Can Humans Catch Ear Mites From Cats? The Surprising Truth

What are cat ear mites?

Cat ear mites are tiny parasites called Otodectes cynotis that live in cat’s ear canals. These microscopic creatures are highly contagious and cause severe itching, irritation, and dark discharge in the ears of cats they infest.

Otodectes cynotis mites are just 0.5 mm long and barely visible to the naked eye. They feed off skin debris and oils in the ear canal. The mites lay eggs and multiply rapidly, leading to large infestations if left untreated. Their movement and feeding causes cats to experience intense itching and discomfort. Cat ear mites have an average lifespan of 2-3 weeks.

Some key facts about cat ear mites include:

  • Scientific name: Otodectes cynotis
  • Size: 0.5 mm in length
  • Cause irritation, itching, and discharge in cat ears
  • Highly contagious to other cats and animals
  • Average lifespan of 2-3 weeks

How do cats get ear mites?

Ear mites are highly contagious parasites that are easily spread between cats through direct contact. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the mites are readily passed from cat to cat through close interactions, eventually making their way into the ear canal where they feed on skin debris.

Ear mites tend to be especially common in settings like animal shelters and multi-cat households where cats are in frequent close contact with each other. The mites can quickly spread from one cat to another through activities like play, grooming, snuggling, and sharing sleeping areas.

Indoor cats can also get ear mites through contact with an infected outdoor cat. Even brief interactions like rubbing noses can pass along the parasite. Cats with ear mites should be isolated from other cats during treatment to prevent the spread of the infestation.

According to Lake Cross Veterinary Hospital, ear mites are highly contagious and owners should monitor all cats that have been in contact with an infected cat. Keeping cats up-to-date on medications like flea/tick and heartworm prevention may help reduce the risk of ear mites spreading between cats in a household.

What are the symptoms in cats?

The main symptoms of ear mites in cats include excessive head shaking and scratching at the ears. Cats will often tilt or shake their heads as the mites cause irritation and itchiness. They may scratch around and inside the ear with their back legs in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. This scratching can lead to wounds and abrasions along the pinnae (outer ear) or ear canal.

Another key symptom is a reddish-black discharge in the ears that resembles coffee grounds or wax. This discharge is composed of dried blood, mite debris, and ear wax. It has a distinctive unpleasant odor and signals an active infestation. The accumulation of this crumbly discharge leads to inflammation, which can become quite painful if left untreated.

In severe long-term cases, the ears may develop scabs, bleeding, and hair loss. Thickening of the ear canal skin and deformation of the pinnae can also occur. However, prompt treatment helps resolve these symptoms and prevent permanent damage.

Overall, the intense itching, discharge, odor, and inflammation caused by ear mites lead to substantial discomfort for cats. Catching and addressing an infestation early is crucial to minimize irritation and prevent complications.


How are cat ear mites diagnosed?

Diagnosis of ear mites in cats starts with a veterinarian examining the cat’s ears with an otoscope, which is an instrument with a light and magnifying lens that allows visual inspection of the ear canal. The vet will look for the presence of dark coffee-ground-like debris and crusty buildup in the ears, both of which are hallmark signs of ear mites.

To confirm the diagnosis, the vet will take a sample of the debris from the cat’s ear canal and examine it under a microscope. This allows visual identification of the mites themselves, which appear as tiny white specs alongside dark debris. Finding the presence of mites or mite eggs confirms an ear mite infection.

According to Matthews Veterinary Clinic, “Diagnosing ear mites involves a complete examination of the ear canal with an otoscope. Your veterinarian will look for tiny white specks (the mites), eggs, and black debris.”

This combination of clinical examination and microscopic analysis allows vets to definitively diagnose ear mites in cats.

How are cat ear mites treated?

The most common treatment for cat ear mites is medicated ear drops or injections that kill the mites. Some common medications used include selamectin, ivermectin, and milbemycin oxime. These are applied directly into the cat’s ears according to the veterinarian’s instructions, typically for 1-2 weeks.

In severe infestations, oral medications may be prescribed in addition to the ear drops to ensure all mites are killed. Common oral medications include milbemycin oxime, ivermectin, and selamectin.

