Imagine little bugs munching away and crawling around inside of your ears. The noise alone would be enough to drive you mad. It’s not likely to happen to you, but your pet can get ear mites, which are tiny parasites that set up house in the ear canal. Cats are more likely than dogs to suffer from the nasty bugs, but both can get them. Signs of infestation include scratching at the ears, dark debris in the ears, shaking the head, and red and inflamed ears. Ear mites can also cause a secondary ear infection to take hold. But hear this: Ear mites are easy to treat with medication.


Cats and dogs can both harbor ear mites, but the problem is more common in cats. Ear mites are small parasites that live primarily in the ears. Ear mites sustain themselves by eating skin cells, blood, and earwax. They deposit their waste (a dark, crusty debris) in the ear of the host animal. They also mate and produce eggs in the ear of the host. The mite’s entire life cycle is only about three weeks, and the mite spends its whole life on the animal. Ear mites are contagious between cats and dogs and to some other animals (for example, ferrets), but they are not considered contagious to humans.

Signs and Identification

The most common signs of ear mite infestation include:

  • Shaking/rubbing of the head and ears
  • Dark, crusty debris in the ears
  • Itching/scratching
  • Secondary ear infections
  • Red and inflamed ears
  • Skin wounds and hair loss about the ears and head (from scratching)

Ear mites are microscopic. Examining ear debris under a microscope is the easiest method of diagnosis.

Secondary infection of the ears may also be identified through microscopic evaluation of the ear debris.

Affected Breeds

There is no known breed predisposition when it comes to this parasite.


Fortunately, ear mite infestations are highly treatable. If ear mites have caused a secondary ear infection it should be treated while the ear mite infestation is being treated.

Your veterinarian can prescribe medicated ear drops to kill ear mites. Because ear mites are contagious to other pets, all animals in the household should be treated.


Some spot-on flea and tick preventives are effective against ear mites in cats and dogs. Using these products monthly will control ear mite infestations in animals exposed to them.

Keeping cats and dogs indoors so they are not interacting with community animals carrying these mites is another approach to prevention.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.