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Common Illness – Ear Mites in Cats

By Colleen Williams and medically reviewed by Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
published: January 19, 2016 - updated: January 17, 2023 • 3 min. read
ear mites in cats

Causes of Cat Ear Mites

ear mites in cats
Kittens are extra prone to contracting ear mites. (

Attracted by the dark, moist environment inside a cat’s ears, mites can take up residence when a pet comes in contact with another animal who is infected. Ear mites in cats are highly contagious; if one feline has them, other pets in the house are likely to get them. However, ear mites are much more common in cats than dogs.

Outdoor cats, which come in contact with all sorts of wildlife, are even more likely to contract them. Likewise, the conditions that kittens are raised in – close contact in animal shelters or with littermates – are also conducive to the spread of ear mites.


Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats

ear mites in cats
Ear mites in cats often appear as coffee ground-like specks. (Wikimedia Commons)

The primary symptom of ear mites is excessive scratching of the affected ear(s). Cats and kittens may scratch their ears raw, leading to scabs near the ears and neck. Fur loss, or alopecia, can also occur if your cat’s itching becomes overwhelming. In some cases, the actual ear mites are visible in the ear canal as coffee grain-like specks. If ear wax and discharge build up, your cat’s ears may even start to smell bad. Cats with underlying immunodeficiencies may be more severely affected since their defenses are already weakened.

A cat with mites may also shake his or her head repeatedly. Scratching and shaking can predispose the affected cat to secondary complications, such as aural hematomas. An aural hematoma is a collection of blood within the ear flap that can lead to permanent damage and may require surgical correction if left untreated.

ear mites in cats
A vet exam is needed to diagnose ear mites in cats, which require medication to successfully treat. (

How To Treat Ear Mites in Cats

You will need to visit your veterinarian in order to clear up a case of ear mites in your feline friend. Try to avoid self-diagnosing your pet because cats can also develop bacterial ear infections. These infections may appear similar to ear mites grossly, but a microscopic exam by your veterinarian is necessary to decipher the two.

First, your vet will conduct a physical exam of your pet, which includes taking a temperature. (Sorry, kitty!) Next, swabs will be taken from each ear and examined under a microscope for the presence of mites, bacteria, or yeast. The veterinarian may thoroughly clean your cat’s ears using cotton swabs and a gentle cleanser to remove excess debris prior to prescribing medication.

Ear mite medicines for cats are typically in the form of medicated ear drops or a topical ointment. Medications should be applied directly into the ear as prescribed by your veterinarian. It may be helpful to swaddle your cat in a soft blanket or towel when applying the treatment. The prognosis for cats with ear mites is very good as long as medication is applied appropriately, and you attend recheck appointments with your veterinarian to ensure full resolution.

ear mites in cats
Regularly launder both your own bed and your pets’ to prevent the spread of ear mites. (

Cat Ear Mites Prevention

Ensure your cat’s ears are kept clean to prevent recurrence of ear mites. Senior cats, kittens, and outdoor cats may require extra cleaning sessions to prevent accumulation of debris within their ears.

At home, launder everything an infected pet has come into contact with. Although not as stubborn as fleas, ear mites can be resilient. Routinely washing pets’ beds – as well as your own sheets – helps prevent ear mites from running rampant in the house.

Sidebar image via Wikimedia Commons.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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About DVM contributor, Brittany Kleszynski
By Brittany Kleszynski, DVM

Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a freelance veterinary and medical writer for Healthy Paws who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers and speaks directly to the intended audiences. She writes and edits educational articles for pet parents and creates continuing education and online learning modules for healthcare professionals. She has worked in research and small animal practice since graduating veterinary school and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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