Ear Mites in Cats

Published Apr. 29, 2024
A cat scratches her ears.

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In This Article


What Are Ear Mites in Cats?

Ear mites, scientifically known as Otodectes cynotis, are common among cats of all ages. They are especially prevalent in kittens and outdoor cats. These mites are highly contagious and can spread frequently among cats and dogs during close contact. Ear mites burrow into the ear canals, causing extreme irritation and inflammation. Pets who are infested usually experience itching, head shaking, and abnormal ear discharge.

Although ear mites in cats can cause extreme discomfort, they are not typically life-threatening.

However, if left untreated, they can cause secondary bacterial infections, pain, and severe inflammation in the ear canals. In severe cases, this can progress to rupture of the ear drum and hearing loss. If you notice thick ear debris and your cat is scratching their ears more than normal, promptly bring them to a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause.

Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats

Symptoms of ear mites in cats can include:

Causes of Ear Mites in Cats

Cats get ear mites from coming into close contact with another animal who has them. Ear mites are highly contagious and spread quickly among housemates, including other cats and dogs. Kittens commonly contract ear mites from their mother.

Cats who are not kept up-to-date on monthly preventatives are especially at risk for getting ear mites if they are exposed. While indoor cats can be affected, ear mites tend to be more common in cats who are allowed outside, due to their increased risk of exposure to other infested animals and the environment.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Ear Mites in Cats

Cats with symptoms of ear mites should be seen by a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. Pet parents will be asked if their cat is on any monthly preventatives, if there are any other pets in the household, and if their cat spends any time outdoors.

A veterinarian will start with a thorough physical exam, paying close attention to the cat’s ears using a special instrument called an otoscope.

Typically, if the veterinarian finds debris in the cat’s ears that look like coffee grounds, ear mites are highly likely. However, ear cytology (the microscopic examination of cells) can be used to support a diagnosis and is done for two reasons:

  • To check for mites: A veterinarian uses a cotton swab to gently remove material from the ear, adds it to a small amount of oil, and views it under the microscope. Ear mites and their eggs are easily viewed this way.

  • To check for a bacterial infection: Material from the ear is rolled onto a slide via a cotton swab. The slide is then stained and examined under a microscopic to check for bacteria. Secondary bacterial infections in the ear canal are common among cats with ear mites.

Treatment of Ear Mites in Cats

Cats require treatment to get rid of ear mites. An ear cleanser, such as Epi-Otic® Advanced, should be used daily to remove excess debris during this treatment period.

There are two main options for treating ear mites in cats:

  • Topical drops: These can be administered directly into the ear canal to kill mites. Examples of effective medications are milbemycin and ivermectin.

  • Flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives: These medications are applied to the cat’s skin in between the shoulder blades and are effective in killing ear mites after a single dose. Examples include those from Revolution® and Advantage Multi™.

If a bacterial infection is also present in the ear canal, a topical antibiotic ointment will be used alongside mite treatment. In cats with severe ear inflammation, topical or oral steroids—such as prednisolone—may be prescribed.

Because ear mites are quickly spread during close contact, all pets in the household should be treated by a veterinarian.

Recovery and Management of Ear Mites in Cats

Cats typically recover from ear mites after a single course of topical treatment, as long as pet parents closely follow their veterinarian’s instructions on how to clean the ears and apply the medication. Elimination of mites takes about a month, but cats generally start to feel better just a couple of days after beginning treatment.

It’s also important that pet parents bring their cat back to the veterinarian for a recheck appointment after completing treatment. This is to confirm that all ear mites have been eliminated and no additional treatment is necessary.

Prevention of Ear Mites in Cats

An important way to prevent ear mites in cats is to apply topical flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives each month year-round. Additionally, keeping a cat’s ears clean through once-weekly ear cleansing prevents buildup that can create a favorable environment for ear mites.

Since ear mites are highly contagious, healthy pets should be kept separate from infested ones until the mites have been eliminated. Keeping cats indoors can also reduce your cat’s risk of exposure to mites.

Ear Mites in Cats FAQs

Are cat ear mites contagious to humans?

Ear mites do not typically spread from cat to human. However, in rare instances, people living in a house with a cat who has ear mites can develop a rash if the mites jump onto their skin and bite it.

Do indoor cats have ear mites?

Indoor cats can get ear mites, especially if they have been in close contact with an infested animal.

What instantly kills ear mites in cats?

There are no products that kill ear mites instantly. Several topical medication options kill mites after a single use, but full elimination of mites takes about one month.

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers...

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