How to Treat Ear Mites in Cats

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Cat scratching at ear

If you see your dog or cat scratching at its ears and shaking its head, chances are good it may have ear mites. These parasites are common in outdoor cats and are highly contagious (although they don’t usually affect humans).

They're not usually life-threatening but ear mites can make life miserable for your pet. Ear mites can cause infections of an animal's ear canal and sometimes can cause your pet to scratch so much that blood vessels in the ear rupture, which may require surgery.

What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites are tiny parasites that live out their life cycles mostly inside the ear canal. They are quite common and can cause severe irritation and itchiness of the ears. The most common ear mite of cats is Otodectes cynotis, and therefore an infestation with ear mites is sometimes called “otodectic mange.”

Ear mites primarily live in the ear canal, where they feed on ear wax and skin oils. Their presence causes inflammation, and can also lead to secondary ear infections. Eggs are laid in the ear, and it takes about three weeks for eggs to hatch and develop into adult mites that can reproduce. 

While ear mites are generally found in the ears, they can also wander out onto the body, causing irritation and itchiness of the skin as well.

Ear Mite debris in a cat ear

Ear Mite debris in a cat ear

Uwe Gille / Wikimedia Commons

Signs of Ear Mites in Cats

It's not difficult to recognize ear mites, based on your pet's behavior and appearance. The mites themselves, however, are generally too small to see with the naked eye. The most common signs of ear mites among cats include:


  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at ears
  • Dark waxy or crusty discharge from the ears (looks a bit like coffee grounds)
  • Irritation of other parts of the body resulting in an unusual amount of scratching

signs of ear mites in cats

signs of ear mites in cats

The Spruce / Nusha Ashjaee

Transmission of Ear Mites

Cats are commonly affected by ear mites, which are spread mostly by direct contact with another animal. They are especially common in young animals.

Diagnosis of Ear Mites

The diagnosis of ear mites is confirmed when the mites are found in a sample of the ear discharge examined under a microscope. Sometimes the mites can even be seen as little white specks moving around in the ear (when using a magnifying scope, or otoscope, to examine the ear). 

Confirming the presence of the mites is necessary to distinguish ear mites from other ear infections, so don’t try to diagnose at home. Always consult a veterinarian before beginning any course of treatment.

Treatment and Prevention

There are several options for treating ear mites, and your veterinarian will recommend a treatment protocol for your pet. Over the counter medications are often less effective or require extended treatment times compared to medications prescribed by your vet. In fact, some newer medications require only a single application to be effective. 

First, thorough cleaning of the ears can help clear the discharge, calm the irritation, and remove some of the mites. This can be followed up in one of several ways:

  • One-time medication treatments applied to the ear can be successful.
  • One-time treatments applied to the skin are typically used as monthly parasite control medications; a single dose usually takes care of an ear mite infection but you may consider using them monthly to prevent reinfection and control other pests.
  • Repeated applications of medication to the ear might be required.
  • Injectable ivermectin can also be used; this is an off-label use for ear mites.

It is important to strictly follow your vet's recommended dosage schedule for the successful treatment of ear mites . Though more time-consuming to apply, some medications can calm inflammation and treat secondary bacterial or yeast infections.

Even if they are not showing symptoms, all pets in the home should be treated at the same time.

Ear Mites and Humans

Ear mites do not survive for long periods on humans so they do not cause long-term infections in people. Very rarely, however, ear mites may transiently hang out on humans—on arms or extremities—and produce a transient rash.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.

Article Sources

The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Feline ear disorders. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

  2. Mite infestation (mange, acariasis, scabies) of cats. Merck Manual Veterinary Manual.

  3. Ear mites: tiny critters that can pose a major threat. Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine.

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