It’s also important to thoroughly clean the cat’s ears to remove any debris or buildup that could be shielding the mites. Vets often recommend flushing the ears with an ear cleaning solution before applying medicated drops. Gentle swabbing may also help remove wax and dirt.

With prompt treatment, most ear mite infections can be cured within 1-2 weeks. It’s critical to follow treatment guidelines and finish the entire course of medication, even if symptoms appear to resolve sooner. Otherwise, the infection may persist or return.

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Can humans get cat ear mites?

It is extremely rare for humans to get ear mites from cats. Ear mites are species-specific, meaning they typically only infest the species they are designed to live on. Otodectes cynotis mites that infect cats do not usually survive or reproduce on human hosts (1).

However, it is possible in rare cases for humans to experience a temporary ear mite infection from close contact with infested cats. The mites may crawl into the ear canal and cause irritation, but they usually die off quickly and do not reproduce. Symptoms in humans include itching, redness, and inflammation that is generally self-limiting (2).

Overall, cat ear mites very rarely infect human ears and the infections are transient, causing temporary itching and irritation. The mites cannot complete their life cycle or thrive in the human ear environment (3).

Transmission to humans

Humans can sometimes get cat ear mites from having close contact with infected cats, such as kissing, hugging, or sleeping in the same bed. Ear mites are very contagious between animals, and can spread by direct contact between pets or through contaminated objects like bedding. However, the mites generally cannot complete their life cycle or reproduce on human skin.

According to Healthline, while ear mites prefer to live on animals, they can briefly survive on humans before dying off (source). Mites may crawl onto another host opportunistically, but do not set up long-term infection. FirstVet states that even with close snuggling, mites rarely transfer to humans except in unusual cases of weakened immunity (source).

Overall, cat ear mites only infrequently spread to human hosts. Transmission requires direct contact with the infected animal. The mites cannot reproduce or complete their life cycle on human skin, and soon die off.

Symptoms in humans

Humans can experience some symptoms if they are infected with cat ear mites. The most common symptoms include:

Itching, irritation, and redness inside the ear canal. The mites crawling around and feeding can cause significant itchiness and irritation. This leads to redness and inflammation of the skin inside the ear. Scratching the ears can provide temporary relief but also leads to further irritation.

Feeling of motion in the ear canal. Some people report feeling like something is crawling around or moving inside their ear. This unusual sensation is caused by the mites moving and feeding on skin and debris.

Other less common symptoms may include tinnitus or ringing in the ears, discharge from the ear, and a feeling of fullness or pressure. However, the hallmark symptoms are itching and the crawling sensation inside the ear canal. The symptoms may persist and worsen without treatment.

According to research on Healthline, cat ear mites can be irritating and cause discomfort, but they don’t pose any serious risks to human health in most cases. The infection is very treatable if diagnosed properly. Consulting a doctor is recommended if ear mite symptoms develop after exposure to an infected cat.

Treatment for humans

If a person is concerned they may have contracted ear mites from a cat, it’s recommended to see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. The doctor will likely flush the ear canal with a saline solution to remove any wax or debris and look for signs of mites under a microscope.

The main treatment for ear mites in humans is medicated ear drops, usually containing ingredients like almond or mineral oil to help smother and flush out the mites. These are applied directly into the ear canal for a period of time, as prescribed by the doctor.

In most cases, symptoms in humans like itching and irritation usually resolve within 1-2 weeks with proper treatment. It’s important to follow up with the doctor to make sure the mites are fully eliminated.

Preventative measures like routine cleaning of the cat’s ears and regular veterinarian checkups can help reduce the likelihood of humans contracting ear mites from pets.


Here are some tips for preventing the spread of ear mites:

Treat infected cats. Be sure to treat any cats that have an active ear mite infection with medications prescribed by your veterinarian. Completing the full course of treatment is important to fully eliminate the mites (Pets and Parasites).

Limit contact if active infection. Keep cats with an active ear mite infection separate from other cats and dogs until treatment is complete and the vet confirms the mites have been eliminated. This helps prevent spreading mites to other pets (FirstVet).

Good hygiene and cleaning. Clean bedding and disinfect collars, bowls, toys, and other items to remove any mites or eggs. Be sure to vacuum and clean areas pets frequent to prevent reinfection (Healthline).

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