Second only to fleas in importance are mites and most important of these is the ear mite, Olodectes cynotis. This highly persistent and irritating parasite probably causes the individual pet cat more annoyance and irritation than any other parasite likely to infest it. Cats certainly do have the capacity to build up a minor resistance to the effects of the ear mite which means that they may tolerate a mild infestation without the owner realizing that the mites are present. By taking a sample of exudate from the ear canal a veterinarian can easily identify the mite under a low-power microscope. Identification of the presence of the mite by the owner, however, is relatively simple since the signs are reasonably obvious. These are: continual twitching and flicking of the ears; vigorous scratching of the ears; and shaking of the head. If this is accompanied by the presence of a dark brown discharge in the ear canal and, in certain cases, a bald patch running in front of the ear towards the eye, then it is almost certain that the mite is present.
Kittens usually start their infestation with ear mites from their mother, but may develop a much more severe clinical problem as they have less resistance. In severe cases, adult cats can scratch and shake their ears to the point where they form the haematoma. It should also be mentioned that, as with fleas, cats can share their ear mites with dogs in the family, and often a young animal brought into the house with clean ears can develop them by catching the primary infection from the dog.
Treatment for car mites consists of cleaning out the discharge gently, using a suitable oil-based preparation and destroying the parasites with a safe parasiticide which is often incorporated with antiseptic or antibiotic products to destroy any bacterial infection that the injured tissue may have developed. It must be emphasized, however, that treatment is not a quick and simple thing and continual application of appropriate dressings may be necessary, preferably under veterinary supervision.
Other mites cause various skin problems, particularly mange. This condition is less commonly seen today as the mite concerned Notoedres cati, is finding it more and more difficult to perpetuate its life cycle due to the effective remedies available today. If cats are infected, however, the mange mite burrows into the skin producing much irritation and inflammation. The affected area is usually confined to the head and neck, but it can spread along the body if left unchecked. The presence of scabby dried skin is a certain sign that the mite may be present. Veterinary care is essential if the parasite is to be totally eliminated from the body. Treatment usually requires repeated application of washes or shampoos twice a week for about two weeks.
Cats in the country with regular opportunities to hunt and catch rabbits often become infested with the mite Cheyletiella. This seems to be well tolerated by cats and merely causes a degree of irritation and the presence of a dry skin scale, similar to dandruff, on the hair. The application of a suitable shampoo with a safe parasiticide in it is usually adequate to eliminate the problem. This particular mite also enjoys human contact and owners may develop an irritating rash on the wrist and forearm which, if severe, can spread to the chest and abdomen. This is one of the few diseases which could be called a true Zoonoses ~ a disease common to man and animals.
The harvest mite, delightfully named Trombicula autumnalis, is a common summer and autumn problem in cats living in the country. The mite is in fact the larval stage of its larger parent and can be seen by the naked eye, usually on the inside of the legs or underbelly of the cat as little orange-red moving spots. Occasionally the cat may have a heavy infestation between its toes. Any sudden irritation and frequent and frantic licking and biting of the skin occurring during the late summer would indicate the possibility of harvest mite infestation, which can be treated by the application of an appropriate insecticidal powder or shampoo.