Ear Mites in Cats. Will a Bath Get Rid of Them?

What are ear mites in cats?

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are tiny parasites that live on the skin surface in the ear canal of cats and other animals. An infestation of ear mites is called otodectic mange or ear mange.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, ear mites are the most common cause of ear problems in cats (source).

The main symptoms of ear mites include:

  • Itching, rubbing, and head shaking
  • Redness and inflammation of the outer and inner ear
  • Dark coffee-grounds-like discharge in the ear canal
  • Crusty buildup on the ears
  • Hair loss around the ears

Ear mites spread through direct contact between infected cats as well as contact with contaminated bedding and environments. Mother cats can also pass ear mites to their kittens.

Do ear mites go away on their own?

Unfortunately, ear mites will not typically go away without treatment. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, ear mites can survive for up to 3 weeks off of a host [1]. This means that even if you think the mites are gone, they can persist in the environment and reinfect your cat. Additionally, ear mites multiply quickly, with the numbers doubling about every 3 weeks [2]. With their rapid reproductive rate, ear mite infestations usually require treatment to fully eliminate the mites and prevent reinfection.

Some minor infestations may resolve on their own as the cat’s immune system fights off the mites. However, the infestation will likely recur unless the environment is properly cleaned. Overall, relying on the cat’s immune system is an unreliable approach. Getting veterinarian-prescribed medication specifically targeting the mites is the most effective way to eliminate an ear mite infestation.

Can bathing get rid of ear mites?

Bathing your cat with an anti-parasitic pet shampoo can help get rid of ear mites, but it’s not always completely effective on its own. The pros of bathing your cat for ear mites include:

  • Washing with an anti-parasitic shampoo can kill some of the ear mites on their skin and fur.
  • Bathing may provide temporary relief from itchiness caused by the mites.
  • It’s a convenient at-home treatment option.

However, there are also some cons to consider:

  • Bathing only treats the mites on the skin and fur, it does not treat those inside the ears.
  • It can be stressful for cats and difficult to thoroughly clean inside the ears.
  • Mites can reinfect if eggs and debris remain in the ears after bathing.

Using a shampoo formulated specifically for killing parasites like Adams Flea & Tick Shampoo can increase effectiveness. However, studies show bathing alone only eliminates ear mites in about 50% of cases. So it’s usually recommended to combine bathing with other vet-prescribed pesticide drops or medications to fully clear an infestation.

Other at-home remedies

Some common home remedies for treating ear mites in cats include using oils and vinegars. These can help smother and remove ear mites due to their properties. Some popular home remedies include:

  • Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar is acidic which helps kill bacteria and fungi. It can help remove debris and exudate in the ear canal. Mix a 50/50 solution of apple cider vinegar and water and apply several drops in the infected ear. Home Remedy for Ear Mites in Cats
  • Olive oil – Olive oil can help smother ear mites and remove wax and debris from the ear canal. Apply several drops of warm olive oil to the infected ear, massage the base, then wipe clean with a cotton ball.
  • Almond oil – Almond oil has soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. Put a few drops of slightly warmed almond oil in the cat’s ear to help kill mites.

While home remedies using gentle oils and vinegars can help remove ear mites and debris, they may not kill all the mites as effectively as prescription medications. Multi-dose prescription miticides from a vet ensure the infestation is fully eliminated. Home remedies can provide some relief but for a full cure, veterinarian-prescribed treatments are recommended.

Veterinarian-prescribed treatments

The most effective treatments for ear mites are medications prescribed by a veterinarian. These include medicated ear drops and oral medications that contain insecticides to kill the mites.

Medicated ear drops approved for cats, such as Tresaderm (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ear-mites-otodectes-in-cats-and-dogs), contain an insecticide that kills mites on contact. These drops are applied directly into the ear canal several times per week for 2-4 weeks. Ear drops are very effective when used properly and according to directions.

Oral medications like selamectin (Revolution) and ivermectin (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/ear-mites-tiny-critters-can-pose-major-threat) are also available by prescription. These are dosed appropriately for the cat’s weight and kill mites systemically. One or two doses about 2 weeks apart are usually sufficient.

Compared to home remedies like bathing or cleaning ears, veterinarian-prescribed insecticides are much more effective at killing all stages of the mites. They also remain in the cat’s system long enough to kill newly hatched mites. This helps prevent reinfestation. Prescription treatments cure ear mite infestations much faster and more reliably than home care options.

