In this article, you’ll find out how cats get ear mites, learn about the signs of an ear mite infection, and get details on how to eradicate an infestation.
What Are Ear Mites in Cats?
Ear mites are microscopic parasites that usually take up residence in your cat’s ear canals, although the mites can spread to other parts of the body, including the neck, rear end, and tail area.
In the ear, the mites feed on your cat’s ear wax, skin flakes, and oils. The most common species of ear mite affecting cats and dogs is Otodectes cynotis. Ear mites are common in cats, especially kittens, although cats of any age can contract ear mites. Although dogs can become infected with ear mites, too, they are much more commonly seen in cats.
What Causes Ear Mites in Cats?
Ear mites are extremely contagious in cats, passing from animal to animal. Kittens often get ear mites from their mothers. Adult cats can pick up ear mites from other cats and even from dogs because the same type of ear mite affects many different species.
Outdoor cats are more likely to become infected with ear mites because they come in contact with other animals. Even wild animals like raccoons and foxes can transmit ears mites to cats. Indoor cats, although at less risk, may develop ear mites if they are exposed to another infected cat or dog.
Signs & Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats
While ear mites themselves are almost invisible to the naked eye, cats with ear mites exhibit a distinctive discharge that often resembles coffee grounds.
Ear mites are so tiny that they are almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Your veterinarian will use a microscope to positively identify them. However, you can see visual evidence of ear mite infections in your cat’s ears.
Ear mite infections have a characteristic dark, thick, smelly “ear gunk,” which consists of ear wax and debris from the mites. Types of debris include live mites, dead mites, mite eggs, and dried blood. This discharge often resembles coffee grounds.
If you’re curious, you can Google “pictures of ear mites in cats” for some images of cats with ear mite infections. Fair warning: Ear mite infection in cats are not pretty!
Ear mite infestations are extremely uncomfortable for your cat. The mites cause severe itching and pain.
Symptoms of ear mite infection in cats include:
- Copious dark, bad-smelling debris in the ear
- Crusty or scabby ears
- Red, inflamed ears
- Bumps in the ears
- Scratching at the ears
- Head shaking
- Scratches and bleeding around the ears (self-inflicted)
- Hair loss
- Itching and scabbing on the neck, rear end, and tail areas
Cat Ear Mites Vs Ear Wax (Dirty Cat Ears)
How do you know if your cat has ear mites or just a lot of ear wax?
Healthy cat ears are not typically dirty. Cats might sometimes develop a small amount of ear wax, which can be easily wiped away with a cotton ball soaked in a pet-safe ear cleaner.
But if you see large amounts of dark, sticky, bad-smelling debris in your cat’s ear, or if the ear looks red and inflamed, it is likely something more than simple ear wax.
Cat Ear Mites Vs Yeast or Bacterial Infection
Although ear mite infections are the most common ear infection seen in cats, it’s possible for your cat to develop a yeast or bacterial infection in her ears. However, it can be difficult to differentiate ear mite infections vs yeast infections vs bacterial infections.
The signs of ear mite infections and other types of ear infections are very similar (scratching at the ears, shaking the head, dark and smelly debris inside the ears). Also, cats can have both an ear mite infection and bacterial and/or yeast ear infection all at the same time.
Ear Mite Treatment for Cats
It’s important to bring your cat to the veterinarian if she exhibits any ear problems. Left untreated, an ear mite infection can cause serious damage to the cat’s ear canal, especially if the cat develops a secondary bacterial infection (otitis externa).
Untreated ear infections are not only very painful, but they can cause hearing loss and balance problems due to loss of equilibrium. Your vet will do a full physical exam and look into your cat’s ears with an instrument called an otoscope.
The veterinarian will also collect a sample of the ear debris with a swab so he can look at it under a microscope to determine what is causing the problem and what treatment is needed.
Read More: 5 Best Ear Mite Treatments for Cats
Successful treatment of ear mites requires a few steps:
- Deep ear cleaning. Your veterinarian will clean the ears very carefully and thoroughly to remove as much wax and debris as possible. This step is important so that the medication can do its job.
- Medication. Your veterinarian may prescribe one or more medications depending on whether your cat has only an ear mite infection or if she also has a bacterial or yeast infection. Ear mite medicine for cats commonly comes in the form of ear drops that you give to your cat at home. Your vet might also recommend a topical treatment or oral medications.
- Thorough house cleaning. Although the life cycle of ear mites takes place on a host animal, ear mites and mite eggs can survive on your cat’s bedding, the carpet, and furniture for a little while. Vacuum carpets and furniture and wash bedding (your cat’s and yours if your cat sleeps with you) in hot water on the longest wash setting, then dry in the dryer. It’s a good idea to go through this process about once a week during your cat’s ear mite treatment so your cat does not become reinfected with newly hatched mites.
- Treating other pets in the household. Ear mites are extremely contagious between animals, passing easily between other cats and dogs living in the same household. Your vet might recommend that you bring your other pets in to check for ear mites so they can be treated as well.
- Follow-up exam. About a month after your cat begins treatment for ear mites, your veterinarian will have you return to the clinic for a follow-up exam so he can take another ear swab and look at it under the microscope. This step is vital to ensure all mites have been killed. If mites are found, your vet will recommend additional treatment.
Home Remedies for Ear Mites in Cats
It’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before attempting any home remedies for ear mites. If your cat has a ruptured eardrum due to an ear infection, placing any substance in the ear can be dangerous. The only way to make sure the eardrum is intact is for your veterinarian to look inside the ear with an instrument called an otoscope.
After getting their vet’s blessing, some people may wish to try home remedies for ear mites in cats like coconut oil or mineral oil. Using an oil in the ear can loosen wax and debris so it can be removed, and it also suffocates the mites.
Just be careful that any oil you use is safe for cats. Some oils, especially essential oils, can be toxic to cats.
Important safety tip: Never stick anything down into your cat’s ear canal, not even a cotton swab. You could damage or even puncture your cat’s eardrum.
Only clean the outer portions of the ears, as far as you can see down. If your cat has debris deep in her ear canal, leave it for the professionals and bring her to your vet for a deep ear cleaning.
Ear mites are extremely common in cats, but with the right treatment, you can safely resolve your cat’s infestation.
By identifying your cat’s ear mite infestation and taking careful, well-informed action, you can relieve your cat of the pain and itching that comes with this common infection.