Ear Mites In Cats - Definitive Guide For Cat Owners

December 27, 2018

Ear mites in cats are a very common and mild external parasite feline infection. There are several types of ear mites in cats of which the otodectes cynotis mites are the most common type, accounting for almost ninety percent of all feline ear mite infections. They are a type of tiny eight legged parasites that thrive in a cat’s ear canal feeding off the oils and wax found there. This type of ear mites may also spread out and affect other parts of its infected host.

The otodectes cynotis mite is so tiny that you will not be able to see it with your naked eye. You need a special instrument known as an otoscope to view it. Due to its short life cycle of twenty one days from eggs to adult stage, this mite can easily infect your cat in no time. This is why it is so important to get prompt treatment for your pet as soon as possible.

Though considered a mild external parasite infection, ear mites in cats can lead to further and more serious health complications if left untreated or left treated too late. While ear mite infections can occur in both cats and dogs, it is generally more common in cats. Ear mites are responsible for almost half of all feline ear infections.

Causes of ear mites in cats

Ear mites are highly contagious among animals, so the most common cause of ear mite infection is usually between pet to pet. The infection may happen in an indoor environment, although outdoors is normally where q pet may catch it. While you may be able to monitor and prevent your pet from going outdoors, it is hard to know whether other pet owners are doing the same.

Your pet may catch it if it is allowed outdoors without supervision. If left unsupervised, your pet may come into contact with infected animals and become infected as a result. In certain cases, new born kittens may catch it from their parents.

Symptoms of ear mites in cats

Cats infected with ear mites will display several symptoms which you need to be aware of. Once you are familiar with these symptoms, you will be more alert to them and know what to do right away in the event of a suspected ear mite infection.

  • Scratching and rubbing of ears excessively
  • Shaking of head regularly
  • Strong odor coming from the ear
  • Scabs or scratches near the ear
  • Loss of hair and dermatitis
  • Loss of balance
  • Inflammation of the ear
  • Holding the head to one side
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Ear wax is watery and black or brown in color
  • Ear canal is obstructed with coffee ground like debris
  • Dizziness

If your cat displays any of the symptoms shown above, you should bring your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will be able to confirm whether your pet is infected or has other medical issues. Otherwise, further complications such as these below may arise.

Skin infections
Ear mites in cats can lead to dermatitis. Skin inflammations are generally mild and cats can recover fully if treated early. However, if you unconsciously delay treatment for ear mites, it may lead to serious skin infections that can affect your pet for life.

Rupture of blood vessels
Cats with ear mite infections tend to scratch their ears excessively to ease their itches. Cats may also shake their heads excessively as well. Both movements in excess will cause blood vessels in a cat’s ear to rupture. This medical condition is known as aural hematoma and will require surgery to correct most of the time.

Similarly, damage to the ear canals and eardrums may occur as a result of excessive scratching and head shaking. This may lead to deafness if the damages are serious.

Diagnosis of cat ear mites

At the clinic, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat. The examination will includes standard lab tests such as a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis as well as an electrolyte panel. This is to ensure that your cat does not have any other diseases as well.

Your cat will also go through a thorough dermatologic examination. Skin scrapings will be taken for further laboratory analysis. To identify the type of ear mite infection, ear swabs taken from your pet will be placed in mineral oil and view under a microscope. Your vet may use an auroscope which is a magnifying instrument with a flashlight to inspect the ear canal. In the event a physical examination of your cat’s ear is impossible due to your cat’s condition, a diagnosis may be made based on your cat’s response to medical treatment.

Your vet needs to ensure your cat’s eardrum is intact before beginning the treatment. If the eardrum is damaged, it may not be able to stop ear drops from entering the ear, affecting your cat’s balance. As such, treatment may have to be delayed.

Treatments for ear mites in cats

Once the diagnosis of your cat’s ear mite infection is out, your vet will prescribe suitable medications for treatment. Depending on the severity of the infection, your cat may be given both ear and skin medications. In certain cases, medicated ear drops or an antibiotic may be prescribed as well. Your vet will be able to advise you on the exact procedure in treating your cat.

