Cat Ear Mites vs. Ear Wax - How to Tell the Difference

Mychelle Blake
cat's ears getting inspected

Owning a cat means taking care of their grooming needs. Proper ear care is essential, and if you see your cat shaking his head, it may be ear mites.

What Are Cat Ear Mites?

Ear mites are tiny arthropods that infest your cat's ear canal. They feed on your cat and are very common in cats, particularly kittens and cats with compromised immune systems. They are also contagious to other cats as well as dogs.

Symptoms of Cat Ear Mites

Ear mites can only be seen under a microscope, so you won't actually see them in your cat's ear. Instead, look for the following symptoms and take your cat for a veterinary visit to see if he is suffering from ear mites:

  • Constantly shaking and scratching his head
  • The inside of the ears are red and irritated.
  • Skin outside and around the years may be inflamed.
  • A wax buildup in the ears that has a dark black or brown color
  • The wax will have a noticeable unpleasant odor.
  • There may be a dark discharge inside and coming out of the ears.
  • Disorientation
  • A tilted head and flattened ears

What Is Cat Ear Wax?

Most cats do not get wax in their ears, although it can happen. Often when you do see a dark and smelly wax buildup it indicates another condition, such as a yeast or fungal infection, ear mites or other irritations in the ear. If your cat's ears look healthy with pale pink skin and some light brown wax, this is normal.

How to Tell the Difference

Ear wax itself is normal in a cat, but if you see any of the above symptoms, such as head shaking and scratching, your cat may have ear mites.

  • Wax in both normal cats and cats infected with mites is brown.
  • The normal type of wax is a lighter brown color and does not give off an odor.
  • The wax in a cat with ear mites is darker brown or black and is described as looking like coffee grounds. It also will smell bad.
  • The reason the mite wax is darker is that it's mixed in with dried blood and skin from the damage the mites are doing to your cat's ears.
  • If you see wax and the ears are also inflamed, this likely means mites. Wax in a pink or pale pink ear is probably not indicative of mites.

Keeping Your Cat's Ears Healthy

It's important to check your cat's ears regularly for signs of a problem. If you see any of the symptoms of ear mites, or are concerned with even normal wax, it's time to take your cat for a visit with your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

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Cat Ear Mites vs. Ear Wax - How to Tell the Difference