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August 30, 2022 |0 min read

Ear Mites in Cats: Causes, Treatment, & Prevention

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

You squint your eyes in the early morning, awoken by sounds of pink beans pounding on fur and cartilage. 


Geeze, Mochi, itchy ears much? 


You attempt to doze back off, but Mochi is back at it again. And again. And again. 


You sit up from your pillow to look at your cat. Now you’re worried. What’s got this poor kitten’s ears so itchy? 


If your cat’s got the ear-scratching blues, it might be the result of cat ear mites. Read on to learn more about ear mites in cats, how they happen, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.


What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites, or otodectes cynotis, are tiny, spider-like bugs that can lodge into your cats’, dogs’, and humans’ ears. They feed on ear wax, dead skin, and oil and have a typical life cycle of approximately 18–28 days.


While ear mites aren’t prevalent in cats and kittens, infestations can occur, especially in outdoor cats. And though they don’t often bite, ear mites are highly contagious—and can lead to a secondary ear infection and severe ear damage if they aren’t treated appropriately with a medicated ear drop.


Fortunately, an ear mite infestation is completely curable if you diagnose it with speed and know how to give your pet the proper care. An adult ear mite can breed and propagate in just a few weeks, so it’s crucial to stay keen on any potential symptoms early on and prevent as much of the spread as possible. 


What Causes Ear Mites in Cats?

Any time a cat comes in contact with nature or other animals, there’s a chance they may catch an ear mite looking to hitch a ride on their ears.


So, how do cats get ear mites? The most common ways cats contract ear mites are: 


  • From being outside – Although an ear mite’s favorite place to live is inside the ear of a furry animal, ear mites can live for up to twelve weeks in the outdoor environment. This leaves outdoor cats (or indoor escape artists) susceptible to catching them while prowling around in your backyard. 

  • From other animals – Ear mites are highly contagious. If your feline friend comes in contact with another animal infected with ear mites, there’s a high chance he’ll also end up catching them.

  • From the vet’s office – This scenario is less likely since most veterinarian offices use rigorous hygienic protocols to stop the spread of any contagious ear infections like ear mites. However, if an office is less well-kept, some ear mites could be waiting around for an ear to burrow into.

  • How to Spot Ear Mites in Cats

    When it comes to identifying cat ear mites versus wax, it can be tricky to tell the difference. The easiest way to determine whether a cat has ear mites is by observing how they treat their ears. If she paws, scratches, or swats at her ears, this may be a sign that ear mites are trying to crash the party. 


    The most common signs of ear mites in cats are: 


    • Excessive head shaking
    • Frequent ear scratching 
    • Dark ear wax or discharge
    • Red or swollen ear canals
    • More frequent body scratching
    • Strong odor coming from the cat’s ear 

    Bear in mind that ear mite symptoms can look different for every cat due to their unique disposition—so remember that you know your kitten better than anyone else. If your gut is telling you that something is “off” with their ears, listen to your instincts.


    Diagnosing Ear Mites at Home: Signs to Look For

    Because different felines display different stress behaviors, it can be challenging to self-diagnose ear mites in cats without a trained veterinarian.


    To that end, it can be helpful to know what other physical signs to look out for before popping your kitten into the travel carrier and heading to the vet. Other common signs of ear mites in cats include: 


    • Coffee-ground-like discharge – Sometimes, ear mites in cats can end up looking like coffee grounds or dirt falling out of your cat’s ears. This can happen when the tiny mites combine with dead skin cells, ear wax, and blood in your cat’s ears. 

    • Ear redness – Ear mites often cause ear canal inflammation and irritation. These symptoms could, however, be caused by several other ear-related cat ailments, which is why a veterinarian needs to perform a checkup to deliver their diagnosis.

    How Veterinarians Diagnose Cat Ear Mites

    At the vet, the doctor will examine your cat’s ears or the ear discharge that has fallen out. A microscopic device can help determine if the discharge is ear mite-related or caused by another condition.


    If your vet discovers ear mites in your cat’s ears, they’ll work with you to create a treatment plan that’s best for your kitten.


    If they don’t find ear mites, pat yourself on the back for bringing your pet in anyway—it’s always important to have any ear irritation you notice checked out by a vet to ensure the health and hearing of your cat. 


    How to Get Rid of Ear Mites Cats

    Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best ear mite treatment for cats and your household. In most cases, following their recommended protocol should clear out cat ear mites a few weeks after they begin treatment. 


