Friday 15 April 2022

Cat Ear Mites

Brown gunge caused by ear mites in a ferret. Image in public domain.

Yes, I know this is a ferret! It does show the build-up of dark brown to black ear wax caused by the presence of the cat ear mites in the outer ear canal. This parasite is not restricted to the domestic cat, which makes this photo valid and a useful illustration (I was unable to find a suitable photo of a cat with the condition). Photo Stacy Lynn Baum under a creative commons license.

Can cats give ear mites to humans? Very rarely, yes.

Description of ear mite
Can cats give ear mites to humans? Yes but very, very rarely indeed.

Ear mites (minute crab like creatures) are one of the causes of inflammation of the outer ear canal (scientific term for this inflammation is Otitis externa). The outer ear canal is the tube that runs from outside to the ear drum (the pathway for the reception of sound), which can be seen when looking at the ear. Otitis externa affects humans and often swimmers as it is called "swimmer's ear" in humans.

This YouTube video show ear mites under a microscope. They are not actually in the ear in this video. There are many possible causes of Otitis externa in cats. The cause of the inflammation can be complicated by the instinctive reactions of the cat when he/she scratches an ear than is irritating her. This leads to tissue damage, which can then lead to infection by bacteria and fungi. 

Discharge from cat ear mites can be foul smelling. Image: PoC.

A cycle starts when the cat scratches more and so on. A cat may also shake her head when mites are present in her ears. These are signs of infestation. Cat ear mites are a known possible underlying cause, however, and the most common cause.

One of those damnable parasites which cause so much discomfort in cats.
Photo in public domain.

The scientific name for an ear mite is Otodectes cynotis and the condition of infestation is called Otocarisis or "canker". The term canker is also used for any long-term outer ear canal inflammation. About 50% of Otitis externa is caused by cat ear mites. The percentage is much lower for dogs. Cats can tolerate a higher level of infestation than dogs and if there are dogs and cats in the same household the cat could infect the dog with ear mites as a consequence. 

Apparently, a high percentage of cats have ear mites at one time (one website quotes 90%, although this seems high to me) The mites stimulate the production of wax by glands situated in the ear canal (these wax producing glands are called ceruminous glands).

Some treatments. Image in public domain.

Excessive production of wax forming a thick brown/black layer is a sign of infestation of cat ear mites. They can be seen with the use of a special device called and auriscope (a kind of illuminating magnifying glass). Although some veterinarians may have a Video Otoscope, a device which transmits an image of the inside of the ear to a screen allowing more than one person to see (including the cat keeper). The mites appear as moving/crawling white objects on the brown/black wax, which is sometimes referred to as ear mite dirt. 

Above: Home remedies for cat ear mites (or any animal with eat mites I guess).  Photo above by Stacy Lynn Baum under a creative commons license. There is though not real substitute to seeing a veterinarian. The cure seems relatively straight forward but there can be complications.

It is important to make sure that the symptoms you see are being caused by ear mites as treatments for ear mites can complicate other causes that have not been spotted. An acaricidal drug is administered into the outer ear canal after the ear has been cleaned (with extreme care and in safe manner). If the ears are not cleaned the wax build up can shelter the mites and prevent the drug working effectively. 

I understand this drug to be a kind of insecticide. In order to prevent recurrence of infestation all dogs and cats in contact with the infected cat should be treated. The treatment should continue long enough to interfere with the 21-day cycle of the ear mite and kill the mites that are in the eggs.

Tense and slitty eyes with downturned mouth clearly in acute discomfort due to intense itching from the head mange mites tunnelling into her skin.
Tense and slitty eyes with downturned mouth clearly in acute discomfort due to intense itching from the head mange mites tunnelling into her skin. Head mange mites are not ear mites but the point I am making is that both parasites cause intense itching and distress and in this cat, you can see it in her facial expression,

In addition, the cat ear mites will migrate from the ear to other parts of the body during the treatment (including the tail as it is sometimes near the ear when the cat is sleeping). The cat's body should therefore also be treated with an appropriate insecticide preparation. 

I have tried one of these once for my cat and I didn't like the effect, she licked it off and started foaming at the mouth. I had to take her to the vets but it was OK in fact. Home treatment remedies are, as you can see, available (my cat touch wood has never suffered from eat mites). 

On a commonsense level, if my cat had suffered from this condition in the past, I would regularly inspect her ears and if infected ask the vet for medication that could be administered by me.
Note: don't try and clean the ear by sticking a cotton bud down the ear canal. This is very unwise. See a vet instead please. Ear mites are very distressing for a cat so please don't delay. Ear mites can be a condition that is overlooked as cats are stoic and cat owners can sometimes be very busy and pre-occupied. But you'll be allowing your cat to suffer. You can see the difference in the facial expression of a distressed cat.

  • Veterinary Notes for Cat owners
  • BBC health
  • Myself
  • The Veterinarians' Guide to Your Cats Symptoms
  • Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin


  1. i recently adopted a cat that is now hearing impaired due to ear mites... will he be hearing impaired forever? is there ANYTHING i can do to help him?

    the vet told me that his case was not severe and they were able to clean his ear completely out.

    i hope u have a good answer for me :)

  2. Hi, Thanks for the comment.

    On the basis that the infestation is not severe, as explained, and that there are no secondary complications, the loss of hearing is due to an obstruction (the crumbly discharge) that can be removed, which will restore hearing to normal. Your veterinarian will give the full answer.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  3. I have rescues several kittens, almost all of whom had ear mites, including one with the worst case I have ever seen or heard of. His ears were entirely black and completely clogged.
    I have always just cleaned the ears daily with a q-tip and oil (I have used Olive, Vit E, and vegetable oils and they all worked the same) until the mites are gone. It usually takes anywhere from two days to a week and I never see the mites again.
    This method has never failed me and none of my cats ever had trouble hearing after the treatment.
    I think this method is much better than using insecticides. It's quicker, easier, cheaper and I just hate using harsh chemicals, especially on animals.

  4. Wow i love you blog its awesome nice colors you must have did hard work on your blog. Keep up the good work. Thanks

  5. Response to last comment: THANKS!

  6. Great site and great information. We had 2 cats which were rescues and they both had ear mites. Desiring a natural way to care for them we found and tried Dr Dogs Ear Oil and it worked great. You have it listed here, just wanted others to know it really did the job.
    The shelter said that most animals there have ear mites and the alternative was going to require a trip to the vets office or chemical treatment and we read that isn't the best. Hope they don't come back but if they do then we know what to do.

  7. Thanks for the review on Dr Dogs Ear Oil. Reviews are always appreciated. I prefer natural remedies. They must be the best way to treat.

  8. anthraquinones in the yellow dock are the major reason this herb helps in treating the problem of ear mites in cats. It also acts as an astringent, purifier, and anti-inflammatory. It soothes the irritation and swelling at the same time.

  9. Thank you so much for your mom to two homeless kittens. Their ears were so dirty. Cleaned with olive oil. Works perfectly­čÉ▒


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