MySimplePetLab logo
MySimplePetLab logo

All articles

Ear Mites In CatsUpdated 10 months ago

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are tiny, arachnid (spider-like) parasites that live in the ear canals of dogs, cats, ferrets, and some other mammals.

What are Ear Mites?

What are Signs of Ear Mites in Cats & Kittens?

What are Common Treatment Options for Ear Mites?


Ear mites (Otodectes cynotisare tiny, arachnid (spider-like) parasites that live in the ear canals of cats, cats, ferrets, and some other mammals. Found throughout the U.S., they can multiply FAST (eggs to adults in just 3-4 weeks) and move from one pet to another through physical contact, grooming tools, or shared bedding; so, it’s quite common for one pet to infect other pets in the household. Ear mites in people have been reported but very rarely.

An ear mite infestation is called ear mange (also otodectic mange or otoacariasis), with just a few mites to many thousands of mites living in each ear canal. Their entire life cycle is within the outer ears, lasting about 3-4 weeks, from eggs to adult. Unlike some types of skin mites (e.g., Notoedres), ear mites don’t burrow into the skin. Rather they are skin surface scavengers, feeding on flaked off skin cells (corneocytes) and earwax (cerumen). Even though they don’t burrow, the mere presence of ear mites crawling around in the outer ears can cause intense ear itch for many pets. These signs are probably caused from the cat’s immune system becoming allergic (hypersensitive) to the mites. Ongoing infestations often lead to secondary infections from the overgrowth of bacteria (especially Staphylococcus) and/or yeast (Malassezia), making inflammation of the ears and discomfort even worse.

The adults are about the size of a large grain of salt (only 0.4mm). If a cat is very still during physical exam, ear mites can sometimes be seen moving within their ears using the 4x magnification of an otoscope! That’s the handheld tool your vet uses to investigate your cat’s ears. Veterinarians still suspicious of a feline ear mite infestation will swab the ear crevices and flaps of both ears for cytology at much higher, 40x magnification under the microscope. Ear cytology is the gold-standard way to search for ear mites. At MySimplePetLab, all ear sample tubes and swabs from home are first examined using a 5x magnifying glass to see if any ear mites are crawling on the submitted swab sample. This is slightly higher magnification than a hand-held otoscope. Then the swab sample is thinly smeared (“rolled or dotted”) onto a glass microscope slide under 5x magnification, colorized with special stains, and examined again at 40x magnification to search again for both ear mites and their eggs. The detection of even a single ear mite or mite egg in a swab sample is enough to presume your cat has an ear mite infestation. In that case, a physical exam of your cat’s ears by a local veterinarian should be your next step. Treatment of your cat and any other at-risk cats, dogs, or ferrets in the household is probably necessary.

What are Signs of Ear Mites in Cats and Kittens?

This might surprise you: the number of ear mites doesn’t always match the severity of clinical signs. In other words, just a few mites in the ears of some cats and kittens will lead to all sorts of itch/irritation signs like shaking or rubbing of the head and frequent scratching at the ears. The ears can appear really inflamed (red) under the ear flap and be uncomfortable or even painful to the touch. Some cats will have yellow or brown/black (even crusty/crumbly) discharge with a strong odor from secondary infection (bacteria and/or yeast). On the other hand, some cats and kittens can have lots of ear mites without showing any signs at all which is why careful observation of their ears is so important. While ear mites primarily live in the ear canals, they can sometimes be found on the ear flaps and around the base of the ears, or even on the head and other parts of the body (called ectopic infestations). Therefore regular (at least annual) ear and skin exams by a vet are important for all pets and why ear swab cytology (at your vet or through MySimplePetLab) should always be performed whenever abnormal ear signs are noticed.


Clinical signs of ear mites in cats and kittens (one or more):

  • Repeated scratching ears, head, or neck
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Rubbing head and ears on floor
  • Doesn’t like ear(s) touched
  • Skin irritation in or around ears
  • Hearing loss
  • Black or brown ear discharge
  • Yellow ear discharge
  • Ear redness
  • Ear sores
  • Scabs on ear flap
  • Strong ear odor

What are Common Treatment Options for Ear Mites in Cats and Kittens

Getting rid of ear mites in one cat should also include treating all at-risk pets in the same household at the same time (leaving no “safe harbor” pet for the mites) with an over-the counter or prescription parasiticide. There are many effective ear mite medications, both on-label or off-label that vets use to clear these infestations. Some of these are topically applied to the ear (e.g., thiabendazole, milbemycin oxime, ivermectin), or to the surface of the skin (e.g., selamectin, fipronil, fluralaner, sarolaner, imidacloprid/moxidectin). There are also several over-the-counter treatments for ear mites of cats that contain a pesticide called pyrethrin. Apply carefully (correct dosage and frequency) based on your cat’s size and age, as some cat products are NOT approved for kittens. Be aware that PYRETHRIN products are TOXIC TO CATS at too high a dose (causing tremors, seizures, or death), so never use a DOG ONLY pyrethrin product on a cat or kitten!

After treatment, it’s important to recheck an ear cytology and have a veterinarian reexamine your cat’s ears. If the ear mites are still present, then longer treatment or a change in treatment may be necessary.


Additional Questions? Chat us at, email [email protected], or call us at 833-PET-TEST (833-738-8378).


  1. Companion Animal Parasite Council | Otodectic Mite (
  2. Otodectes cynotis | American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists (
  3. Mite Infestation (Mange, Acariasis, Scabies) in Dogs - Dog Owners - Merck Veterinary Manual (
  4. Otodectes - Wikipedia
  5. Pyrethrinpyrethroid Poisoning In Cats | VCA Animal Hospitals (
Was this article helpful?