A dog and cat snuggled up on a pillow.

Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are common parasites that live in the ear canal of dogs and cats. Most pets that are suffering from an ear mite infestation will have head shaking, scratching/digging at their ears, and/or dark brown debris in their ears. Ear mites are contagious and they can spread to other dogs and cats within the household.

These microscopic white insects can infest at any age, but are more common in younger animals. Mites not only affect the ears, but can also spread to the skin, resulting in itching on the back, neck, and tail areas.

They typically spend their entire lives on or within their host. The female lays her eggs in the ear and in the surrounding fur. These eggs hatch after a four-day incubation period, and the larva feeds on ear wax and skin oils for about one week. It then molts into a “protonymph,” which in turn molts into a “deutonymph.” This deutonymph does not develop a gender until it mates with an adult male. If the result is a female, she will be laden with eggs. The whole process from eggs to adult mite to reproduction is about three weeks.

Diagnosis of Ear Mites

A diagnosis of ear mites in dogs and cats starts with a thorough physical exam by a veterinarian and a complete medical history. Symptoms of ear mites often mimic other ear diseases. Your veterinarian needs to rule out other underlying diseases and may need additional diagnostics to confirm the presence of ear mites.

Additional testing may include:

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.

They include:

Treatment of Ear Mites

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:


The best way to prevent your pets from getting an ear mite infection is to avoid exposure. Because they are contagious between pets, avoiding interaction with other animals that may have ear mites (feral/outdoor animals) will limit spread. Also, keeping your pets on a monthly preventative, such as the topical medications discussed above, can prevent infection.

Can Humans Get Ear Mites?

Dogs and cats cannot give humans ear mites. A skin rash/irritation has been noted in humans with pets suffering from ear mites, but this is relatively uncommon. Your primary human physician should be contacted if concerned about ear mites or other medical ailments.