Itchy Ear Gotcha! How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears After a Mite Infestation

What are ear mites in cats?

Ear mites, scientifically known as otodectes cynotis, are microscopic parasites that live on the surface of a cat’s ear canal. The mites feed on wax and oils in a cat’s ear (Fanelli, 2020). An infestation of ear mites, medically known as otodectic mange, is highly contagious between cats and can cause intense itchiness, irritation, and inflammation.

Cats become infected with ear mites through close contact with other infected cats. The mites quickly spread from cat to cat through contact and are very easily passed between cats in multi-cat households. Mother cats can also pass ear mites to nursing kittens. Ear mites can survive in the environment for several weeks, allowing for transmission by shared bedding or housing (, 2021).

The most common symptoms of an ear mite infestation include scratching at ears, head shaking, dark crumbly discharge in the ears, odor, and inflammation. Intense itchiness leads cats to scratch their ears and shake their head frequently. The mites and buildup of wax and discharge create a crusty, foul-smelling dark substance within the ears (, 2021).

Why ear mites must be treated

Ear mites are highly contagious parasites that can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, prolonged ear mite infestations can cause severe inflammation, pain, and infection. As mites continue to feed and reproduce, the irritation worsens. Cats will violently scratch their ears trying to relieve the itchiness, resulting in wounds and hematomas.

Additionally, the debris and wax produced by the mites accumulates in the ear canal, often leading to secondary bacterial and yeast infections, according to the Animal Clinic of St. George. The inflammation can narrow the ear canals and damage the eardrum. Left untreated, this can cause partial or total deafness.

Allowing an ear mite infestation to persist also enables the mites to spread to other cats in the household. So it’s critical to treat an infected cat promptly to prevent mites from infesting other pets.

Seeing the vet first

If you suspect your cat has ear mites, it’s important to take them to the vet for an official diagnosis and to discuss treatment options. Ear mites can’t be definitively diagnosed just by looking in the ear. Your vet will use an otoscope to examine the ear canal and look for signs of infection such as inflammation, discharge, and the presence of mites. They may also take a sample of the discharge from your cat’s ear and examine it under a microscope to check for mites.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your vet will prescribe appropriate medications to treat the infestation and any secondary infections caused by the mites. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, common medications used include:

– Antiparasitic medications like selamectin (Revolution), sarolaner (Revolution Plus), or ivermectin to kill the mites

– Antibiotic and anti-inflammatory ear drops to soothe inflammation and treat secondary infections

– Oral antibiotics if the infection has spread from the ears

Your vet will advise you on how to properly administer the medications, how long treatment should continue, and when to schedule a follow-up appointment to ensure the mites have been fully eradicated.

Partnering closely with your vet is key for getting rid of ear mites and restoring your cat’s health and comfort.

Cleaning the ears

To properly clean your cat’s ears after a mite infestation, you’ll need a few supplies:

  • Cotton balls or cotton swabs
  • Cat ear cleaning solution – this can be purchased from your veterinarian or pet store. Look for a gentle, non-irritating formula made specifically for cats. Some options contain soothing natural ingredients like aloe vera. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide as this can be painful for the cat [1].

Here are the steps for cleaning your cat’s ears:

  1. Gently fold back the ear flap to expose the ear canal.
  2. Moisten a cotton ball with the ear cleaning solution so it’s damp but not dripping.
  3. Gently wipe the inner ear flap and canal with the cotton ball. Use a circular motion to lift away any debris or buildup.
  4. Use a new cotton ball for each ear to avoid spreading irritation between ears.
  5. Never insert a cotton swab down into the ear canal, as this can damage the sensitive inner ear.
  6. After cleaning, gently massage the base of the ear to help distribute the solution down into the canal.
  7. Use a soft, dry cotton ball to gently wipe away any excess moisture.
  8. Offer your cat praise and treats for cooperating!

Be patient and work slowly so the process isn’t stressful for your cat. Cleaning should be done daily while treating an active mite infestation. Always contact your vet if you have any concerns.

Applying medication

Veterinarians typically prescribe eardrops or topical medication to kill the ear mites and any eggs or larvae in your cat’s ears.[1] Commonly prescribed medications contain ingredients like selamectin, ivermectin, or pyrethrins to combat the mites. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions for dosage and duration of treatment, usually applying the drops 1-2 times per day for 1-2 weeks.

To apply the medication properly:[1]

  • Warm the drops to body temperature by holding the bottle in your hands for a few minutes.
  • Gently clean any debris from the outer ear canal.
  • Tilt your cat’s head to the side and administer the prescribed number of drops into the ear canal.
  • Gently massage the base of the ear to spread the medication throughout the canal.
  • Use cotton balls to clean out any discharge that comes out.
  • Give your cat treats and praise for tolerating the process.

