One of the things that is wrong with our new little foster kittens is that they have ear mites. It turns out that cats tend to get ear mites more often than dogs do, which is not to say that dogs don't get them. Ferrets also get them, and so do bunnies. But humans don't usually get ear mites because they are always taking showers and cleaning out their ears.
Anyway, you can often tell if a cat or dog has ear mites by looking in its ears, and if you see this yucky black stuff that is sort of like coffee grounds, that is a good sign that there are some ear mites lurking in there. The black stuff is not the ear mites. It's just the waste or poop or whatever you call it that the mites produce. If you see the actual ear mites, they look white. You can see them without using a microscope, but they are very, very tiny.
|View of an ear canal through an otoscope|
Ear mites like to live in dark, warm, moist places, so an ear canal is a perfect sort of place for them. They don't burrow under the skin, but they might bite into it. And what they mostly like to do is eat ear wax and other stuff that the ear canal secretes. But the problem with having all these tiny ear mite bites is that bacteria or yeast can get in there and cause an infection. And if the infection gets too bad, it can make your eardrum burst, and you might even lose your hearing.
This is why, if you are a cat or dog, and you have itchy ear mites, you need to start scratching in a dramatic way and rattling your dog tags and doing whatever you have to do so that your human notices the problem and takes you to see the veterinarian right away.
The life cycle of the ear mite is only three weeks long, and here's how it goes: First the female lays her eggs inside the ear or else in the fur around the ear. After four days, the larvae hatch out of the eggs, and then they start eating the yummy ear wax and skin oils. They do this for one week, and then they molt into a protonymph, after which they molt again into a deutonymph. Now here's the really weird part: the deutonymph doesn't know if it's a male or a female until it mates with an adult male. If it ends up full of eggs, then it's a female. If not, it's a male.
Ear mites are very contagious, partly because the mites can move around easily and can survive away from a host animal for several weeks, if they have to. Now that we have kittens with ear mites here at our house, we all are at risk of also getting ear mites, so Mom is watching us closely to see if we start scratching our ears. But since the kittens are staying in their crate most of the time, except when Mom takes them out to pet them for a little while, we are hoping that nobody will get ear mites.
When Mom first took the kittens to the shelter, they got their ears cleaned out with cotton swabs, and then they also got some drops put in their ears that are supposed to kill the mites. I think they will get more drops later to take care of any mites that hatched out since the first treatment. There are several kinds of medications that kill ear mites, but the ones you buy in the drugstore don't work as well as the ones you get from a vet. At least that's what I read on the internet. Also, flea and tick preventives such as Frontline or Revolution will work to kill ear mites. All of us had our Frontline treatment just last week, so that's another reason we are hoping we won't get ear mites. Because life is hard enough without having itchy ears, at least in my opinion!