What Are the Cat Ear Mite Symptoms?

Updated April 25, 2022
cat getting checked for ear mites at veterinarian office

Ear mite symptoms can cause extreme discomfort for your cat. Ear mites can look very similar to other feline ear conditions, but there are a few telltale signs you can use to differentiate between them. Learn how to tell the difference between a case of mites and a yeast infection of the ear canal so you can get your cat some relief right away.

About Cat Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny parasites that enjoy warm moist environments. The ear canal of your cat makes an ideal feeding and breeding ground. Ear mites consume earwax and irritate the ear lining. This incessant irritation stimulates the body to produce serum or discharge in response. The deeper the irritation, the more inflammation will occur, which can lead to full on bleeding if your cat begins scratching their ears. A cat with a dark-colored discharge coating the ear canal should always be a suspect for an infection.

It is also important for pet owners to be on the alert for ear mites if their cat is an outdoor cat or is often exposed to other pets. Although cat ear mites will not affect humans, they are rapidly spread by or to other animals, such as dogs and rabbits. Moreover, ear mites are very easily spread. Even a mere moment of contact is all one of these tiny spider-like creatures requires to leap onto your pet and trigger the countdown to an infection.

Cat Ear Mite Symptoms

Cat ear mite symptoms can closely mimic ear infections of differing causes, so there are only a few telltale mite symptoms that distinguish this type of infection from another.

  • Dark discharge: A cat suffering from an ear mite infection will usually have a black ear wax or very dark discharge within their ear canal that may proceed toward the outer ear. It can sometimes resemble coffee grounds. This discharge, due to parasite by-products and common secondary infections, may have an unpleasant odor.
  • Scratching or shaking: Since an ear infection is painful or irritating, your cat may scratch their ears a lot. Some cats scratch with such force that they traumatize the outside of the ear flap with their nails. Shaking of the head is also very common.
  • Flattened ears: While flattened ears can be a sign that a cat is angry or scared, a cat with ear mites will often lay its ears back against its head due to the parasites. Some cats will roll around on the floor and rub their ears against the carpet in order to relieve the itching or pain.
  • Discomfort: Cats who experience pain from the mite infestation will often howl miserably. As the infection progresses and the blood serum coagulates with your cat's earwax, this formulation may actually fill up your cat's ear canal and form a blockage. In such cases, your cat will lose hearing in the affected ear or ears.
  • Visible mites: If you look closely into the ears of a mite-infected cat, you may be able to see tiny white creatures against the black background of the discharge. You can try using a magnifying glass and a light to see if any mites are present, but it may still be difficult to see them. Many cats will protest such an examination, and this is why a vet visit is required.

Treatment

Ear mites will not go away on their own. A visit to the veterinarian should be seen as essential in order to determine the cause and level of infection. They can confirm a diagnosis of ear mites by using an otoscope to view the inside of the ear canal, and can make sure it's safe to put drops down your cat's ears. In cases where a cat's ear drum has burst, putting any solutions or drops in the ear can lead to irreversible deafness. Moreover, if your cat develops a secondary bacterial or yeast infection, this may be treated simultaneously.

In some cases, ear mites may travel to different parts of your cat's body, which can make treatment even more complicated. This is because many ear mite treatments are isolated to the ear area, and since mites spread rapidly, your cat will be at risk for re-infection.

Cat Ear Mites Are Highly Contagious

Cat ear mite symptoms will go away with treatment, but it is important for pet owners to remember that this is a highly contagious parasite. When one cat is diagnosed with and treated for ear mites, any other pets residing in the household must also be treated as well. This includes ferrets and dogs. Your veterinarian will inform you of the details involved, but you should be diligent during your cat's treatment time and understand that re-infection will be a highly inconvenient scenario if caution isn't exercised.

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