    Some cat ear mite treatments can be administered at home, but you’ll want to ensure you follow your vet’s instructions as carefully as possible so as not to cause additional damage to your cat’s ears. 


    Some common ear mite treatment options include: 


  • Topical ointment or ear drops – Topical treatments can usually be administered at home (preferably in your cat’s favorite loafing spot). You’ll most likely need to apply them daily or every few days directly into your kitty’s ear canal. This treatment works to eradicate the adult mites, which means it may take several weeks to eliminate any baby ear mites hatched in your cat’s ears.

  • Anti-parasite injection – In some cases, your cat may be qualified for a weekly injection of anti-parasite medication. Anti-parasite formulas are typically more potent than ear drops and may help get rid of ear mites more quickly than  topical treatment. Anti-parasite injections may also be helpful for touchy or introverted cats who bristle at having their ears touched. In general, this treatment will be administered by a veterinarian. 

  • 5 Ways to Prevent Ear Mites in Cats

    Cat ear mites can cause ear aches for your perfect furball and plenty of heartaches (or headaches!) for you and your household. The best thing you can do as a pet owner is to learn to prevent ear mites before they ever become an ear problem.


    To keep ear mites out of your kitten’s ear canals, try these five tips: 


  • Take regular trips to the vet – Get in the habit of bringing your cat to the vet every few months for an ear check-up. Your vet will check her ears for signs of ear mites and other ear-related abnormalities—particularly crucial for cats who venture outdoors often or frequently interact with other animals. 

  • Host an ear-checking party – Whenever you and your cat snuggle up on the couch together for their daily brush, take a peek inside his ears to ensure everything looks normal. When cleaning your cats ears, be on the lookout for redness, irritation, or ear discharge signs. 

  • Educate your household – Your cat’s care doesn’t have to fall entirely on your shoulders! If you live with roommates, a partner, or family, let them know how to monitor your cat’s ear health. When you’re busy tending to life’s obligations, they can be the eyes—and ears—that guard your cat’s well-being. 

  • Use prevention medication – Although preventative medication can’t fully protect against ear mites, it can help control new cases and help with treatment. Many prescription-based medications for cats today can help control and prevent multiple pest-related infections, like cat flea bites, ticks, heartworm, and mites. All it takes is one dose, and they’ll be better protected than without it.

  • Socialize with caution – We’re all for taking the fur babies to a cat neighbor’s tuna-themed birthday picnic—but remember to keep an open dialogue with other pet owners to ensure any ear mites haven’t reared their ugly heads lately. It may feel nerve-wracking to ask, but you’ll protect more than one kitten by doing so! 

  • PrettyLitter: Keep Close Tabs on Your Tabby’s Health

    When you take a proactive approach to your cat’s health, it’s entirely possible to prevent ear mites from knocking at the door and overstaying their welcome. 


    At PrettyLitter, we set out to make proactive feline healthcare easier for cat parents like you. Our litter changes color helps spot the first signs of health issues in your cat earlier, so you can treat problems quickly and help them get back to purring in no time.

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    Sources: 


    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Ear Mites: Tiny Critters that can Pose a Major Threat. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/ear-mites-tiny-critters-can-pose-major-threat


    The Spruce Pets. Ear Mites in Cats. https://www.thesprucepets.com/about-ear-mites-dogs-and-cats-3384667


    Small Door Veterinary. Ear Mites in Cats. https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/medical/ear-mites-in-cats


    Highland Veterinary Clinic. The Symptoms, Causes and Treatment for Cat Ear Mites. https://www.highlandvet.net/the-symptoms-causes-and-treatment-for-cat-ear-mites#:~:text=What%20causes%20cat%20ear%20mites,veterinary%20offices%20with%20poor%20hygiene


    VCA Animal Hospital. Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ear-mites-otodectes-in-cats-and-dogs#:~:text=A%20diagnosis%20is%20made%20by,be%20properly%20examined%20and%20treated


    Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. Ear Mites. https://www.marvistavet.com/ear-mites.pml


    Washington Dog and Cat Hospital. Ear Mites in Cats: Causes, Treatment & Prevention. https://www.washingtondogandcathospital.com/site/blog/2022/03/31/ear-mites-in-cats-causes-treatment--prevention


    Trupanion. Ear mites: all you need to know. https://trupanion.com/pet-care/parasite-prevention/ear-mites#:~:text=How%20to%20prevent%20ear%20mite,of%20an%20infection%20at%20home.



    Written by

    Sharilyn Vera

    Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!

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