This is an intriguing story because it illustrates what a domestic cat feels when they have an infestation of ear mites (Otodectes cyanotis). It is going the extra mile and it took a bit of courage for a veterinarian, Dr Lopez, to scoop a gram of “ear mite exudate” from a domestic cat and place it in one of his ears. He said of the experience:
“Immediately [upon inserting the mites] I heard scratching sounds, then moving sounds, as the mites began to explore my ear canal. Itching sensations then started and all three sensations merged into a weird cacophony of sound and pain that intensified from that moment, 4 pm, on and on…”
“By the fourth week, mite activity was 70% reduced and I could feel mites crawling across my face at night. This definite reduction in symptoms left many questions. Was there immunity? Were human ears refractory to Otodectes? A third and final trial had to be done.”
At the time, Dr Robert Lopez was a veterinarian at Westport, New York State. In all he infected himself with ear mites three times and he published the results in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association in 1993. He called his report, “Of mites and man”. It’s online on the Pub Med website but just the title because there’s nothing to read.
The reason why he did it three times was because the second time he wanted to confirm his findings relating to the first self-induced infection and the third time was to see whether he had acquired some immunity. He expected that the mites would live for a short time in his ear canal. This appears to have happened because the infection lasted two weeks the third time he did it. The first time he infected himself it took a month to clear and it resolved itself. In other words it didn’t require any medication to kill the mites. I wonder whether this was because mites don’t like living in human ear canals?!
For the sake of completeness, in the second test he used a maximum 2 gram sample of exudate from an infected cat’s ear. The word “exudate” means fluid that leaks out of the circulatory system into areas of inflammation and as a pus-like or clear fluid. I’m not sure that Dr Lopez used the right word but it doesn’t matter. Let’s just say it was the waxy mess in his ear canal in which the ear mites lived.
Ear mites live on the skin cells, blood and earwax of the ear canal. They deposit their waste which is a dark crusty debris in the ear canal. Dr Lopez received a nice write up when awarded an IgNobel Prize in 1994. I have reproduced the text and photographs of the article from the Journal of Improbable Research (top of page).
I’ve always been interested in what it feels like to have ear mites. Now we know. Veterinarians say that it is highly unpleasant for a cat to experience them and let’s remember that Dr Lopez infected one ear. Domestic cats suffer them in both ears normally and they can be very bad infestations over a long period of time. The lesson is that if you suspect your cat has ear mites then you should see your veterinarian to remove them as a matter of urgency. Don’t try and do it yourself because you will make matters worse unless you are well trained.
P.S. it is hard and very rare to get a cat ear mite infestation from your cat naturally so don’t worry but please worry if your cat has them.
Below is a video of house-dust mites, Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, in a human ear! Yuck…