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Ear Mites in Cats: Annoying or Dangerous?

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What to do if your cat has ear mites.
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A cat getting mites removed from its ear.

Fleas and ticks are known to bother our pets, but they’re not the only pests that can make a cat uncomfortable. Ear mites can also make themselves right at home in your pet’s ear canals.

What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites are tiny parasites that feed off the oils and wax inside cats’ ears. Their entire life cycle, from egg to larva to nymph to adult, can take place on your cat’s skin, most likely in the ear canal. And because they can rarely be seen by the naked eye, their presence may go unnoticed until your cat shows other symptoms of an ear mite infestation.

How Do Cats Get Ear Mites?

Cats can catch ear mites from being outdoors or from interacting with other cats. They are most common in kittens, younger cats, strays and outdoor cats, though any cat can catch ear mites. Although ear mites don’t seem dangerous, their presence can be extremely harmful to your cat.

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A Tabby cat’s ears cleaned for ear mites by vet on exam table.

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Mites in Cats?

Be on the lookout for these symptoms of ear mites:

  • Frequent scratching of the ears, causing scabbing or inflammation
  • Repeated head shaking
  • Swollen ears
  • Ears oozing a greasy, black substance
  • A strong odor coming from the ears

If left unchecked and untreated, ear mites can lead to serious issues, including deafness, coordination or balance issues, and permanent ear scarring. Ear mites can also cause an ear infection as well, so treatment shouldn’t focus solely on getting rid of the mites — the ear infection should be treated, too.

Advantage Multi® for Cats (imidacloprid + moxidectin)
Advantage Multi® for Cats (imidacloprid + moxidectin)
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An ear mite under a microscope.

What Do Ear Mites in a Cat Look Like?

Ear mites are tiny, so seeing one on its own is difficult. Instead, look for a brownish to black crumbly substance that resembles dirt or coffee grounds in your cat’s ears. If you have difficulty seeing inside your cat’s ears and suspect mites, your veterinarian can use their otoscope to see inside, or they can take a swab of the ear and examine the sample under a microscope.

How Do You Get Rid of Ear Mites in Cats?

Before beginning any treatment, make an appointment with your vet to find out whether your cat has ear mites. The first step in getting rid of ear mites in cats is to thoroughly cleanse the ear canal, removing wax and buildup. Use an ear cleaner, or have your veterinarian clean out your cat’s ears to avoid causing any damage to the ear canals.

Ear mite treatment for cats also involves a prescription topical solution from your veterinarian. Ear mites are highly contagious, so you should also treat other cats or dogs in your home for mites.

Ear mites are an annoyance for both cats and their owners, but early treatment will help prevent further damage to their ears and their overall health.

Advantage Multi® for Cats (imidacloprid + moxidectin)
CAUTION: Federal (U.S.A.) law restricts Advantage Multi® for Cats (imidacloprid + moxidectin) to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian. WARNINGS: Do not use on sick or debilitated cats. Do not use on underweight cats. (see ADVERSE REACTIONS). Do not use on cats less than 9 weeks of age or less than 2 lbs body weight. PRECAUTIONS: Avoid oral ingestion. HUMAN WARNINGS: Children should not come in contact with the application site for 30 minutes after application.
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