Jul 082011

What are ear mites?

Ear mites are tiny parasites that live in the ear canals, mostly of cats, although they can spread to other animals you may have in the house. They are relatively large, but you won’t be able to see them without a magnifying glass. They are white and crab looking with eight legs.

The mites live on the surface of the skin and do not eat or drink blood – they feed on the wax and oils inside the ear.

Sometimes, the ear mites will also be seen on the paws, tip of the tail, or the head and neck. They are spread from the ears as the cat shakes it’s head, scratches, or curls up with it’s tail near it’s ears.

How do cats get ear mites?

Ear mites are highly contagious and are most often found in outdoor cats and kittens. It is quite simple for the mother cat to pass the mites onto her kittens at a very young age. It is estimated that up to 90% of all cats will deal with ear mites at some time in their life.

Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook, Fully Revised and Updated

How do I know if my cat has ear mites?

While you won’t be able to see the mites themselves with the naked eye, there are obvious signs you cat could be suffering from an infestation.

Behavioral signs:

1. Excessive shaking of the head as if they are trying to dislodge the mites.

2. Scratching at the ear; at times this can get severe enough that the cat will cause trauma to it’s ear and you will see blood blisters or hair loss around the ear.

Physical signs:

1. The cat’s ears will look dirty and upon closer inspection, you should see a discharge that looks brownish black and waxy – much like coffee grounds.

2. A strong odor from the ear, although this is not always present.

If you suspect your cat has ear mites, don’t wait to take them to the vet. If you have other cats in the house, they mites may very well spread to them. In some cases, the mites can leave the ears and infest other areas of the cat, causing even more discomfort. Also, if left untreated, the cat may cause trauma to it’s own ears from shaking it’s head so much and rubbing his ears against surfaces to stop the itching. In severe cases, the cat will need surgery to clear up the trauma to the ears. Finally, there are a few other ear problems that your cat may be suffering from, which is why it is best to have your cat evaluated by a vet.

Hartz UltraGuard Ear Mite Treatment for Cats

How do I get rid of ear mites if my cat has them?

If the vet diagnoses your cat as having ear mites, there are very effective treatments and the infestation is easily cleared up.

The vet will clean the cat’s ears and then administer medication. Usually, you will not need to clean the cat’s ears at home, as that will have been taken care of by the vet. Do not attempt to clean your cat’s ears with a cotton swab, as they may move suddenly and the swab could injure them. If the vet instructs you to clean their ears at home, they should show you how. Generally, a cotton ball or soft washcloth is sufficient for cleaning.

Medication for ear mites could be prescription or not prescription. Depending on the severity of the infestation, you vet may also prescribe antibiotics. Some broad spectrum medications that protect against, fleas, hookworm, roundworm, and heartworms will kill and prevent ear mites as well. A couple of different products on the market have been shown to be effective with a single treatment, clearing up the mites in about a week.

Your vet may also prescribe a medication that comes in several doses. It is important to give the full course of medication so that the mites are completely eliminated. The vet should also prescribe something to treat the whole cat, perhaps the flea and worm treatment described above.

The medications for the ear itself may be administered as an injection, or drops that need to be put in the ears. The flea and worm treatments are usually a liquid that gets rubbed into the skin between the shoulder blades once a month. Antibiotics may come in a liquid form or a pill form.

One tip to giving your cat’s medicine that has worked for me: if the pill can be split open, or crushed, then mix the power with some an over the counter hairball treatment. Use just enough to completely mix up the powder. Then, spread the mixture on your cat’s side. When I put it on my cat’s paws, she would shake her paw and the cream would be shaken off. On the other hand, when putting the medicine/cream mixture on her side, while she didn’t like it, she licked it off quickly and got her medicine without having to force it on her. This won’t work with all pets, but it’s another method to try if you find it difficult to give your cat a pill.

In the end, ear mites are a bother and can make your cat very uncomfortable. However, if you catch them early, they are very easy to treat and will be gone quickly. If you suspect your cat has ear mites, then get them to a vet and you and your cat will be on the way to being ear mite free.


  1. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook
  2. Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
  3. The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health

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