Advice & Tips
how to recognise treat cat ear mites

Mites on Cats - How to Recognise and Treat Ear Mites

Written by Ryan Gliozzo


Find out everything you need to know about cat ear mites in our comprehensive guide. From symptoms to treatment options, learn how to spot and effectively manage this common feline ailment for a happier, healthier kitty.
a cat itching his ears


In the mysterious world of feline health, a microscopic menace often goes unnoticed but can wreak havoc on our beloved companions - ear mites. These tiny arachnids, barely visible to the naked eye, have a knack for infiltrating the delicate ears of our feline friends, causing discomfort and potential complications if left unchecked.

Ear mites, a type of parasitic mite, are a common issue in cats, and while they may seem inconspicuous, their impact can be significant. These mites can even affect the hair follicles and skin surface of the ear, leading to skin irritation.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of ear mite infestations is crucial for cat owners, as these pesky parasites can lead to a myriad of problems, ranging from mild irritation to severe infections. Clinical signs to watch for include intense scratching and redness around the ears.

Prompt identification and treatment are paramount, not only for your cat's well-being but also for preventing the spread of ear mites to other pets within the household. In severe cases, ear mites can contribute to skin issues and skin parasites beyond the ears, necessitating a clean environment and regular use of grooming equipment.

In this article, we will delve into the world of ear mites, exploring their biology, the signs indicating their presence, and the importance of early detection and effective treatment.

Understanding the biology of these mites, including their preference for the warm body heat of cats, is crucial for effective management.

What are ear mites?

a ginger cat itching his ear

Ear mites, scientifically known as Otodectes cynotis, are minuscule arachnids that thrive in the warm and moist environment of a cat's ear canal. These microscopic parasites are particularly adept at infesting the ears of domestic cats, causing a range of uncomfortable symptoms.

The most common effects include intense itching, head shaking, and persistent scratching at the ears. As these tiny intruders feed on the wax and oils within the ear canal, they can lead to inflammation, irritation, and, in severe cases, secondary bacterial infections. Left untreated, ear mites can jeopardise a cat's auditory health, potentially leading to hearing loss and other complications.

For treatment, veterinarians often recommend topical products specifically designed to target and eliminate these mites.

The life cycle and reproductive habits of ear mites contribute to their tenacity and ability to spread. Female mites lay eggs in the ear canal, and once hatched, the larvae go through several developmental stages before maturing into adult mites. This entire life cycle can take as little as three weeks, allowing for a rapid increase in mite populations within a cat's ear. Furthermore, the ability of ear mites to survive outside the host for short periods makes them highly contagious, posing a risk of transmission between cats in close proximity.

On a different, yet slightly similar note,
harvest mites, also known as Trombiculidae, are a distinct type of mite that can affect cats. Unlike ear mites, harvest mites are visible to the naked eye and typically infest a cat's skin rather than its ears. These mites are more prevalent in outdoor environments, particularly during the warmer months.

Harvest mites cause irritation and intense itching, leading to the formation of small red or orange clusters on a cat's skin, known as "harvest mite dermatitis." While not as common as ear mites, awareness of these external parasites is essential for pet owners to ensure prompt and effective treatment.

Recognising the symptoms of ear mites

ear mites close up

The symptoms of ear mites are as follows:

1. Head shaking: Cats with ear mites often exhibit frequent head shaking as they attempt to alleviate the discomfort caused by the parasites within their ear canals.

2. Scratching at ears: Persistent scratching at the ears is a common behaviour in cats suffering from ear mite infestations. The itching sensation triggered by the mites can become intense, prompting continuous scratching.

3. Ear scrubbing: Cats may rub their ears against surfaces, such as furniture or the floor, in an effort to relieve the itching and irritation caused by ear mites.

4. Visible discomfort: Cats may display signs of general discomfort, such as tilting or shaking their heads, indicating their unease with the presence of ear mites.

5. Redness and inflammation: Ear mites can cause redness and inflammation in the ear canal, visible upon close inspection. The affected area may appear irritated and swollen.

6. Dark, crumbly debris: A common sign of ear mite infestation is the presence of dark, crumbly debris resembling coffee grounds within the cat's ears. This substance consists of a mixture of mites, eggs, wax, and excretions.

7. Foul odour: In some cases, an unpleasant odour emanating from the ears may accompany an ear mite infestation, indicating a potential secondary bacterial infection.

8. Hair loss around ears: Excessive scratching and head shaking can lead to hair loss around the ears as a consequence of the cat's attempts to alleviate discomfort.

Ear mite discharge often takes the form of a dark, granular substance resembling coffee grounds. This discharge is a combination of mites, their waste products, and ear debris.

When examined closely, this debris can be identified within the ear canal during a veterinary examination. It is essential for cat owners to differentiate ear mite discharge from normal earwax, as the former is indicative of an active cat mite infestation that requires prompt attention.

