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How Do Indoor & Outdoor Cats Get Ear Mites?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Ear problems are some of the most common health issues among cats. If left untreated for long, they can cause become severe infections.

Your cat may scratch their ears due to several issues. But when it becomes a daily problem, you’ll need to find out the real culprit and start treatment.

Ear mites are the leading cause of feline ear problems. These microscopic parasites can be extremely itchy for your pet if undiagnosed. Whether your cat is an outdoor or indoor cat, they can be easily affected by these mites.

How do cats get ear mites, and how can you get rid of them? Let’s take a closer look.

What are Cat Ear Mites?

Persian cat 6 years old
Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

Cats have several types of pets that live 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.

One mite has a three-week life cycle and can only be seen as small white dots. Due to the 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 cat preventative care, making it easier to remove them.

Once they take position in your cat’s ears, they can cause significant inflammation and swelling in the ear canal, which becomes very itchy. They can also cause serious blockages of the ear canal and skin infections if not treated in time.

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

How Do Cats Get Ear Mites?

ragamuffin cat_Maria Godfrida_Pixabay
Image Credit: Maria Godfrida, Pixabay

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

  • The Environment: Ear mites can live and survive in the environment for a limited amount of time. The parasites could transfer to your cat within this period as they play or lie on the grass. Immediately they attach themselves to your cat’s body; they take a position in the ears. Because of this, 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 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. However, if they come into contact with toys or the bedding of infected cats, they can get the mites hooked as well.
  • Cats from Shelters: Mites are prevalent in shelter cats and kittens. If you adopt a new cat from the shelter, ensure you check their ears immediately to confirm they don’t have ear mites. Since it might be hard to spot them 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 to your home, especially if you have other pets.

What Are the Symptoms 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 symptoms that could indicate your pet is infested. Most of these symptoms can also indicate various causes of ear problems.

Apart from ear mites, your feline buddy might have other parasite infections, bacterial infections, or skin allergies. For any of these symptoms, it’s best to rule out other medical conditions by consulting with the vet first before attempting treatment.

Here are some of the symptoms to look out for.

1. Cat Scratching Their Ears

Cat with fleas
Image Credit: Maja Marjanovic, Shutterstock

This is the most common symptom. Because 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 your pet to confirm if it could be infected before it worsens.

2. Cat Shaking the 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, there are mites feeding on your cat’s ear canal. The cat may also keep the head tilted at an angle, trying to get rid of the problem in the ears.

3. Dark and Dry Discharge

A hallmark sign of ear mites in your feline friend is the 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

woman sneezing while holding a cat
Image Credit: Pormezz, Shutterstock

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 further infections, which can be fatal for your pet.

5. Your Cat Has Red Inflammed Ears

If you can’t spot the mites, you can easily notice the change in the appearance of your cat ears. If they are inflamed and red hot, it’s a sign that something is not right. The only way to spot this is by regularly observing and checking your pet.

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

This symptom is another sign of an infection. In normal situations, your cat’s ears are usually smooth without any scars. Therefore, if you notice new growths 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.

How Do You Diagnose Ear Mites?

cat and vet
Image Credit: Stock-Asso, Shutterstock

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

A veterinarian will give a professional diagnosis since it’s their area of expertise. From the observation, they can determine whether the symptoms are ear mites or a result of a bacterial infection or a hereditary ear disorder.

To give a good prognosis, the veterinarian will need your cat’s medical history and information on whether your cat has recently got exposed to infected or unfamiliar pets.

The vet will 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. They could also swab your cat’s ear and examine the sample under a microscope to check for any mites or infections.

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 different infections don’t have the same treatment.

You might also be interested in: How do cats get ringworm?

How to Treat Your Cat If They Have Ear Mites

ragamuffin cat_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

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

1. Removing 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, you run the risk of harming your cat’s eardrum or pushing the mites further inside the year. Therefore, you should let the vet do it so that all the residue is out.

2. Use Recommended Medications

woman putting medication to cat
Image Credit: goodluz, Shutterstock

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

Your vet might also recommend topical treatments or solutions that you can use after removing the wax. They could also recommend ear drops that have good coverage for the inside of the ear. If the infection was severe, they could add antibiotics that you need to give your pet until the infection completely clears.

These medications can be prescribed to be used for two to three weeks or a month, depending on the severity of the infection and inflammation.

It’s essential to stick to the recommended treatment period. This is because some medications are specifically meant to eradicate eggs, whereas others tackle the mites. On the other hand, some target both, therefore you’ll need to follow the instructions from your vet if you want to get results.

3. Schedule Vet Follow-Ups

cat and vet. _Maria Sbytova_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Maria Sbytova, Shutterstock

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 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 observed. 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 noticed both 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 both without medical guidance. Using a certain medication for the wrong species could have severe side effects and lead to fatalities.

How Long Does It Take to Eradicate Ear Mites?

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The ear mite life cycle lasts three weeks. During this period, they stay on the ear, either inside or outside.

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

Since they travel outside the ear, you also need to apply the medication to the exterior parts. The itchiness should start subsiding as soon as the medication starts taking effect. However, if this doesn’t happen, you should contact your vet for further advice and medication.

Severe Effects of Ear Mites

If spotted and treated early, the mites can be eliminated fast, and further inflammation stopped. Once you let the irritation go for longer without treatment, your cat could get severe skin and ear conditions. In addition, the dark crust could grow and block the ear canal leading to hearing loss.

How to Prevent Ear Mites and Avoid Reinfection

Ear mites infection in your cats is preventable. Here are some of the things you could do to protect your pet from getting these parasites and having reinfection.

1. Regular Checkups

singapura cat_Jaroslaw Kurek_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jaroslaw Kurek, Shutterstock

As you cuddle or even bathe your cat, ensure you check the areas around the ears the same way 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 some trapped in your house or another pet; therefore, the cat can pick them up again. As soon as your cat is on treatment, clean the entire house, starting with carpets and beddings where the cat spends most of its time.

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. In addition, you can clean the toys that your indoor cats use since they carry parasites.

3. Keep Your Indoor Cats Inside

chartreux cat_LucasBouillon _Pixabaychartreux cat_LucasBouillon _Pixabay
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 do a checkup on whether they have any mites. This tactic is essential if you want to avoid new infections among your other pets.

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 host.

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.

Related Read: How Do Indoor And Outdoor Cats Get Worms?


Your cat’s ears are essential. Therefore you need to maintain them by ensuring they are healthy without any infections. Ear mite infestation is a serious problem among felines; therefore, you need to constantly check your pet ears to ensure they are not getting infected.

Observing changes and symptoms is the first step in eradicating these ear mites. Since they can’t be adequately spotted with the naked eye, consider using a trained professional. They can advise 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.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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