Cleaning Kitty’s Ears – How Often is Too Often for Ear Mites?

What are ear mites in cats?

Ear mites in cats are caused by the parasitic mite Otodectes cynotis (1). These mites live in the ear canal and cause irritation, itching, inflammation, and crusty lesions (2). Ear mites are highly contagious between cats and kittens. The mites feed on ear wax and oils in the ear canal (3). An infestation of ear mites can lead to more severe secondary infections from bacteria and yeast if left untreated.

Some key facts about ear mites in cats:

  • Caused by the Otodectes cynotis mite
  • Live in the ear canal
  • Cause itching, inflammation, crusty lesions
  • Highly contagious between cats/kittens
  • Feed on ear wax and oils
  • Can lead to secondary infections if untreated

Signs and symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of ear mites in cats include:

– Black debris resembling coffee grounds in the ear canal that is visible with an otoscope. This debris is composed of ear mite excrement (mites feed on ear wax and oils). See:

– Head shaking and scratching at the ears. The mites cause irritation and itchiness, leading cats to shake their heads and scratch their ears frequently. Excessive scratching can lead to wounds. See:

– Reddened ear canals. The irritation caused by ear mites leads to inflammation and reddening of the inner ear canal, which can be seen on examination.


Ear mites are commonly diagnosed through a visual exam of the cat’s ear canal by a veterinarian using an otoscope. The otoscope allows the vet to look down the ear canal and see the mites, eggs, or debris if present.

According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “A veterinarian can readily diagnose suspected ear mite infestation by using an otoscope, a flashlight-like instrument used to explore the depths of the human ear” (source).

Another common diagnostic method is performing a microscopic exam of the ear discharge/debris looking for mites or eggs (source). This allows visual confirmation of the presence of ear mites.


The primary treatment for ear mites involves medicated ear drops or ointments containing ingredients like pyrethrins or ivermectin to kill the mites. Some common prescription medications include Milbemite, Acarexx, or Tresaderm. These medications are applied directly into the ear canal to come into contact with and eliminate the mites.

Oral medications may also be prescribed, like selamectin or ivermectin tablets, which enter the bloodstream and provide full body treatment. Selamectin products like Revolution kill ear mites and provide additional protection against fleas, roundworms, and hookworms.

Before applying any topical medications, a thorough ear cleaning is performed to remove debris and wax that may prevent the medication from reaching all the mites. An ear flush using a therapeutic cleanser is often recommended. After treatment, regular gentle ear cleanings may help prevent recurrence.


To clean your cat’s ears when it has ear mites:

  • Use cotton balls dampened with mineral oil or a cat ear cleanser, according to the product instructions. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or other harsh cleansers as these can damage the sensitive skin in a cat’s ears (
  • Gently wipe out any debris, dirt, discharge or exudate from the cat’s ears using the cotton balls.
  • Take care not to insert the cotton balls deep into the ear canal, as this can damage the eardrum.
  • Clean the ears gently but thoroughly to remove as many of the mites as possible.

Frequent but gentle cleaning can help remove ear mites and prevent further infestation while the cat is undergoing medical treatment. However, cleaning alone will not eliminate an ear mite infestation. Medication prescribed by a veterinarian is necessary to fully treat ear mites in cats.

How often to clean

At least once a day is recommended when a cat has ear mites. Ear mites can cause irritation, inflammation, and infection, so frequent cleaning is important during treatment.

The Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Ear Therapy states that ears should be cleaned at least daily when treating ear mites. Their guidelines recommend continuing daily cleaning for 7-10 days after treatment is completed to ensure all debris, wax buildup and medication residue is removed (

Frequent cleaning with an ear wash solution helps remove the debris, drying agents, dead skin and ear mites. It also allows any medication to penetrate deeply into the ear canal. Cleaning daily keeps the ears clean and dry as well as monitors for any remaining signs of infection.

The VCA Hospitals guidelines also recommend cleaning at least once daily during treatment for ear mites. They advise continuing for 1-2 weeks after to ensure the infection has resolved (

In summary, cleaning a cat’s ears at least once daily during treatment and for 7-10 days after is recommended when treating ear mites. This frequent cleaning helps resolve the infection and prevent recurrence.


To help prevent ear mites, there are a few key steps cat owners can take:

Monthly application of medications like selamectin can help kill and prevent ear mite infestations. These topical medications are applied to the skin on the back of the cat’s neck and distributed through the oils in the skin, providing full body protection against parasites like ear mites.

Keeping cats indoors can also help prevent exposure to ear mites, which are easily passed from cat to cat. Outdoor cats that come into contact with stray or feral cats are at a much higher risk of contracting ear mites. Keeping your cat inside eliminates this potential source of infestation.

Regular vet checkups are also important, as your vet can examine your cat’s ears closely and treat any potential infestations before they become serious.

With vigilance and preventative care, cat owners can help protect their feline friends against problematic ear mites.


Ear mites can cause several complications if left untreated, as the infestation irritates the ear canal and allows bacteria and yeast to grow. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common complication is otitis externa, an infection of the outer ear. Bacterial and yeast infections often occur because the mites’ presence causes inflammation and damages the normal defenses of the ear canal.

Another potential complication is head tilting and loss of balance. As described by the Animal Clinic of St. George, the intense itchiness caused by ear mites leads cats to shake their heads violently, which can damage the ear canal and inner ear. This damage can disrupt their sense of balance, resulting in a permanently tilted head and difficulty walking properly if the infestation remains untreated.


With prompt treatment, the prognosis for cats with ear mites is good. According to Cornell Feline Health Center, recovery from ear mites generally takes 7-10 days (source). Ear mites are easily treated with topical medications prescribed by a veterinarian.

However, in cases of heavy infestations that have gone untreated for awhile, multiple treatments may be required to fully eliminate the mites. The veterinarian will monitor the cat’s progress and repeat treatments as needed. With aggressive treatment, even heavy infestations can be cleared up.

Overall, ear mites pose little threat to cats who receive prompt veterinary attention and treatment. With medications, proper ear cleaning, and follow-up care, cats make a full recovery.

When to seek vet care

You should take your cat to the vet if ear scratching and head shaking persists after at-home treatment. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “If ear mite infestation is suspected, the cat owner should seek veterinary care without delay.”

Additionally, you should seek prompt veterinary care if your cat develops any signs of complications from the ear mite infestation. One key sign to watch for is head tilting, which can indicate a middle or inner ear infection. According to Lake Cross Veterinary Hospital, “If the ear canal swells up or an infection spreads into the inner ear, it can cause pain, facial nerve paralysis, and head tilting.”

Do not delay in taking your cat to the vet if scratching and head shaking continues despite treatment, or if concerning signs like head tilting develop. The vet can examine your cat’s ears, confirm if mites are still present, treat any secondary infections, and provide any additional medications needed to fully resolve the infestation.

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