If left untreated, ear mite infestations can lead to several complications. The constant scratching and head shaking can cause trauma to the ear tissue, potentially resulting in open sores and increased susceptibility to bacterial infections.

Prolonged inflammation may lead to damage of the ear canal and eardrum, impacting a cat's hearing. Severe irritation and inflamed skin are common symptoms in cats with mites, especially in cases like Feline demodicosis.

Unfortunately, cat ear mites, a common parasite, can spread to other pets in the household which is a significant concern for many pet owners. Routine treatment and regular veterinary check-ups are essential to address ear mite infestations effectively and prevent the progression of potential complications.

Worried about your cat with ear mites but unsure what's the matter? Our guide on
miliary dermatitis might be just what you need. It's a related skin condition that can cause lots of aggravation and misery for our feline friends and might explain why they're acting out of character.

How cats contract ear mites

a ginger cat licking himself

Cats primarily contract ear mites through direct contact with infected animals. Social interactions, such as grooming or close physical contact with an infected cat, serve as a common mode of transmission.

Indoor cats can acquire ear mites through exposure to other infested pets within the household, while outdoor cats face a higher risk due to interactions with a broader range of animals in their environment. Ear mites are resilient and can survive briefly in the environment, making shared bedding, toys, or common resting areas potential sources of transmission.

Kittens and outdoor cats are particularly susceptible to ear mite infestations. Kittens, with their developing immune systems, are more vulnerable to various parasites, including ear mites.

Close contact with a mother cat or littermates facilitates the rapid spread of these microscopic pests. Outdoor cats, exploring the diverse and often uncontrolled environments, face increased exposure to potential carriers of ear mites, such as stray or wild animals.

The combination of outdoor exploration and interaction with other animals heightens the likelihood of ear mite transmission, underscoring the importance of vigilant monitoring and preventive measures for these feline populations.

Wild animals, including raccoons and foxes, can act as reservoirs for ear mites and pose a potential risk to domestic cats. Encounters with these wild species, whether direct or indirect, may lead to the transmission of ear mites.

Raccoons, in particular, are known carriers of Otodectes cynotis, a common type of mite that infests domestic cats.

As outdoor cats may share territories with these wild creatures, the risk of transmission increases. Pet owners should be aware of their cat's outdoor activities and take preventive measures, such as regular veterinary check-ups and appropriate topical treatments, to mitigate the potential threat of ear mite transmission from encounters with wildlife.

Diagnosing ear mites

close up of mites in cats ear

A veterinarian plays a crucial role in diagnosing ear mite infestations in cats through a thorough examination and specialised diagnostic procedures.

During a veterinary visit, the professional will take into account the cat's medical history and observe any behavioural changes or symptoms indicative of ear mites.

The veterinarian will then conduct a meticulous physical examination, focusing on the cat's ears.

With the aid of an otoscope, a specialised instrument designed for examining the ear canal, your veterinarian can visually inspect the ear for signs of ear mites, such as redness, inflammation, and characteristic dark debris.

Ear irritation and skin lesions are often visible. Your veterinarian may also inquire about your cat's living environment, interactions with other animals, and recent outdoor activities to better assess the potential risk factors for ear mite infestation.

The primary diagnostic procedure for ear mites involves the use of an otoscope to examine the cat's ears.

The otoscopy allows the veterinarian to visualise the inside of the ear canal, enabling them to identify the presence of ear mites, characteristic debris, or any signs of inflammation.

In cases where the symptoms are subtle or the diagnosis is inconclusive, the veterinarian may collect a skin scraping from the ear canal for further analysis.

This sample, often obtained using a cotton swab, can be examined under a microscope. Microscopic analysis allows the veterinarian to confirm the presence of ear mites, identify their life stages, and assess the severity of the infestation.

With an accurate diagnosis, the veterinarian can then recommend an appropriate treatment of ear mites plan tailored to the individual needs of the cat, ensuring a targeted and effective approach to managing the ear mite infestation.

If you're worried your cat has ear mites, you can speak to a vet online completely free of charge, if you're a Waggel member. All Waggel policyholders
get 24/7 access to online vet care provider, Joii, to help when you've got niggling questions that you need answers to.

Want to know how to diagnose other conditions in your feline friend? Our
article on diagnosing worms has been considered the holy grail by lots of cat owners.

Treatment options for ear mites

cotton stick cleaning mites from cats ear

The effective management of feline ear mites involves a combination of cleaning and medication, tailored to the severity of the infestation. Cleaning the ears is a crucial initial step to remove debris and mites.

Veterinarians often recommend specialised ear cleaning solutions to gently flush the ear canals and eliminate accumulated dirt and discharge. This process not only provides relief to the cat but also enhances the effectiveness of subsequent treatments.

Medication plays a pivotal role in eradicating ear mites. Several anti-parasitic medications are commonly prescribed - these medications target the mites at various life stages, preventing their reproduction and eliminating existing infestations.