Normally, your cat will have a build up of debris in the ears which requires clearing. You will need to use a cotton and a commercial ear cleanser to gently clean the ears of any debris. In certain cases, you may require the assistance of your vet to do the cleaning.

Next, apply the ear medications you are given. This will normally take about seven to ten days before the mites and the eggs are fully eradicated in the ears. At the same time, you should apply flea treatment to the rest of your cat’s body as well to kill off all the mites. You can use an anti-parasite shampoo that contains pyrethrins to bath your cat. You can check with your vet for recommendations.

At any point during the treatment if your cat show signs of discomfort or strange behavior, bring her back to the vet for assessment. Examples of discomfort or strange behaviors are developing a head tilting behavior and unbalance movements.

To ensure your pet will fully recover, you need to complete the full course of treatment and medication for your cat. You need to follow the procedures diligently to make sure there will be no relapse.

If you have other cats and/or pets at home, you need to apply the same treatment to them as well. Otherwise, you may find yourself having to combat another ear mite infection a few weeks down the road.

Preventive measures

Ear mite re-infections are very common, even though many cat owners are aware of the severity of ear mite infections. I’m sure you heard of the phrase “Prevention is better than cure”. This applies to ear mite infections as well. By following the tips below, you can prevent your cat from being infected again.

Keep your pet indoors
As most cats catch it outdoors, it is important to keep your cat indoors at all times. If you must, keep a close watch on your pet.

Keep your pet away from other animals
This is an easy one to follow if you just keep your cat indoors at all time. But then if you socialize with other pet owners and meet up regularly, you run the risk of getting your cat infected.

Clean your home thoroughly
Once your cat has been infected, you need to do a thorough cleaning of your whole house. Carpets, curtains, beddings and all the lots need to be thoroughly cleaned or washed with hot water.

Treat your cat using a selamectin-based topical medication. Selamectin is very effective in preventing fleas, heartworm, mites and some of the intestinal parasite infections in both cats and dogs. However, selamectin based treatments are not licensed for dog use yet. You have to bring your dog to the vet if any of your pets is infected with ear mites.

Common questions regarding ear mites in cats

Here are some of the common questions regarding ear mite infections. Hopefully, you will have a clearer picture of what an ear mite infection is and not mislead by others.

Are ear mites in cats contagious to humans?
No, they are not contagious to humans, though humans can still carry them around. Refer to answer in the next question.

Can ear mites in cats be transferred to humans?
Yes, but the ear mites will not survive long in humans’ ears. The mites will die off after a few weeks, even without treatment.

Are there any home remedies which I can use to treat my cat?
They are no known home remedies which can replace the professional treatments by veterinarians. You may cause more harm to your cat than helping her.

Can I treat my cat without going to the vet?
No. As previously mentioned, it is best to seek professional advice and help in treating your cat’s ear mite infection. Some websites may advocate the use of over the counter medication and products to treat your cat, but my advice is “Don’t put your pet’s health at risk”.

Things to take note

Avoid self diagnosis as certain types of bacteria infections have similar symptoms to ear mite infection. You may be putting your cat at risks of further health complications if you misdiagnose the infection.

It is advisable to get your pet to the vet for a complete checkup as early as possible if you suspect your cat of having an ear mite infection. If your suspicion is confirmed to be true, you will save your pet a lot of pain and agony.

Do not be mislead into using over the counter treatments for ear mites. Over the counter treatments are a waste of time and they can even be dangerous to your pet. It may lead to severe neurological damage in some cases.

Reinfection may occur if you are not careful in fully eradicating the mites in the first place. You should do a thorough disinfection of your whole house.

If you have other pets at home, you need to check all pets for ear mites. Ear mites are highly contagious among animals. In the event your other pets do get infected, you may need to bring them to the vet and apply the same treatment to them.


To summarize, ear mites in cats while highly infectious among animals, is not life threatening, though it will lead to serious health complications for your pet if not treated early. If you suspect your pet of having an ear mite infestation, do not panic. By following the information provided, you will be able to get your pet back to a healthy state in no time. Just remember to do a thorough cleaning and disinfection of your whole house to prevent a reinfection.

Image Credit
Photo by Jude - CC BY 2.0

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