Ear mite infection is one of the most common health problems seen in cats. Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis)
are tiny insects that live in the ear canal and feed by piercing the skin.
Mites are prolific. Kittens can be infected by their mothers while still in the
nest. Suspect ear mites when both ears are affected.
The most frequent sign is intense itching, characterized by scratching and
violent head shaking. This is worse if the cat suffers from an allergic
reaction to the mites as well as simple irritation from them. You will see a
dry, crumbly, dark brown, waxy discharge when you look into the ears. The
discharge looks like coffee grounds and may be foul smelling. Constant
scratching at the ears can cause raw areas, along with scabs and loss of hair
around the ears. The initial problem may be complicated by a chronic bacterial
Ear mites can be identified by your veterinarian by removing some earwax
from a fold or crease with a cotton-tipped applicator and examining it under a
magnifying glass, against a black background. Mites are white specks, about the
size of the head of a pin, that move.
Demodex cati is another mite that can also affect the ears. Waxy debris is
present; the mites can be found by examining a swab from the ears.
Ear mites can leave the ear canals and travel over the body. They are highly
contagious among cats, house rabbits, ferrets, and dogs, but almost never
humans. If mites are discovered on one pet, all pets in the household should be
Treatment: Ear mites are a serious problem, and are deeply distressing and
uncomfortable for your cat. They can crawl deep into the ear canals, where they
may be difficult to treat. They can also lead to secondary infections of the
ears. It is therefore very important to treat all cases of ear mites promptly
Do not begin treatment until your veterinarian has positively identified ear
mites as the cause of the symptoms. This is because other ear ailments can be
complicated by using ear mite medications.
Clean the ears as described below. This is essential. Dirty ear canals
contain wax and cellular debris that shelters mites and makes it difficult for
ear medications to destroy them.
Medicate the ears using a medication chosen by your veterinarian that is
effective against mites. Some common ones are Nolvamite, Mitaclear, and
Tresaderm. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for dosage and frequency. It
is very important to complete the recommended course of treatment, because a
new crop of mites will reinfect your cat if the treatment is stopped too
Ivermectin has been used successfully to treat ear mites. It is given as a
single subcutaneous injection or with topical drops into the ear. Selamectin
(Revolution) is also sometimes used for ear mites. Demodex cati mites are
generally treated with ivermectin or lime-sulfur dips.
During treatment, mites can escape from the ear canals and temporarily take
up residence elsewhere on the cat, causing itching and scratching. It is
important to treat the entire cat with a topical insecticide preparation, as
recommended by your veterinarian. Since most cats sleep with their tail curled
up next to their ears, be sure to treat the tail as well.
Clip the cat’s nails to minimize injuries from scratching at the ear.