How Does A Cat Act With Ear Mites?


Ear mites, known scientifically as Otodectes cynotis, are tiny parasites that can infect the ears of cats. These mites are arachnids and are related to spiders and ticks. They feed on ear wax and oils inside the ear canal. Ear mites are a common parasite found in cats and kittens, and they are highly contagious between cats. The mites cause intense itching inside the ears, leading to ear inflammation, infection, and damage if left untreated. While ear mites do not pose a direct threat to humans, they can be transmitted between pet cats and dogs, so it is important to treat the infection and limit spread between pets.


Ear mites can cause several noticeable symptoms in cats. The most common sign is excessive scratching of the ears and shaking of the head. Ear mites irritate the ear canal, causing severe itchiness. To relieve this irritation, cats will vigorously scratch their ears and shake their heads frequently 1. You may see your cat scratching their ears against furniture or the floor. Head shaking can occur many times per day in an attempt to dislodge the mites.

Another common symptom is a dark discharge from the ears that resembles coffee grounds or black wax. This discharge is composed of earwax, mite excrement, and residue. It has a dry, crumbly texture. As the mites feed on ear wax and oils, the waste material accumulates in the ear canal. You may see some discharge around the outer ear or residue on your cat’s paws after they scratch their ears 2.

Behavior Changes

Ear mites can cause significant irritation and discomfort in cats, which often leads to behavior changes. The most common behavior changes seen with ear mite infestations include:

Irritability – Cats become agitated and irritable due to the constant itching and discomfort in their ears. They may hiss, bite, or scratch more often.

Skittishness – The itching and pain make cats anxious, jumpy, and sensitive to touch around their head and ears. They may run and hide more often.

Lethargy – In advanced cases, blood loss, anemia, and secondary infections can leave cats weak and depressed. They may sleep more and become less active.

According to PetMD (source), ear mites lead to intense itching and irritation. Cats often violently shake their heads and scratch at their ears. This leads to skittishness, irritability, and depressed moods.


Veterinarians can diagnose ear mites by performing an otoscopic exam of the cat’s ears. This involves using an otoscope, which is a tool that allows visualization of the ear canal. The otoscope’s light and magnification allow the vet to look for signs of ear mites deep in the ear canal, such as the presence of mites themselves, eggs, or dark crumbly debris (1).

In some cases, the vet may take a swab sample from the ear canal to examine under a microscope. This can definitively confirm the presence of ear mites through identification of eggs and larvae (2).

Cats with ear mites will often shake their heads and scratch at their ears excessively. However, the most reliable diagnostic method is the otoscopic exam and microscopic analysis of a swab sample (3). This allows the vet to make a definitive diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment.


Left untreated, ear mites can lead to painful complications in cats. The most common is a bacterial or fungal ear infection (source). The mites, debris, and wax built up in the ear canal create the perfect environment for infection to develop. These infections cause swelling, redness, and additional itchiness in the ear canal.

Constant scratching due to irritation can also lead to wounds and sores on the skin around the ears and neck. Cats may scratch so aggressively that they cause damage to the pinna (ear flap). These open wounds are very vulnerable to further infection (source).

Ear mites can also throw off a cat’s balance. The parasites and resulting inflammation interfere with the proper functioning of the inner ear. Affected cats may tilt their heads, walk unsteadily, or fall over more easily (source).


The most common treatment for ear mites in cats involves applying medicated ear drops or other topical medications directly into the cat’s ears. These ear drops contain ingredients like pyrethrins, fipronil, and selamectin which kill the ear mites on contact. Ear drops need to be given daily for a week or more to break the ear mite life cycle and ensure all mites and eggs are destroyed [1].

Oral medications may also be prescribed, such as selamectin, sarolaner, or moxidectin. These are absorbed into the cat’s bloodstream and provide whole-body protection against ear mites, killing the mites from the inside out. Oral medication often only needs to be given once a month. However, ear drops are still recommended to help flush out debris and clean the cat’s ears [2].

It is critical to follow dosage directions carefully and complete the full course of treatment. Stopping medication early can allow ear mites to survive and reinfect the cat. Cats generally tolerate ear mite medications well. Side effects are uncommon but may include skin irritation or digestive upset.

Home Remedies

There are some natural home remedies that can help get rid of ear mites in cats. Three commonly used home remedies are:

Olive Oil

Olive oil can help smother ear mites and provide relief from itching. Put a few drops of warm olive oil into your cat’s ear and massage the base of the ear gently. Allow your cat to shake its head to spread the oil throughout the ear canal. After about 15 minutes, use a cotton ball to gently wipe out excess oil and debris from the ear (source). Repeat this several times a week.

Almond Oil

Like olive oil, almond oil can also help smother ear mites. Put a few drops of almond oil in your cat’s ears and massage the base. Let your cat shake its head and then wipe away excess oil and debris after 15 minutes (source). Do this a few times a week.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is antimicrobial and can help kill ear mites. Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and water and apply a few drops into your cat’s ears. Gently massage the base of the ears and let your cat shake its head. After 15 minutes, use a cotton ball to wipe away excess liquid and debris (source). Repeat this treatment every other day.


There are some steps cat owners can take to help prevent ear mites in their cats:

Regular ear cleaning can help remove excess ear wax and debris that might allow ear mites to thrive. Gently clean the outer ear with a cotton ball dampened with a veterinarian-approved ear cleaning solution once a week.

Avoid allowing cats to interact with stray cats or cats from multiple-cat households, as this can increase their exposure to ear mites. Keep cats indoors and supervise any time outdoors.

Treat any cats that join the household for ear mites as a preventive measure before introducing them to other household cats.

Discuss flea/tick and ear mite prevention with your veterinarian. There are monthly spot-on or oral preventatives that can help repel and kill ear mites.

Check ears regularly for any signs of irritation or dark debris. Early detection allows for quicker treatment.


With prompt and proper treatment, the prognosis for cats with ear mites is good. Ear mites can be completely eliminated from cats with diligent cleaning of the ears and application of medication per the veterinarian’s instructions. Most cats will show signs of improvement within a week or two (1). The mites themselves die within 10 days after starting treatment.

If the infestation and inflammation is allowed to persist untreated, it can lead to damage of the ear canal and eardrum. However, with proper veterinary care and owner compliance with treatment, cats make a full recovery. It’s important to follow up as recommended by the vet to ensure the mites are fully eradicated before discontinuing treatment.

With prompt treatment by a veterinarian and proper home care, the prognosis is excellent for complete resolution of an ear mite infestation in cats.

When to See a Vet

If your cat is persistently scratching its ears, shaking its head, or has wounds around the ears, it’s time to see a vet. These are all common symptoms of an ear mite infestation. While some home remedies may provide temporary relief, a vet visit is crucial to fully diagnosing and treating an ear mite problem.

Left untreated, ear mites can lead to further complications like infections or hematomas. Skin wounds caused by constant scratching can also become infected. Seeking prompt veterinary care helps minimize these risks and discomfort for your cat.

Your vet will do a thorough ear exam, looking for evidence of mites like dark crumbly debris. They may take a swab sample from your cat’s ears and examine it under a microscope to check for mites. Once diagnosed, the vet will recommend an appropriate insecticide treatment to kill the mites as well as any other medications needed to address secondary infections or inflammation.

Follow your vet’s advice diligently, giving all medications as directed and returning for follow-ups. This gives your cat the best chance of full recovery and prevents the ear mites from returning. With proper treatment, most ear mite cases can be resolved within 1-3 weeks. Don’t delay—seek veterinary care as soon as those telltale scratching signs appear.

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