Pet Care

Ear Mites

Mostly white kitten with big ears

What Are Ear Mites?

There are several types of ear mites that can live in cats’ ears, but the most common are Otodectes cynotis, tiny, eight-legged parasites that feed on the wax and oils in a cat’s ear canal. An individual mite has an approximately three-week life cycle, and is barely detectable by the naked eye. Causing irritation and inflammation, ear mites can infect the external and internal canal, and lead to more serious skin or ear infections if left untreated. Infection usually produces a characteristic dark discharge—and in the most severe cases, a cat’s ear canal can become entirely obstructed by this coffee ground-like debris.

What Causes Ear Mites in Cats?

Highly contagious, ear mites are often passed from pet to pet in casual contact at home or outside. Though they can infect both cats and dogs, ear mites are much more common in cats, and are responsible for more than 50 percent of all feline ear infections. Humans are generally immune to ear mites.

What Are the General Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats?

  • Excessive scratching and rubbing of ears
  • Head shaking
  • Hair loss and dermatitis
  • Black or brown waxy secretion
  • Strong odor
  • Inflammation of the ear
  • Obstruction of ear canal with coffee ground-like debris
  • Scratches or scabs near ear

What Are Some Complications of Ear Mites in Cats?

In addition to the development of skin infections, ear mites can cause blood vessels inside a cat’s ear to rupture from intense scratching and head shaking. This is known as an aural hematoma, and often requires surgery to correct.

Are Certain Cats Prone to Ear Mites?

Although ear mites can infect cats of all ages, they are most common in kittens and outdoor cats.

What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has Ear Mites?

It is important to bring your cat to a veterinarian for accurate diagnosis. Your vet will take a swap sample of ear discharge and evaluate it under a microscope. Avoid self-diagnosis, since certain types of bacterial infections can mimic the symptoms of ear mites.

How Are Ear Mites Treated?

  • Ear mites can be treated with products your veterinarian will prescribe that are applied directly in the ear or medications that are applied on the skin.
  • If the ears have infection or build-up of debris, gentle cleaning may be required. With cotton and an ear cleanser. (This may require your veterinarian’s assistance, depending on the cat’s temperament and the severity of build-up.)
  • Your veterinarian may also prescribe medicated ear drops or an antibiotic to resolve infections.
  • A cat will start to feel relief soon after treatment begins, but please complete the full cycle of treatment to ensure full eradication.

How Can I Prevent Ear Mites?

Routine cleaning of your cat’s ears will alert you to any early problems. If your pet has recently recovered from ear mites, be sure to thoroughly clean his bedding and check your other pets for infestation.