does your cat have ear mites?

Cat scared

Tiny parasites, big problem

Each ear mite (Otodectes cynotis) is no bigger than a pinhead. When masses of these tiny spider-like mites infest your cat’s ear canals, they create a deep, itchy irritation that can drive your cat absolutely bonkers — and lead to secondary infections and other health problems. Here’s how to spot ear mite infestations. And please, see your veterinary team before ear mites become a big problem for the cat or kitten you love. 

Make an appointment

Don’t delay treatment if you suspect ear mites. They’re deeply uncomfortable and can cause painful ear infections that may lead to permanent hearing loss and balance problems. 

A veterinarian examining a cat for ear mites at the Banfield Pet Hospital

Ear infections or ear mites?

Unfortunately for do-it-at-home diagnostics, a lot of the symptoms for ear mites and ear infections are the same. If your kittyBAE is shaking their head, or pawing or scratching at their ears, it’s a good bet that it’s time to see the vet. If you try treating these issues on your own, it’s entirely possible you could actually harm your kitty by treating the wrong thing.

Can you treat ear mites at home? 

Treating mites with home remedies can actually make matters worse, especially if the issue isn’t actually mites at all. Your best bet is to see your veterinary team for what they recommend for your particular kitty’s current ear issues. Please remember, never put anything into your cat’s ears unless explicitly directed by your vet.

A veterinarian treating a cat with ear mites at the Banfield Pet Hospital
Vector graphic of a sad cat with ear mites

Signs and symptoms of ear mites

Adult ear mites live for 2 to 3 months, munching on skin debris and ear wax and laying eggs that hatch more mites. You can’t see mites with the naked eye, but if you spot the following signs, it’s time to see the vet.

Symptom checklist

  • Constant ear scratching, leading to scabs and hair loss
  • Head shaking
  • Red, inflamed outer ears
  • Ears lying flat against the head
  • Ear sensitivity and pain
  • Aural hematoma, a swelling caused by ruptured blood vessels from constant scratching
Vector graphic of ear mites

Common causes, and how to help

Ear mites are highly contagious, and spread easily from cat to cat through direct touch or even a favorite toy. If one cat in your household has mites, it’s a good bet that all the rest of them do, too.

Common risk factors

  • Outdoor cats run a higher risk of contact with infected cats
  • Shelter cats often need treatment because they live in close quarters with each other
  • Ear mites tend to affect younger cats more than older cats.
  • Indoor cats in multi-cat households can easily get ear mites from each other 

Preventing big ear mite infestations

  • Regularly check your cat’s ears, and if you spot symptoms, see the vet
  • Regularly wash and disinfect your cat’s toys and bedding
  • Use a topical monthly preventatives as directed by your vet

Because ear mites are so contagious, you’ll likely need to treat all pets in your household if one of them gets an ear mite diagnosis. Try to isolate infected cats until after treatment, and deep-clean their toys and bedding to kill any lingering mites. 

 

What to do and know about treating ear mites

Vector graphic of a medical history document

See your vet

Start by giving your veterinary team some background on your cat. Let them know when you first noticed symptoms, any other weird behavior, and if you have other pets.  


Your vet will examine the inside of your cat’s ears with an instrument called an otoscope, looking for little white living specks. They’ll also take a sample of ear discharge to examine under a microscope for mites, yeast, and bacteria.

Vector graphic of different types of pet skin medications

Be ready for a mite fight

Getting rid of your cat’s ear mites is a multi-step process.  

  • Your cat’s ears need to cleaned before any medicine can get to the source. Your vet may do the first cleaning right at the office. Don’t hesitate to ask for any and all tips so you can continue the process at home.
  • Your vet will prescribe an ear cleaning solution, plus a parasiticide to kill the mites.
  • If your cat has mites plus an ear infection, you’ll also get a prescription for an antibacterial or antifungal medication to treat the infection. 
  • Following your veterinary team’s instructions carefully, make sure to gently clean your cat’s ears and apply any medication as directed.
  • Come in for a checkup in about 2-3 weeks to make sure your cat’s ears are improving and the mites are on the run. 
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