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Ear Mites in Cats: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Ear Mites in Cats: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention | BetterVet

If your cat is shaking their head and frantically scratching their ear, you might be concerned that they have an ear infection or ear mites. An itchy ear is always a reason to book an appointment with your vet. Read on to learn more about ear mites in cats.

What are Ear Mites?

Ear mites have a scientific name – Otodectes cynotis, which are tiny parasites that can live in the ears of cats as well as dogs, rabbits, and ferrets. The mites are tiny and can’t be seen with the naked eye. An ear mite can live for up to 2 months, and they continuously lay eggs that are ready to hatch in just 4 days. 

The most common way for your cat to catch ear mites is from other animals, but these mites can also survive in the environment for up to 1 month, so outdoor cats are often more susceptible to picking them up. Some cats carry the mites without showing any signs, but the mites can also cause a lot of irritation.

Symptoms of Ear Mites

If your cat has ear mites, they will probably start shaking their head and scratching their itchy ears. These are the most common symptoms that you need to watch out for -

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching ears
  • Rubbing the ears on the ground
  • Red, painful, or swollen ears
  • Smelly ears
  • Dry, dark waxy discharge from the ears that might look similar to ground coffee

It’s important to note that these symptoms are quite non-specific and can also indicate several other ear problems such as infections and allergies. So it’s always best to get a diagnosis from your vet to ensure you treat your cat appropriately.

How are Ear Mites Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will look down your cat’s ear with an otoscope to look for signs of mites. They are looking for swelling and inflammation in the ear canal, as well as at the type of wax or discharge present. The vet will also be looking for signs of other problems such as infection or something stuck in your cat’s ear. 

Ear mites are tiny and can’t be seen with the naked eye, so usually, your vet will take a swab sample of your cat’s ear wax. The vet will look at the sample under a microscope, and the mites can be seen easily this way. Sometimes, dyes or stains are used to look for bacteria and yeast as well as it’s common for cats to have an infection as well. A sample can also be sent to a laboratory for culture and sensitivity to further identify the bacteria and test which medications might be most appropriate.

How Do You Tell the Difference Between Ear Mites and an Ear Infection?

The symptoms of ear mites in cats can be very similar to the symptoms of ear infections and it can be tricky to differentiate between the two problems without testing.

But there are some things that can help us:

  • Ear mites typically affect both ears, whereas infection usually only affects one ear
  • Ear mites cause a dry wax that looks a bit like ground coffee, but with an infection, the wax can be thicker, or have a pale or yellow/green color
  • Ear infections are not usually contagious
  • Ear mites can spread between animals

Treating Ear Mites

Ear mites are easy to treat, although it can take up to 3 weeks to completely get rid of them due to the life cycle of the mites, which means sometimes more than one treatment is required. Make sure you speak to your vet about whether you need to treat any other pets in your home.

Here are some steps your veterinarian may recommend:

  1. Ear cleaner – it’s important to keep your cat’s ears clean and free of wax. The vet will likely prescribe a cleaner to help with this and show how to use it correctly
  2. Medicated ear treatments – some topical ear treatments can be used to treat ear mites, as well as topical antibiotics and antifungals to treat infections. Always follow your vet's instructions on how to use these
  3. Anti–itching medication – in severe cases the vet might prescribe something to keep your cat more comfortable
  4. Household sprays – this help removes mites from the environment. Open all the windows when you spray it, and never spray it directly onto your pet
  5. Wash all your pet's bedding to remove any mites or eggs
  6. Topical parasiticides containing Selamectin like Revolution will also kill ear mites as well as prevent fleas and heartworms

You can prevent and kill ear mites through the use of regular anti-parasitic treatments. Many products that are used to prevent fleas and ticks can also be used to kill and prevent ear mites in cats. Your vet can guide you through the different choices and find the most suitable one for your cat.


In conclusion, ear mites are tiny parasites that can live in the ear canal of cats as well as dogs, rabbits, and ferrets. They cause the ear to become very itchy and inflamed, and you might notice an increase in the wax in your cat’s ear. If you’re concerned your cat may have a problem with their ear, you should get them checked over by a vet. Ear mites can easily be treated and prevented.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do cats get ear mites?

Cats usually catch ear mites from another cat, or another animal such as a dog, rabbit, or ferret. Ear mites can also be picked up from the environment.

How do you know if your cat has ear mites or an ear infection?

Ear mites and infections both cause itchy ears and head shaking. The vet will need to examine your cat’s ear and may need to take samples for further testing to find out if your cat has ear mites or an infection.

Can ear mites be prevented?

Yes, ear mites can be prevented using regular anti-parasitic treatments. Your vet can advise you on which product is suitable for your cat.

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