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Ear mites in cats: symptoms, causes and treatment

Brown cat having his ears checked advice © Shutterstock

Is your cat constantly pawing, scratching and itching at their ears? They might be suffering from ear mites, the most common ear condition in cats. Let’s look at the symptoms, causes and treatments of ear mites in cats.

By Alice Lang

Known as Otodectes cynotis, ear mites are teeny, tiny parasites which invade the ears of cats and dogs - though they’re far more common in cats. Ear mites are highly contagious and can quickly spread around all the pets in the family.

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of ear mites in cats, so you can treat the condition before it gets out of control. On top of this, untreated ear mites can easily lead to painful, stubborn ear and skin infections which aren’t exactly pleasant for your kitty.

How do cats get ear mites?

It’s simple - ear mites are caught through contact. If your cat is out and about and comes across another kitty or dog who has ear mites, they could easily be passed on. This tends to be the main way that parasites are spread.

However, if your cat is quite an adventurer, they could also pick up ear mites from rabbits, rodents or other wild animals. All it takes is casual contact - ear mites are highly contagious.

Symptoms of ear mites in cats

ear mites in cats
Ear mites will make your cat itch, itch and itch their ears!  ©Shutterstock

If your cat’s ears are in a healthy state, they should be pink and clean when you look inside. There should be no smell and minimal wax. A cat with healthy ears should react to the slightest noise, too.

However, ear mites in cats have pretty obvious symptoms, such as:

  • Constant pawing or itching at the ear
  • Head shaking
  • Dark wax buildup
  • Ear dirt and debris buildup
  • Hair loss around the ears
  • Foul smell from the ear
  • Blood and puss around the ear
  • Red, inflamed ears

“Though the mites are not possible to see with the naked eye, the discharge that forms in the ear is. It looks much like the deposits of dried coffee grounds down in the ear canals. A cat will scratch like mad whenever you rub its ears explains Richard H.Pitcairn in Dr Pitcarin’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Cats & Dogs.

Diagnosis of ear mites in cats

If you think your cat may have ear mites, it’s best to head to the vet and get them checked out. It’s a super irritating, sore and sometimes painful condition for any kitty, so it's important to get them fixed up as soon as you can!

Your vet will want to know what symptoms you’ve noticed, how long the symptoms have been present, if your cat spends time outdoors and if there are many cats in your area. If your vet believes ear mites in cats are to blame for the symptoms, they’ll go ahead and run some tests.

This will likely be a dermatologic exam along with skin scrapings, but may also include a chemical blood profile and a full physical exam. Your vet will also use an otoscope to investigate further into your cat’s ear canal.

How to get rid of ear mites in cats

ear mites in cats
Noo, get outta there!  ©Shutterstock

After diagnosis, treatment for ear mites in cats will need to be started promptly. Ear mites begin reproducing freakishly quickly, meaning a full infestation can happen in no time at all.

We’d recommend choosing a prescription treatment from a vet, rather than relying on an over-the-counter treatment. This way, you’re likely to get the problem fixed way quicker. In order to beat the entire ear mite population in your cat’s ear, OTC treatments can take weeks!

A prescription topical treatment will need to be applied directly into your cat’s ears. In most cases, it will only take one dose - hurray! To ward off potential skin or ear infections, antibiotic eardrops might also be prescribed.

You’ll also need to treat any other animals in your family, as they may well have picked up ear mites too. Otherwise, you might end up in a vicious circle of reinfection.

Preventing ear mites in cats

After you’ve treated all your pets and got rid of all those nasty ear mites, you won’t want them returning anytime soon. You can lower your cat’s risk of ear mites by implementing some prevention techniques into your routine.

Ear mites can live away from a host’s body, though not for long. Therefore, your normal cleaning routine should be enough - just make sure you do it promptly after treatment! It could also be useful to inform your neighbours about the ear mite infestation if they have outdoor cats, so they can check and treat their pets, too.

Regularly clean your cat’s bedding and toys and regularly use a flea treatment. This should help to lower the risk of ear mites in cats.

Also, remember to check inside your kitty’s ears every now and then and watch for signs and symptoms of ear mites. It’s much easier to treat in the early stages before it spreads to the other animals in the family.

There we have it - you know everything there is to know about ear mites in cats! We hope your kitty never catches them, but if they do, at least you're well prepared.