Striker the cat was suffering from ear mites

Tanya had been looking for a cat for some time, and as soon as she saw Striker in the animal rescue centre, she knew that he was the one. He had a certain presence about him, and it was obvious that he loved people. He purred, pressing his head against her hand. He was a young adult, and although she’d been looking for a kitten, she brought him home with her that day.

Like many rescue cats, he had a few health problems in the beginning, and Tanya brought him in to see me soon after she’d taken him in. His runny eyes and occasional sneeze told me that he had cat flu. This is a viral infection that can be fatal in young, unvaccinated cats. In other cases, like Striker, cats have some immunity, and they end up with a milder version of the disease that can be difficult to shake off. The initial signs of cat flu soon resolved, but it’s likely that Striker is carrying the virus, in the same way as a human can carry the Herpes virus. If he gets stressed in the future, he may show mild signs of cat flu again, just as humans with Herpes can develop cold sores on their lips when they are under stress.

As well as the respiratory signs, Striker was shaking his head and scratching his ears. When I used a scope to look into his ear canals, I could see dozens of tiny insect-like creatures milling around, almost as if I was looking into an anthill. Striker had a classic case of ear mites, another common problem of rescued cats.

Ear mites are miniscule spider-like creatures that feed off the debris that gathers inside ears. They can cause immense itchiness and discomfort. Striker was given drops on the back of his neck, together with drops to be applied directly into his ears. He made a rapid recovery, and he went on to have a healthy summer, maturing into a sleek, contented adult cat.

Over six months later, in October, something went wrong again. Striker’s ears began to cause him severe discomfort. He shook his head, scraped the side of his face along the ground, and he scratched his ears violently. It was as if they were troubling him continuously; he walked sideways, with his head down, pawing at his head.

Tanya brought him straight back to see me, and the problem was easy to identify: the ear mites had returned. I gave him another, thorough treatment, and he rapidly made a full recovery, which we’re hoping will be permanent this time.

Ear mites can be surprisingly difficult to eradicate. It’s easy to kill the adult mites in the ear: any ear drops can do this effectively. The problem is that ear mites lay eggs that are almost impossible to kill. The only answer is to wait until the eggs hatch into tiny, vulnerable ear mite larvae, and then to use the usual drops to get rid of them. The life cycle of an ear mite, from egg being laid until adult hood, takes around 21 days, so to be certain that all traces of the parasite are eliminated, it’s safest to continue treatment for this length of time. There are different treatment protocols, but twice daily drops for a week, followed by twice weekly drops for two more weeks is usually sufficient.

Ear mites, thank goodness, cannot infect humans. Can you imagine the sensation of creepy crawlies wriggling around inside your head?

Tips

  • Ear mites are a common parasite in cats, especially those that have been rescued
  • They’re easy to treat, but it’s important that a long course of medication is given
  • Repeated application of drops for up to three weeks can be needed

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