Those microscopic critters known as ear mites often find their way into kittens' delicate eardrums. The good news is that you can usually get rid of them by using inexpensive, over-the-counter products. If signs of mites don't clear up within a month of starting treatment, call your vet.
Feline ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, look like miniature ticks. They dwell inside a cat's inner ear canal. Ear mite eggs hatch just four days after they're laid. The entire life cycle of the mite lasts 21 days. Besides ear infections, they can cause hearing loss in kittens if left untreated.
Since ear mites are so contagious, you'll have to treat not only all the other kittens in the litter and Mama cat, but any other cat or dog in your house. That's true even if they don't show symptoms. If other pets in the house receive topical monthly doses of selamectin, marketed under the brand name Revolution, that flea and tick killer also takes care of mites. If you use other topical flea and tick products on your pets, check the label to see if they contain a miticide.
Kittens suffering from mites in their ears let you know something is wrong. An affected kitten shakes his head and constantly scratches his ears, as well as holding his head at a tilt. When you inspect his ear, you'll see inflammation as well as a dark, smelly discharge. According to Veterinary Partner, the discharge looks like coffee grounds and consists of blood, ear mites, earwax and bodily secretions from the inflammation.
You can purchase over-the-counter ear miticides for kittens at supermarkets and pet and farm supply stores. Check the label to make sure the particular product is safe for use in kittens. It might specify a certain age, such as 12 weeks or older. In addition to an ear miticide, you should also buy a feline ear cleaner, as you'll need to clean the kitten's ears before applying the miticide. Over-the-counter ear miticides for cats might contain pyrethrins to kill the mites along with piperonyl butoxide, which aids pyrethin effectiveness. Two miticides from well-known manufacturers, Sergeant's Vetscription MITEaway Ear Mite and Tick Treatment For Cats and Hartz UltraGuard Ear Mite Treatment For Cats, contain these ingredients along with aloe, to soothe inflamed ears.
Always read the directions carefully on any over-the-counter miticide. Unlike prescription medications, over-the-counter ear miticides only kill the adult ear mite, not the larvae. For this reason, you'll have to apply the miticide daily for a week to 10 days, repeating the treatment after two weeks if you still see evidence of infestation. Over-the-counter products are available in tubes, specifying a certain number of drops to be used daily, depending on the size of the cat. You might have to massage the drops gently into the ear. Since these are pesticides, use gloves when applying the product.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.