The choice of medication and method of administration depend on the cat's health, age, and the veterinarian's assessment of the infestation.

Strict adherence to your veterinarian's instructions is paramount for the successful treatment of ear mites. This includes following the prescribed dosage and administration schedule for any medications, as well as implementing recommended cleaning procedures.

Deviating from the veterinarian's instructions can lead to incomplete eradication of the infestation, potential relapses, or adverse reactions. Regular follow-up appointments may be advised to monitor the cat's progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

As a pet owner, it's crucial to treat all of the pets in the household, even if symptoms are not apparent, to prevent the spread of ear mites.

Thorough environmental cleaning, such as washing bedding and vacuuming living spaces, can help eliminate any lingering mites. You should communicate openly with your veterinarian, reporting any concerns or changes in your cat's condition during and after treatment.

By collaborating closely with your vet and strictly adhering to the prescribed treatment plan, you can ensure the prompt and effective resolution of feline ear mite infestations.
For further information on treating ear issues, why not take a look at
our guide on cat ear infections?

Preventing ear mite infestations

a cat getting his ears cleaned by owner

Preventing feline ear mite infestations involves a combination of proactive measures, with regular ear cleaning standing out as a key strategy.

Pet owners should incorporate routine treatment into their cat's grooming behaviour using veterinarian-recommended solutions.
This practice helps remove wax, debris, and potential contaminants, reducing the likelihood of ear mites finding a conducive environment to thrive.

Furthermore, scheduling regular veterinary checkups is essential for early detection of any signs or symptoms of ear mites.
Veterinarians can conduct thorough examinations, including otoscope inspections, to identify and address emerging issues before they escalate.

To maintain good ear hygiene and prevent ear mites, pet owners should avoid using cotton swabs or other implements to clean deep within the cat's ear canal, as this may cause injury. Instead, gently wipe the visible parts of the ear with a soft, damp cloth during grooming sessions.

Keeping your living environment clean contributes to overall preventive care. Treating all pets in the household simultaneously, even if symptoms are not present, will help to break the cycle of transmission and ensure comprehensive protection.

This collaborative approach, combining regular ear cleaning, veterinary checkups, and household-wide treatment, forms a robust defence against the onset and recurrence of feline ear mite infestations.

Recap of recognising mites on cats and how to treat them

In conclusion, recognising, treating, and preventing ear mites in cats are essential components of responsible pet ownership. The microscopic nature of these parasites underscores the importance of vigilant observation for any signs of discomfort exhibited by our feline companions.

Swift recognition and treatment are crucial to prevent the progression of ear mite infestations, which, if left unchecked, can lead to severe complications and discomfort for our cats.

Seeking veterinary care at the first indication of ear-related issues is paramount, as professionals can conduct precise diagnostics, provide tailored treatments, and offer valuable guidance on preventive measures.

To maintain optimal ear health in your cat, establish a regular grooming routine that includes gentle ear cleaning with veterinarian-recommended solutions. During veterinary checkups, ensure a thorough examination of the ears, especially if your cat spends time outdoors or interacts with other pets.

Monitor for signs of head shaking, scratching, or changes in behaviour, and act promptly if any abnormalities are observed.

Regularly clean your cat's living environment and treat all pets in the household simultaneously, even if symptoms are not apparent, to break the cycle of transmission.

By staying proactive in recognising, treating, and preventing ear mites, pet owners can contribute to the overall well-being and happiness of their cherished feline companions.

The Waggel blog serves as the perfect place for the pet community to come together and get answers to their most burning questions.

We know as cat owners ourselves, it’s not always smooth-sailing. But that’s why we’re here, to provide top tips and advice on all things feline. Check out our other articles on
cat microchips and other health conditions such as feline alopecia and cat eye problems.


Can ear mites be transmitted to humans?

Ear mites are not typically transmitted to humans, as they are species-specific and prefer the feline ear environment. If you’ve noticed unusual and unfamiliar symptoms in your cat, it might be an allergy.

How long does it take to treat ear mite infestations?

The duration of ear mite treatment varies but generally takes a few weeks, with prompt veterinary intervention crucial for effective resolution.

What are some home remedies for ear mites?

While some suggest baby oil for ear mites, it is essential to consult a veterinarian for safe and effective treatment options, as home remedies may not address the infestation adequately.

Are indoor cats at risk of getting ear mites?

Indoor cats can still be at risk of getting ear mites, particularly if they come into contact with infected animals or objects.

Can ear mites cause long-term damage to a cat's ears?

If left untreated, ear mites can cause long-term damage to a cat's ears, potentially leading to hearing loss and chronic ear issues.

Waggel Pet Insurance

Need more help? You're in luck if you're a Waggel Pet Insurance member. Along with our excellent coverage, we offer access to a 24/7 online vet to answer all your sticky questions, especially if you need grooming assistance.

Not a member? Why not get a quote now and cover your furry friend for a range of illnesses, all while enjoying our amazing perks and rewards.

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