Tips for bathing a cat

When bathing a cat, it’s important to take steps to make the process safe, stress-free, and effective. Here are some tips:

– Have all your supplies ready beforehand – cat shampoo, towels, non-slip mat, robe/apron to protect yourself from scratches, and treats. Choose a cat shampoo designed specifically for felines as regular shampoos can dry out their skin (WebMD).

– Set up the bathing area in a contained space like a bathroom with the door closed. The smaller area will help make your cat feel more secure.

– Use lukewarm water to wet your cat starting from the neck back. Avoid getting water in their face.

– Apply shampoo and lather away from the face. Massage gently onto the fur and skin.

– Rinse thoroughly to avoid residue. A detachable showerhead or cup can help target rinse areas.

– Dry with an absorbent towel, removing excess water. Let your cat finish air drying if needed.

– Reward with treats and praise throughout the process.

With patience and the proper technique, bathing can be accomplished without too much stress on either party. Just be sure to make it a positive experience for your cat.

Preventing Reinfestation

Once your cat’s ear mites have been successfully treated, it’s important to take measures to prevent reinfestation. Here are some tips:

Clean your cat’s bedding and home environment thoroughly. Ear mites can survive for up to 3 weeks without a host. Wash bedding, blankets, pillows, etc in hot water and dry on a hot cycle. Vacuum carpets, furniture, and any other fabric surfaces your cat frequents.

Treat any other pets in the home. Ear mites are contagious, so if you have other cats or dogs in the home they should be checked and treated too. Speak with your vet about the best treatment options for all your pets.

Schedule regular ear cleanings with your vet. Having your vet periodically clean your cat’s ears will help prevent a recurrence. Your vet can thoroughly clean the ear canal and look for signs of reinfestation.

Consider monthly topical prevention. There are monthly topical ear mite prevention products that can be applied to keep new infestations at bay. Check with your vet to see if they recommend a monthly preventative medication.

Keep cats indoors. Outdoor cats are at higher risk of picking up ear mites, so keeping your cat indoors reduces potential exposure. If your cat goes outdoors, check their ears frequently.

Catch infestations early. Be on the lookout for any signs of ear irritation and schedule a vet visit promptly. Treating an infestation quickly can help prevent it from spreading.

With some diligence about cleaning and prevention, you can help keep ear mites from recurring in your feline friend.

Signs treatment is working

You should start seeing improvements within 1-2 weeks after beginning treatment for ear mites in cats. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, most ear mite infections resolve within 30 days of treatment (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/ear-mites-tiny-critters-can-pose-major-threat).

The most notable sign that treatment is working is a reduction in scratching around the ears. As the mite infestation clears up, your cat will feel less itchy and irritated. You should also notice less debris and wax buildup in the ears as the infection heals.

Other improvements you may observe include:

  • Decreased redness and inflammation in the ears
  • Ears looking cleaner overall
  • Ears smelling less foul
  • Your cat seeming more comfortable and acting normal
  • Less black waxy discharge or crusting in/around ears

If your cat’s symptoms persist or worsen despite treatment, contact your veterinarian, as a secondary infection may be present requiring additional medications.

When to seek veterinary care

If the ear mites do not respond to home treatment within 1-2 weeks, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian. According to Cornell Feline Health Center, persistent ear mite infestations that are not properly treated can lead to more serious complications like skin infections and ear hematomas. Your vet can prescribe stronger medications that are much more effective at killing off the mites.

You should also bring your cat to the vet if you notice any signs of a secondary infection from excessive scratching, like redness, swelling, discharge or a foul odor coming from the ears. The vet can examine the ears and prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to clear up the infection along with appropriate ear mite treatment.

Don’t try to self-diagnose and self-treat a suspected secondary ear infection at home. Getting the right prescription medications from your vet is important for properly resolving the infection and providing relief for your cat.


While bathing your cat can help relieve some symptoms of ear mites, it does not treat the underlying infestation. Ear mites are highly contagious parasites that live inside the ear canal. They cause intense itchiness, head shaking, and dark crumbly discharge in the ears. To fully eliminate an ear mite infestation, prescription medication directly into the ears is required. This allows the medication to penetrate deep into the ear canal and kill the mites.

Some recommended prescription treatments include:

  • Ivermectin or selamectin, which are topical parasite treatments.
  • Milbemycin oxime, which comes in oral or topical forms.

Over-the-counter ear cleansers can help remove debris and provide temporary relief. But prescription medication is necessary to completely kill off all stages of the ear mite life cycle. Always follow your veterinarian’s treatment recommendations. With prompt treatment, most ear mite infections can be cured within 1-2 weeks.

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