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Ear Mites in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Your veterinarian will be able to diagnosis the presence of ear mites if your cat is young, his ears are full of wax or a black, crusty exudate and the insides of the ears have an unpleasant odor.

Ear mites are contagious! You should have all your pets checked for ear mites and, if necessary, treated.

  • A complete medical history and physical examination, with special attention to the ears and skin, is important in determining the cause of the discharge, scratching or head shaking. Ear mites are most often diagnosed by your veterinarian looking into the ear with a lighted otoscope that magnifies the mites so they can be seen.

  • Cytology Exam. This involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and examining it under a microscope. A swab is mixed with mineral oil and placed on a microscope slide. The ear mites can often be observed.

  • A skin scraping may also be performed if your cat shows general skin lesions.

    Some pets may require additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the ear abnormalities. Pets with recurrent ear infections, those who respond poorly to treatment, pets with generalized skin abnormalities, or those with other health problems,
    may need additional diagnostic tests. These tests are not typical with simple ear mite infections. These additional tests may include:

  • Culture and sensitivity. This test is helpful in diagnosing bacterial infections. The procedure involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and sending it to a laboratory to identify the specific bacteria present. The bacteria are exposed to multiple antibiotic samples to determine what will kill them most effectively.

  • Radiographs (X-rays) or CT scans. These may be done to determine the health of the ear canal and bone, and may be used to evaluate the extent of involvement.

  • Complete blood count (CBC) and biochemical profile. Blood tests may be completed to check for contributing factors to the infection as well as to determine the presence of a concurrent disease.

  • Skin tests.

  • Allergy tests. Your veterinarian may want to determine if your pet has allergies that may irritate the ears, as well as the skin.


    Ear mites should only be treated after a veterinarian has made an expert diagnosis. If there are no mites, using anti-mite preparations may aggravate an infection in the ear. Full treatment consists of the following:

  • Cleaning the ear. Depending on the medication used and the quantity of ear discharge, cleaning may be needed. Moderate to severe infections may require sedation and in-hospital flushing. Do not use cotton swabs in your cat's ear; these may push infection and discharge deeper into the ear canal.

  • Applying medication to infected ears. Topical therapy usually consists of applying medication in the ear during the veterinary visit. Commonly used drugs include milbemycin (Milbemite®) or ivermectin (Acarexx®). Thiabendazole (Tresaderm®) may be prescribed for use at home. Selamectin (Revolution®) can also applied topically between the shoulder blades. For tips on applying ear medication, go to How to Administer Ear Medication to Your Cat.

  • Applying medication to infected areas of skin. If the mites are causing skin problems, the skin is often treated with a flea product topically as the product directs for fleas.

  • Return to your veterinarian for follow-up examinations. All other pets that have come in contact with the infected pet should also be treated.

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