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How Do Indoor & Outdoor Cats Get Ear Mites? Vet-Reviewed Science & Info

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Ear problems are among the most common health issues in cats. If left untreated for too long, they can cause severe infections. Your cat may scratch their ears for several reasons, typically innocent ones. But when the scratching becomes a daily problem, you’ll need to find the real culprit and start treatment.

Ear mites are the leading cause of feline ear problems. These microscopic parasites can make your kitty extremely itchy if they remain undiagnosed. Whether your pet is an outdoor or indoor cat, they can be easily affected by mites. Mites are extremely contagious, and your cat can get them from other cats or infected environments.

So, how can you get rid of them? Let’s take a closer look.hepper cat paw divider

What Are Cat Ear Mites?

man treating cat's ear mites
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Cats can have several types of pests living in their ears. However, the most common one is Otodectes cynotis. Barely visible to the naked eye, this eight-legged parasite gets inside your cat’s ear canal, where they feed on wax, oils, and skin debris. This parasite loves the moist, warm skin of a cat’s ear canal and spends its entire life cycle there. Unlike some other mites, this mite doesn’t burrow; instead, it lives in the ear canal.

One mite has a 4-week life cycle and can only be seen as a small white dot. Due to their long life cycle, they are difficult to eradicate and will easily spread to other animals in close proximity. To detect them quickly, you must have regular preventative care, making it easier to remove them. Once they take a position in your cat’s ears, they can cause significant inflammation and swelling in the ear canal, which becomes itchy.

Cats of all ages and breeds can be affected. However, outdoor felines are the most susceptible to an ear mite infection. The mites can also spread to other parts of the body and affect your cat’s skin in severe infestations.

hepper cat paw dividerHow Do Cats Get Ear Mites?

Ear mites are highly contagious; therefore, they’ll easily spread to your cat. If you suspect that your pet has mites, here’s how they could have gotten them.

  • The Environment: Ear mites can live and survive in the environment for a limited amount of time. The parasites can transfer to your cat when they play or lie on the grass. Immediately, they attach themselves to your cat’s body and take a position in the ears. Outdoor cats are at a higher risk of parasite infection than indoor pets.
  • Other Animals and Pets: Ear mites affect cats more than dogs. Therefore, if you are in a multiple-pet household, ear mites can easily change hosts from one pet to another. Your pet can pick up this parasite from direct contact—for instance, when wrestling or snuggling with the infected pet. They can also get it from the other animal’s environment. Indoor cats might not get the mites from outside, since they spend most of their time in the house, but if they come into contact with toys or the bedding of infected cats, they can get the mites hooked on them too.
  • Cats from Shelters: Mites are prevalent in shelter cats and kittens. If you adopt a new cat from the shelter, ensure that you check their ears immediately to confirm that they don’t have ear mites. Since it might be hard to spot these critters with the naked eye, you can take your newly adopted cat to the vet for specialized checkups. This way, you won’t bring ear mites into your home, which is good, especially if you have other pets.

hepper cat paw dividerWhat Are the Signs of Ear Mites in Cats?

Since ear mites are microscopic, you might not spot them just by observing your cat. You have to look out for additional signs that indicate that your pet is infested. Most of these can also indicate various causes of ear problems.

Apart from ear mites, your feline buddy might have other parasite infections, bacterial infections, or fungal infections. For any of these signs, it’s best to rule out other medical conditions by consulting with a vet.

Here are a few of the signs to look out for.

1. Your Cat Is Constantly Scratching Their Ears

Cat with fleas
Image Credit: Maja Marjanovic, Shutterstock

This is the most common sign. Since ear mites cause itchiness, your cat will constantly scratch their ears in a bid to dislodge the mites. Once you notice this recurring problem, you need to check with your vet to confirm that your pet could be infected before the situation worsens.

2. Your Cat Frequently Shakes Their Head

Like with ear scratching, your cat might start shaking their head frequently because they feel something in their ears. If you observe this behavior, most likely, mites are feeding in your cat’s ear canal. The cat may also keep their head tilted at an angle.

3. There’s Dark and Dry Discharge Coming From the Ears

A hallmark sign of ear mites in your feline friend is dark brown or black discharge that looks like coffee grounds. This discharge is a mixture of blood, wax, and other debris from the mite infestation. In severe cases, a crust will form and block the ear canal, resulting in hearing problems. The discharge can be seen both in the interior and exterior parts of the ear.

4. Your Cat Has a Strong Odor

cat smelly
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If the inflammation and infection go unnoticed for long, it worsens, and you can smell a strong scent from your cat. This situation needs immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage to the inner ear, which can result in hearing loss.

5. Your Cat Has Red and Inflamed Ears

If you can’t spot the mites, you can easily notice the change in the appearance of your cat’s ears. If they are inflamed and red hot, it’s a sign that something is not right.

6. Your Cat Has Skin Lesions and Marks on the Ears

This is another sign of an infection. In normal situations, your cat’s ears are usually smooth without any scars. Therefore, if you notice new scars and lesions, it’s highly likely that they have ear mites. You can also visit a vet to confirm whether that’s the only issue.
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How Are Ear Mites Diagnosed?

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It might look easy to diagnose your cat just by observing the signs. However, a trained eye is still required to confirm that the changes in your cat’s body are indeed the result of ear mites.

A veterinarian will give a professional diagnosis, since it’s their area of expertise. From observation and an ear examination (often entailing looking at ear wax under a microscope to visualize the parasites), they can determine whether the signs are due to ear mites or something else. The vet may also examine your cat’s ear canal using an otoscope. This flashlight-like instrument explores the depths of the ear to look for signs of inflammation, swelling, and discharge.

