Ear mites in cats

The most common type of ear mite in cats is known as otodectes cynotis.

These microscopic parasites feed on the oil and wax found in a cat’s ears, causing irritation and inflammation. If left untreated, ear mites can cause infections within the inner and outer ear canal. The excessive scratching and head shaking can also lead to aural hematomas (ruptured blood vessels within the ear) or can cause damage to your cat’s ear drum or ear canal.

In extreme cases, the secondary conditions caused by ear mites can even lead to deafness, so it’s important to seek advice from your veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect your cat may be infected with ear mites.

What causes ear mites in cats?

Ear mites are more common in cats which spend time outdoors. They are highly contagious, so can be easily passed on to other pets living in the household through physical contact or loose pet hair.

Kittens are usually more at risk of becoming infected with ear mites, and they are common in places where animals live in close proximity, such as shelters and rescue centers.

What are the symptoms of ear mites?

The symptoms of ear mites include scratching, head shaking and inflammation. The scratching may lead to hair loss around the ears, and a black discharge which resembles coffee grounds will also appear in and around your cat’s ear. The ear may also produce a waxy discharge and strong odor.

How are ear mites diagnosed?

You should always obtain a proper diagnosis from your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has an ear infection. Buying medication over the counter and treating your cat for a bacterial or yeast infection instead of ear mites may cause their condition to worsen, and they could potentially develop more serious health problems as a result.

To rule out other diseases or conditions, your veterinarian will normally conduct blood tests or skin scrapings. They can also look inside your cat’s ear canal using an otoscope to see if ear mites are present. In some cases, the cat’s ear will be too inflamed for the veterinarian to examine, and so they will prescribe appropriate medication and monitor your cat’s reaction to see whether the inflammation has been caused by the ear mite parasite.

How to get rid of ear mites in cats

The good news is that ear mites are easy to treat. Your veterinarian will first cleanse your cat’s ears thoroughly before administering a topical medication which will kill the parasite and their eggs. Ear mites are highly contagious, which means all other pets in the household will also need to be treated. You’ll also need to ensure all pet bedding is washed, and carpets, rugs and soft furnishings are vacuumed.

Instead of a topical medication, your veterinarian may recommend treating the ear mites with an ear cleanser which contains parasiticides. However, both types of treatment will need to be used over a period of several weeks to ensure all the mites and their eggs are eliminated.

If the ear mites have caused a severe ear infection to develop, your veterinarian may prescribe a course of antibiotics. However, aural hematomas often need to be corrected with surgery.

Once your cat has completed their treatment for ear mites, your veterinarian will be able to confirm whether all the ear mites have been eradicated and if any infections or wounds have healed fully.

How to prevent ear mites in cats

Most spot-on flea treatments are also designed to kill ear mites, so staying on top of your parasite control is vital in terms of keeping ear mites at bay.

It’s also important to protect your pet’s environment as well as your pet. Washing your cat’s bedding and regularly vacuuming carpets, rugs and upholstery, and treating these areas with flea sprays can also help prevent future outbreaks.