Ear Mites in Cats: Common and Contagious

If you see your cat scratching at the ears or shaking the head more than normal, ear mites could be the culprit.

Excessive ear scratching could be a sign of mites. By: Frostdragon

Whether your cats are indoor cats, outdoor or both, you may notice head shaking or excessive ear scratching.

Although this can be caused by more than one problem, ear mites are a common culprit.

There are a few types of ear mites that cats can get, but the most common is Otodectes cynotis, a tiny parasite with 8 legs. This ear mite lives off the oils and wax in the ear canal.

Each ear mite lives only for around 3 weeks, but they can reproduce — so it is possible for your cat to have symptoms for longer than this.

Although you can’t see ear mites easily with the naked eye, there are a few ways to determine if your cat has them (including a trip to the vet).

Here’s what you need to know about diagnosing and treating ear mites in cats.


Before you can recognize the signs of ear mites, it’s important to know some of the possible causes.

Most of the time a cat will get ear mites from another cat, either within the home or outside. Because of this, outdoor cats are much more likely to get ear mites than indoor cats. This also means that if you have several cats and one of them has ear mites, you should get everyone checked by the veterinarian. The cause of ear mites is usually coming into contact with another animal that has them.

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The most noticeable sign that your cat has ear mites is if she keeps scratching her ear. Ear scratching could be for other reasons, however, so always check for other symptoms. Other possible symptoms include your cat shaking her head frequently and, in some cases, losing hair or having dermatitis.

Check to see if the ears are producing secretion. Ear mites will cause a waxy secretion that is black or brown and has a strong odor. Your kitty’s ears may have severe caking with tons of black “dirt” or a fine layer.

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Go to the Veterinarian

If your cat has some of the symptoms mentioned above, take her to the veterinarian, who will determine whether or not the problem is due to ear mites.

If you suspect ear mites, it’s time for a vet visit. By: Greg Dunlap

Your vet will most likely remove earwax and examine it against a black background using a magnifying class. Because mites are white, the black background provides the necessary contrast to see them. Special equipment (such as a magnifying glass) is usually required because an ear mite is only the size of a pinhead.

Once your vet has diagnosed that it is indeed ear mites, you’ll be able to move forward with a treatment.

Ear Mite Complications

If you suspect your cat has ear mites, don’t put off taking her to the vet because if ear mites are left untreated, they can cause serious complications, such as inflammation. When the infection becomes serious, the mites may infect your cat’s internal and external ear canal.

The problem can even lead to serious skin or ear infections. It is also possible that your cat will shake her head and scratch intensely, leading to rupturing of the blood vessels inside the ear, which would need to be corrected with surgery.

Left untreated, ear mite cases have been known to cause a cat to go deaf.

This video shows an evaluation of a cat with itchy ears and what ear mites look like through a microscope:


Never treat ear mites without receiving a positive diagnosis from your vet, because other problems can cause similar results. The treatment usually involves gentle cleaning, and in some cases the vet will also prescribe medicated ear drops or antibiotics.

Remember that if you have other animals in your household, such as additional cats, dogs, rabbits or ferrets, they must be checked and treated.

Jet Perreault

View posts by Jet Perreault
Jet Perreault, a professional dog groomer of 18 years, graduated from Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She has spent time on the dog show circuit, working groomer trade shows, and managing grooming salons and pet shops.

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