ear".
  • Fibrosis and stenosis of the auditory canal. Failure to treat the chronic condition of the infestation can lead to a thickening of the walls and, consequently, a reduction of canal light, which can become irreversible as in any case of otitis.

These symptoms do not always appear, and as mentioned, there is not always a correlation between the degree of parasitism and the intensity of the symptoms.

How to know if a cat has mites

Because it is one of the most frequent parasites in cats, our veterinarian will perform an examination of your cat's ears each time, as he/she will able to see this mite with the naked eye if the vet has enough time and our cat is calm. They often introduce the otoscope without light, illuminating it once inside, to catch the intruder by surprise, so it doesn't have time to hide in the secretions.

However, if secretions appear and no mites are detected, samples will be taken with a swab and, under the microscope, the vet will be able to spot both egg, hexapod larvae (3 pairs of legs) and adults (4 pairs of legs). Sometimes a drop of oil is used in order to lubricate the secretions, quite dry, and facilitate the exit of these arthropods from the hiding place.

Even though you do not see any intense secretions, or if they do not appear in a first check-up, if we continue to notice significant discomfort in our cat, our veterinarian will insist on finding isolated specimens that may be causing a hypersensitivity reaction.

The fact of a vet not finding them in a first review, does not mean that they are not there, and that is why it is very important to explore the ear at each visit, especially in the first months of our cat's life.

Mites on Cats - How to know if a cat has mites

Treatment for Otodectes cynotis

In addition to the miticide treatments, it is vital to clean the secretions with a suitable cleanser, a minimum of twice a week at the beginning. These cleansers are usually oily so they can help get rid of the parasites mechanically (drowning them), an extra aid to the antiparasitic that we should apply to our cat.

A small inconvenience is the accidental entry of cleansing oil drops into the cat's eye, which is why it is advisable to be very cautious, and also the possible occurrence of a Horner Syndrome, which is secondary to a cleaning. However it is rare, and the benefits of cleaning, outweigh the drawbacks.

Most used miticides

  • Topical Selamectin (Pipette): Because mites feed on blood and lymph, any product that passes into the cat's blood will be absorbed by them. Selamectin applied to the skin of the nape of the neck is absorbed by the blood capillaries, and reaches optimum concentrations in a few hours, or at most, two days. Mites will die while feeding. One dose may be enough, but it is recommended to repeat within 3 weeks (the estimated mite cycle time).
  • Aural Ivermectin: There are gels with ivermectin, designed to combine the oily power of a cleanser, with the miticidal power of ivermectin. They are applied every 7 days for several weeks but their effectiveness depends on how manageable our cat is and the depth at which we can introduce the cannula. All products can cause reactions in both animals and humans, but ivermectin, as it is one of the most used and studied, may have more data on known hypersensitivity. So although it is very safe and effective, we must be alert to any possible side effects (depression, intense salivation, eye problems, pupil size difference ...)

If there is a secondary fungal or bacterial infection, treat it with specific products. There are aural suspensions that combine antifungal and antibiotic properties. Sometimes they are trusted to have miticidal power but it is in fact not so. Its effect against mites lies in the ability to drown them. But it is sometimes a short treatment and some mites may survive, so the use of a selamectin pipette is necessary, combined with the infection treatment.

Otodectes cynotis contagion

Intimate and direct contact is the route for contagion of mites on cats. We have all wondered how it is possible for our kitten, with only two months, to have mites. Probably, the cat's mother was suffering from them and, in their upbringing, they were transmitted to the whole litter. During that time there is close contact between kittens and mother, with continuous cleaning included and mites, like lice in children, soon reach the ears of all cats.

Although they can survive outside the ear canal for up to 10 days, contagion through fomites (objects like blankets ... etc) is very unlikely, although it is not ruled out. However, they can proliferate a fairly unhygienic environment or if it is a severe infestation.

We usually associate these parasitism with feral cats, but it is quite common to find cats from excellent breeding grounds with a significant load of parasites in their ears, so we should never rule out this problem. In some cases they suffer for years, as they can be confused with the typical ceruminous secretions in some furry cats: Persians, exotic breeds ...

Can dogs get cat mites?

If there has been good connection between our cat and our dog and they spend the day together, playing, sleeping and grooming, we should check the ears of all our animals. Not to mention ferrets!

Cat mites on humans

An erythematous lesion may appear in the arms by direct contact, but again the environment and degree of infestation would have to be extreme. It is not ruled out in cases of overcrowded cat spaces, or any person who may have hypersensitivity to Otodectes cynotis and has the misfortune to get in contact with a lost specimen.

Mites on Cats - Otodectes cynotis contagion

Other mites in cats

We will briefly summarize the other common mites in cats, as they are less frequent in proportion but equally important:

  • Demodex cati and Demodex gatoi: Demodex cati is barely cited, whereas Demodex gatoi may be after ceratinosis in cats, although compared to the Demodex canis in dogs, it is not too frequent. It usually causes moderate otitis, without itching, but with abundant yellowish-brown earwax, in otherwise healthy cats (this disease is responsible for feline otodemodecosis). It responds well to the treatments described above, but their excessive proliferation or affecting the whole body is associated with lowered defenses or immunosuppression, which must be corrected.
  • Notoedres cati: This mite causes the so-called "cat head scab or notohedral scab", it is comparable to Sarcoptes scabiei in dogs in terms of life cycle and action. It is spread by direct contact and the initial lesions are located precisely in the head and neck, with intense itching on the face which is most striking. Secondary lesions are inevitable ... It is quite common in colony cats, and the treatment in these cases may be the application of ivermectin in food every week, during several weeks. The problem is that we will never know which cat has taken it, or if one has taken several doses. For affected home cats, treatment against the aforementioned mites is also useful (selamectin for example). We recommend to review the Animalwised article on mange of the cats.
  • Cheyletiella: Walking dander or a coat mite that can be seen with the naked eye in dogs, cats and rabbits. Their mouthpiece allows them to anchor to feed on tissue fluids. There are those who compare them to a "saddle" when studied in detail. The symptoms are "dandruff" and itching, and the treatments, the same as in the rest. Puppies may be sprayed with fipronil.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Mites on Cats, we recommend you visit our Parasitic diseases category.

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