Be patient and consistent to fully treat the infestation. It may take up to a month for all signs of irritation and discharge to resolve.

Keeping the ears dry

It’s very important to thoroughly dry your cat’s ears after cleaning them. Any moisture left inside the ear canal can lead to infection and irritation.

After cleaning your cat’s ears with a quality ear cleanser, use cotton balls or gauze to gently wipe away all liquid. Swab the visible areas of the ear canal opening as far down as you can reach. You may need to use several cotton balls to fully absorb the moisture.

Be very gentle during this process, taking care not to push any debris further down into the ear canal. Never use a cotton swab or anything else that could scratch the delicate skin of the ear canal.

Once the inside of the ears look dry, you can use a clean, dry cotton ball to gently pat and blot the visible outer ear. Your goal is to leave no visible moisture behind.

If your cat has long fur around the ears, use a towel to gently dry the hair. This will help prevent moisture from being trapped against the skin.

Getting all the moisture out after cleaning is one of the most important steps in proper ear care for cats. Take your time and be very thorough to avoid potential complications.

Soothing inflammation and itching

Ear mites can cause inflammation and itching inside your cat’s ears. To help provide relief, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories like hydrocortisone or prednisolone. These can reduce swelling and irritation. Follow your vet’s dosage instructions carefully.

Some natural remedies may also help soothe inflamed ears. Applying a compress of chamomile tea or calendula to the outer ear can have anti-inflammatory effects. Vitamin E oil may reduce itching when applied sparingly inside the ear canal. Just be careful not to use anything that could further irritate the sensitive skin. Herbal treatments should only be used under your vet’s guidance.

Keep your cat’s ears clean and dry to prevent further irritation. Trim ear hair that may trap moisture and debris. Providing soothing play and gentle massages may also help distract from discomfort.

Relieving inflammation and itching can make your cat more comfortable while their ears heal. But be sure to only use vet-recommended remedies cautiously to avoid harming delicate ear tissue.

Preventing reinfestation

After treatment for ear mites, it’s crucial to take steps to prevent reinfestation. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, ear mites can survive for 3 weeks without a host ( Thorough cleaning and follow-up exams can help prevent the mites from returning.

Wash all bedding, blankets, pillows, and fabric toys in hot, soapy water. Vacuum carpets, furniture, and crevices where dust collects. Disinfect non-washable surfaces with a pet-safe cleaner. Repeat the thorough cleaning 1-2 weeks after the initial treatment (

Schedule a recheck exam with your vet 2-4 weeks after starting treatment to confirm the mites are gone. Your vet may want to repeat medication doses every 2-4 weeks for 1-3 months to ensure all life stages of the mites are eliminated ( Follow your vet’s advice about continuing medication and cleaning to fully eradicate ear mites.

Caring for the cat’s health

Proper nutrition and reducing stress are important when caring for a cat with ear mites.

Make sure your cat is eating a balanced diet full of protein, vitamins and nutrients to help boost their immune system. Cats with ear mites may experience a loss of appetite, so try warming their food, adding broths or switching to stinkier flavors to entice them to eat. Keeping their strength up will help them fight the infection.

Ear mites can cause a great deal of discomfort and itching. Reducing stressors in your cat’s environment can help them feel more relaxed. Limit loud noises, children or pet handling, and introduce calming aids like Feliway or calming treats. Let your cat rest in a quiet, dim area with soft bedding when possible. Regular playtime and affection can also lower stress.

Taking steps to optimize your cat’s nutrition and reduce stress, along with proper treatment, can help them recover more quickly from an ear mite infestation.

When to seek emergency care

While ear mites are typically not life threatening on their own, they can lead to serious ear infections that require urgent veterinary care. According to PetCheck Urgent Care, you should seek emergency vet attention if your cat shows any of the following signs of a severe ear infection:

  • Repeated head shaking or scratching that does not improve with at-home treatment
  • Loss of balance or trouble walking
  • Tilting or shaking of the head
  • Redness, swelling, or discharge from the ears
  • Loss of hearing
  • Bad odor coming from the ears
  • Crusting or scabs around the outer ear

These can be signs of a serious bacterial or fungal infection that requires prescription medications. Left untreated, the infection can spread or cause permanent damage.

You should also seek prompt vet care if your cat’s behavior changes significantly. Dramatic lethargy, loss of appetite, irritability, or other unusual behaviors may signal the infection is taking a serious toll.

With aggressive treatment in severe cases, most ear infections and damage from ear mites can be resolved. But the sooner treatment begins, the better the outlook for your cat’s health and comfort.

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