Home Remedies for Cats With Ear Mites

By: Shanna Freeman & Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley  | 

ear mites
Mites can infest the ears of cats (and dogs) but you can get rid of them yourself. Todorean-Gabriel/Shutterstock

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. This could be ear mites, tiny, pinpoint-sized parasitic insects that live and breed in the ear canals. Ear mites 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 infections will scratch their ears, sometimes until their ears are raw, shake their heads, or hold their ears at an odd angle.

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Ear mites are common and can spread between cats and other animals. Treatment involves removing the mites 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 household must 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.

Other symptoms of mites in your cat's ears could include:

  • strong odor in the ears
  • inflammation and redness of the ear(s)
  • hair loss around the ears
  • skin problems and scabs around the ears
  • persistently shaking their head

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.

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Treating a Cat With Ear Mites

ear mites
Mites can lay eggs deep inside your cat's ear canal so it's important to flush them out for a few weeks to kill the live mites and eggs, too. Usagi-P/Shutterstock

Treating your cat's case of ear mites is a three-step process. The first step is to get as many mites out of the ear canal as possible using an ear cleaning solution for cats. Put several drops of the solution into the ear canal and massage gently. Massaging will help bring debris up to the outer part of the ear where you can wipe it away with a cotton ball or tissue. Do not use cotton swabs because you could inadvertently damage the eardrum. Repeat the cleaning procedure until the debris is gone.

Ear mites can be killed using over-the-counter medicines, but be sure you choose one that is safe to be used on cats. Pyrethrin is the active ingredient in most ear mite medications, and it's toxic to cats. Most vets recommend using a topical solution that contains ivermectin as the primary ingredient instead. You can find one at most pet supply stores.

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Follow the directions on the topical carefully, making sure to massage the drops in well and wipe away any excess. A single cleaning and treatment with ear drops won't do the trick, because just one surviving female mite with eggs will reproduce. You must kill the living mites as well as the eggs.

Finally, you have to keep your cat from being reinfested with mites. A single mite can hide out deep in your cat's fur — only to crawl back in the ear after all the treatment is over. Microscopic mite eggs can also hatch days after a treatment, so it could take a few weeks before you can safely assume your cat and home are mite-free. Cats with ear mites also need regular treatment with flea products to knock out those adventurous mites that go exploring elsewhere.

If your home remedies clear up the infestation, or the skin in or around your cat's ears become raw or inflamed, you should take your cat to the vet. She can prescribe medications that work faster than over-the-counter meds. Untreated ear mites can lead to a skin disease or to a serious ear infection.

If your cat has itchy ears, shakes her head, flattens her ears and has discharge from the ear canal — but no mite debris or live mites — check with your vet. It could be a yeast or bacterial infection or another type of ear problem.

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Originally Published: May 20, 2011

Ear Mites in Cats FAQ

How do you get rid of ear mites in cats?
You can get rid of ear mites in cats with a three-step process. First, clean the ear and get rid of as many critters as possible. Next, apply a few drops of ear mite medicine into the ear canal and massage gently with a cotton swab. Finally, add an over-the-counter ear mite medication to the ears and repeat the process everyday until the mites are gone.
How do you know if your cat has ear mites?
Your cat might have ear mites if they're shaking their head or scratching the backs and insides of their ears excessively. When you look inside the ears, you’ll see a dark-brown crumbly substance. You can gently remove as much debris as possible and check with a magnifier under a bright light to confirm.
What medicine kills ear mites?
Any medicine or product that contains pyrethrins is effective in killing ear mites. However, it is toxic to cats, to be extremely cautious if you use it. Most vets now recommend using over-the-counter medications containing ivermectin instead.
Do you have to take your cat to the vet for ear mites?
If your home remedy for killing ear mites doesn't work, you should take your cat to the vet for treatment before it causes an ear infection.
What oil kills ear mites?
Oil won't kill ear mites.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • ASPCA. "Ear Mites." ASPCA Pet Care. 2011. (April 12, 2011)http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/ear-mites.aspx
  • Companion Animal Parasite Council. "Ear Mites in Cats." CAPC. 2009. (April 13, 2011)http://www.petsandparasites.org/cat-owners/ear-mites.html
  • Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff. "Caring For Your Cat's Ears." Drs. Foster & Smith. 2011. (April 12, 2011)http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?aid=106
  • Eldgedge, Debra M., et al. "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." Howell Book House. Dec. 10, 2007.
  • PetsMD. "Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs." Pets MD. 2011. (April 12, 2011)http://petsmd.com/Health/Cats-And-Dogs/Ear-Mites

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