One day you're scratching your cat's ears when you notice something unusual inside -- a dark brown, crumbly substance that looks sort of like coffee grounds. Your cat probably has ear mites, tiny, pinpoint-sized parasitic insects that live and breed in the ear canals. They feed on skin debris, cell fluids and blood, and can gnaw on the tissue of the ear canal. Ear mite infestations usually itch, so cats with ear mites will scratch excessively at the backs or insides of their ears -- sometimes to the point of producing raw patches -- shake their heads, or hold their ears at an odd angle.
Ear mites are a common infestation and are easily spread between cats and other animals. Treatment of ear mites involves removing the debris from the ears and using a topical insecticide in the ear canal to kill off the remaining mites and new mites that hatch out of eggs left behind. All animals in the house have to be treated -- if you don't, the ear mites that you get rid of from one cat will just take up residence in another cat's (or a dog's ) ears.
Before even treating your cat for ear mites, however, you need proof that they're there. Gently remove a little bit of the crumbly debris from your cat's ear canal with a cotton ball. Then examine it under bright light with a magnifier or spread it on a piece of dark paper. Any movement -- including tiny white moving specks -- means mites. Sometimes, mite debris is located deep in the ear canal where you can't see it. If you suspect your cat has mites, gently massage the back of the ear at the base between your thumb and forefinger. A cat with no mites usually enjoys it or, at worst, will fuss and try to get away. A cat who has unwanted company living in her ear canal will usually start scratching vigorously.
Other ear problems can cause itchiness and debris in the ear canal, so don't start home remedies for ear mites until you're fairly certain that's the problem. If you can't get proof of ear mites, it's better to take your cat to the vet so you can be sure that there's not something else going on.
If you know that your cat has a case of mites, read on to learn about some home remedies.