How to Care for a Healthy Cat: EAR MITES (Otodectes)

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care: MITES (MANGE)

Mange is a general term for infestation with mites. It is not any single disease in itself. The mites discussed here are ear mites, Cheyletiella mites, head mites, and trombiculid mites. Other mite infestations of cats (e.g., Demodex and Sarcoptes) are rare.



Ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, live in the ear canal of cats and dogs and feed on skin debris, blood, and tissue fluids. They are the most common mites that infest cats. Ear mites cause the formation of large amounts of dark black to reddish brown wax in the ear. An infected cat may hold his or her ears in an abnormally flattened manner and shake his or her head or scratch his or her ears with unusual vigor.

EAR MITES (Otodectes)

How to Care for a Healthy Cat: EAR MITES (Otodectes)

If you think your cat has ear mites, remove some of the discharge from the ear canal with a cotton swab. You may be able to see the mites by examining the waxy material in a bright light or by putting it on a piece of black paper. (A magnifying glass may help you.) Live ear mites look like moving white specks about the size of the point of a dressmaker’s pin.


If you have seen mites and there is not much ear discharge, you may be able to treat the condition at home. Do not attempt home treatment unless you have seen the mites. Other ear problems can cause similar discharges and may be complicated by the use of an ear mite preparation.

Treatment consists of cleaning out the ears and instilling insecticide liquid with an eyedropper or dropper bottle. How often this must be done depends on the product used. However, no matter which topical product is selected, the full treatment period must extend over a total of thirty days in order to kill all stages in the mite life cycle. It is also advisable to clean the premises thoroughly and to bathe the cat and apply topical insecticides to the cat’s coat, as ear mites are occasionally found in the fur or in the environment, where they may survive for months. It is important to treat all cats and dogs in the household to avoid reinfestation. Bathe, spray, and/or dip the animals in antiflea preparations once a week for three to four weeks to kill any mites that may be found in the fur. Whether or not you will need to see a veterinarian to obtain an effective ear mite preparation depends on the area in which you live, as some states control over-the- counter sale of insecticides more closely than others. Effective preparations often contain one or more of the following: rotenone, pyrethrins, piperonyl butoxide, thiabendazole, dichlorophene, methoxychlor, or ivermectin. Veterinarians may also administer some injectable drugs to kill the mites.


Cheyletiella are off-white or yellowish large mites that most commonly infest young kittens brought up in dirty environments. They cause a dandrufflike condition and mild signs of itching. This mite can be seen with the naked eye if an infested cat is carefully examined. Control is easily achieved by cleansing with insecticidal shampoo or using insecticidal dips, sprays, or powders (e.g., pyrethrins, carbaryl, lime-sulfur) once a week for three weeks on all animals on the premises. Cheyletiella mites are capable of infesting dogs, foxes, rabbits, and humans as well as cats.

Infection of people with the common “walking dandruff” mite of cats (Cheyletiella blakei) is usually only transient and, if necessary, can be treated with insecticidal shampoos. Premises should be treated with insecticides (see flea control) as a few female mites may live off the host for as long as ten days. If topical treatment is not possible, some veterinarians may administer antimite drugs by injection.