This article is educational only. For effective and immediate treatment of ear mites in cats and dogs, consult your vet. 

Unless you had to treat a dog or cat with ear mites, you might not know much about them.

Everyone knows they live in their pets’ ears and are uncomfortable for the animals, but that’s often where their knowledge runs out.

Here’s everything you need to know about ear mites in dogs and cats.

What Are Ear Mites?

Let’s start by answering, ‘What are ear mites?’

Ear mites are tick-like insects that infest your pets’ ears. Unlike ticks, they can be hard to spot without a microscope. The most effective way to confirm your cat or dog has them is by magnifying an earwax sample.

However, you may notice whitish dots in your pets’ ears. A more obvious sign is spotting black discharge emitting from your cat or dog’s ears. Many owners describe it as resembling coffee grounds.

While it’s hard to spot on animals with dark fur, this is usually how pet owners diagnose ear mites at home.

How Do Cats and Dogs Get Ear Mites?

So, that’s what ear mites are, but how do cats and dogs get ear mites in the first place?

Ear mites are arachnids with no qualms about migrating from one animal to another. Try as you might, it can be tricky to spot this happening.

But when talking about how dogs get ear mites, one of the best examples features feline behavior. Although cats are typically diffident, an affectionate one indulges in bunting or headbutting with the people and animals it bonds with.

When a cat with ear mites bunts an uninfected dog, the ear mites leap from one animal to the next. You now have two pets with ear mites.

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Mites?

Another thing you need to know is what to look for when assessing your pet for ear mites.

For instance, when distinguishing between ear mites vs a yeast infection, how can you tell the difference?

The primary difference is in the symptoms. Symptoms of ear mite infestation include:

  • Scratching ears
  • Head shaking
  • Hair loss from over-grooming/scratching
  • Blisters on ears
  • Dark waxy discharge resembling coffee grounds
  • White speck inside ears

Depending on the severity of the ear mites, you may notice bald spots on other parts of your cat or dog, like:

  • Base of tail
  • Under arms
  • On belly

That’s not because the ear mites have spread. It’s because your pet is trying to self-soothe by grooming itself. Ear mites cause stress, and grooming is nature’s remedy for canine or feline anxiety.

So that’s how to recognize ear mites. Here, comparatively, are the symptoms of a yeast infection:

  • Change in skin pigmentation
  • Greasy/oily skin
  • Head shaking/tilting
  • Scratching
  • Drooling
  • Localized alopecia
  • Odor

Notice that while some of the symptoms are similar, there are several symptoms of a yeast infection you won’t see in cases of ear mites.

How Can You Treat Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats?

Once you confirm your dog or cat has ear mites, your next action should be to call the vet. If nothing else, ear mites are contagious and uncomfortable.

If they escalate, the blisters and alopecia can cause secondary infections.

So, how can you treat ear mites?

Licensed vets have many different products they recommend. You can’t treat the egg stage of an ear mite, so you want to kill the adults and larvae as soon as possible. Usually, this involves using an insecticide like Bravecto for dogs.

While safe, many people wonder, can Bracecto kill dogs? This isn’t true, but if you don’t feel comfortable, it’s important to know there are effective alternative treatments.

Whether you apply these daily, topically, or spray inside your pet’s ears depends on the treatment prescribed.

What is the Life Cycle of Mites in Dogs and Cats?

Ear mites have five distinct stages:

  • Eggs
  • Larvae
  • Molts
  • Nymphs
  • Adults

Adult ear mites promptly mate, and if they are female, they lay eggs in dogs’ and cats’ ear canals. Depending on the severity of the infestation, they may spread across a pet’s face. Consequently, you must treat ear mites as soon as you notice the symptoms.

Eggs take four days to hatch, so when untreated, you can end up with a pet riddled with ear mites.

Are Ear Mites Dangerous?

As illnesses go, there are more significant health issues than ear mites in cats and dogs. But they are one of the most uncomfortable.

There is also a chance that blisters and wounds from constraint scratching become infected. When that happens, your pet needs antibiotic care on top of ear mite treatments.

Can Cats Get Ear Mites From Dogs?

Earlier, we discussed how dogs get ear mites. But can cats get ear mites from dogs?

Absolutely. Ear mites are extremely contagious. They are also incredibly unconcerned about whose ears they live in. The notable exception is people. A pet can transmit ear mites to a person, but instances of this happening are rare.

Mites in Dogs vs. Mites in Cats

By now, we have discussed treatment for ear mites and whether dog ear mites are contagious. What we haven’t explored is how cats and dogs experience ear mites differently.

What Are the Similarities?

Let’s start with what cat and dog ear mites have in common.

While cats and dogs experience ear mites differently, they share:

  • Ability to transmit ear mites to the other species
  • A propensity for red, itchy ears
  • Likelihood of developing bacterial/fungal infection due to prolonged ear mite symptoms/exposure

What Are the Differences?

That said, there are some differences between ear mites in dogs and cats.

The primary difference is that feline ear mites are more persistent and resist treatment.

Consequently, there are more treatments for ear mites in dogs than in cats.

But the biggest difference is the medicines themselves. Despite ear mites being toxicologically the same in cats and dogs, vets prescribe different medications depending on the animal that presents with them.

Key Takeaways on Mites

If you want a more in-depth look, check out this surface mites in dogs and cats clinical article.

The crucial thing to remember is that the longer you leave ear mites, the higher the chances of complications like a bacterial or fungal infection.

Not only that, but dogs can get ear mites from cats and vice versa. Immediate treatment helps limit your pets’ exposure to ear mites.

Finally, never try to treat ear mites at home. While many medications exist, the one that’s right for your cat or dog is often species-dependent, so it’s important to consult a vet.

Dr. Erin Downes VMD

Dr. Erin Downes graduated valedictorian from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. She and her husband, Dr. Jay Rowan are the owners of Paoli Vetcare | Main Line Vet & Animal Hospital.