If your cat has had the infection or inflammation for an extended period, the ears might be too sore for them to stay still during the examination. To make the process easier, the vet may need to sedate them for the diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis with a professional is important because the various infections don’t have the same treatment.

hepper cat paw dividerHow to Treat Your Cat If They Have Ear Mites

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Image Credit: Piqsels

Once you have a prognosis that your cat has ear mites, what’s next? Let’s look closer at a few of the methods of treatment that you can use for your cat.

1. Remove Wax Build-Up

Ear mites feed on the wax in your cat’s ears. Therefore, the first step in getting rid of these parasites is removing their source of food. During the visit to the vet, they can clean the cat’s ears, especially if they are already sedated. Once the wax is out of the way, you can use medications.

By doing this at home, though, you run the risk of harming your cat’s eardrum or pushing the mites farther inside the year. Therefore, you should let the vet do it so all the residue is out.

2. Use Recommended Medications

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When your cat gets these kinds of mites, one of the best solutions is to visit your local pet store for wax removal ear drops. Since mites feed on ear wax, this solution purges the wax from the ears, which helps get rid of the mites.

Your vet might also recommend topical treatments or solutions that you can use in conjunction with the ear cleaning. Often, they apply these treatments while they diagnose your cat and clean their ears. They could also recommend ear drops that have good coverage for the inside of the ear. If bacterial infections have set in, they may prescribe antibiotics that you need to give your pet until the infection completely clears.

These medications can be prescribed to be used for 2 to 3 weeks or 1 month, depending on the severity of the infection and inflammation. It’s essential to stick to the recommended treatment prescribed by your veterinarian.

3. Schedule Vet Follow-Ups

After the treatment period is over, schedule follow-up sessions with the vet to ensure that all the mites have been eliminated. Since they have a long life cycle, they could morph into the next phase if not checked regularly. A follow-up ensures that your pet is mite free and can now live comfortably.

4. Separate Your Pets

If you aren’t sure whether the other pets in your house have ear mites, you’ll need to separate them until they have been checked out. This period also gives enough time for the infected cat to heal without getting re-infected.

5. Don’t Use the Same Medication on All Pets

Different species have different needs and bodies. If you notice that your cat and dog have an ear mite infestation, have them both checked and treated separately. It’s best to avoid using the same medication for different animals without medical guidance. Using a certain medication for the wrong species could have severe side effects and lead to fatalities.

6. Disinfect Your House

Part of the treatment will involve disinfecting your house to remove mite eggs and debris from the environment. The areas that you should focus on most are your cat’s favorite hang-out spots, their litter box, and their resting beds. Couches, curtains, and upholstery provide mites and other parasites with the damp, dark, humid conditions in which they thrive. These should be thoroughly steam cleaned. A 1:32 dilution of bleach (3%) can be used to sterilize other surfaces in the house. Ensure that your cat, other pets, and children are away from the bleach while you use it to disinfect your house, and only allow them back into the room once it has completely dried.

How Long Does It Take to Eradicate Ear Mites?

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The ear mite life cycle duration is 4 weeks. During this period, they stay on the ear, usually on the inside. They can be found outside the ears in cases of heavy infestations.

To ensure that the eggs have been completely eliminated, you need to carry out the treatment for about 3 weeks on average. However, it might take about 1 month to get rid of the infection completely.

hepper cat paw dividerHow to Prevent Ear Mites and Avoid Reinfection

Ear mite infection in your cats is preventable. Here are a few of the things that you can do to protect your pet from getting these parasites again or at all.

1. Have Regular Vet Checkups

vet checking up a cat
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As you cuddle or even bathe your cat, check the areas around their ears the same way that you check for ticks on the body. With this method, you’ll easily spot changes or see the small white patches that signal the presence of ear mites. Only by frequent observation can you stop reinfections.

2. Maintain House Hygiene

Ear mites are contagious. Once you get treatment for one pet, don’t forget you might still have a few critters trapped in your house or on another pet, which means the initial pet can pick them up again. As soon as your cat is on treatment, clean the entire house, starting with carpets and bedding where the cat spends most of their time and including their toys.

Clean all the other removable items in hot water to prevent the mites from spreading to other animals or re-infecting your cat. Also, follow the advice from the vet on parasite prevention.

3. Keep Your Indoor Cats Inside

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Image Credit: LucasBouillon, Pixabay

During and after treatment, keep your indoor cats from coming into contact with outdoor pets. This will protect them from reinfection.

4. Use Parasite-Prevention Products

Your vet can recommend products that you can use to prevent parasites from infecting your cat. Use the treatment and preventive plan provided to ensure that the mites won’t come back to attack your cat. If the products don’t work, schedule a visit with your vet immediately.

5. Take New Cats to the Vet

If you just got a new cat from the shelter, you can take them to the vet to determine whether they have any mites. This tactic is essential if you want to avoid new infections among your other pets.hepper single cat paw divider

Can Humans Get Ear Mites?

Individuals with small children who interact with pets may be concerned about whether humans can get ear mites. While the mites are contagious, they don’t affect human beings because they are not the preferred hosts. Some people might get a slight skin rash, but nothing severe has been reported. Therefore, if your cat has ear mites, your children are safe.

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Final Thoughts

Your cat’s ears are essential, and you need to maintain them by ensuring that they are healthy without any infections. Ear mite infestation is a serious problem among felines, so you must constantly check your pet’s ears to make sure they are not getting infected.

Observing changes and signs is the first step in eradicating ear mites. Since they can’t be adequately spotted with the naked eye, consider using a trained professional. They can also advise you on the best products to use and ways to avoid reinfection.

If left untreated, ear mites can cause severe side effects, such as hearing loss in your cat. Early treatment is the best way to have your pet comfortable without constant ear irritations.

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