When Scratching Is Not a Good Idea: Ear Mites

Ear mites are extremely contagious between pets that are in contact with each other.

“When the itch is inside the boot, scratching outside provides little consolation” ~ Old Chinese Proverb.

Although ear mites are extremely itchy, they generally do not infect an area that cannot be reached. The problem is that continuously scratching the ear for that bit of consolation may cause a severe secondary bacterial skin infection. The best way to provide any lasting relief for the itch that accompanies ear mites is by actually treating to cure the underlying condition itself.

Ear mites are quite tiny and they resemble microscopic ticks. Rabbits, ferrets, dogs and cats are susceptible to this infection; however, cats are the most commonly infected. Ear mites do not burrow into the skin but derive their sustenance from tissue and ear wax causing discomfort, irritation, and itching. Mites that do burrow into the skin are responsible for causing mange. The life cycle of the ear mites consists of 4 stages:

1st Stage: Eggs from the female are deposited in the ear canal. The female mites generally lay several eggs a day for their entire adult life.

2nd Stage: The eggs hatch and become larvae. The larvae feed for about 4 days then, during the 5th day, they rest as they molt in the nymph phase.

3rd Stage: One stage of nymph (protonymph) molts into the deutonymph after feeding for 4 days. The deutonymph has the ability to begin mating.

4th Stage: The mite at this stage appears white, is mature, and feeds off of skin tissue debris and wax in the ear.

Ear mites are extremely contagious between pets that are in contact with each other. They generally come off one pet and climb onto the other. Fortunately, ear mites do not seem to affect humans although some people may develop rashes.

When an animal has ear mites, they will scratch around and inside the ear as well as shaking their head. The infection produces what has been described as looking like “coffee ground” discharge. This is generally caused from the dried blood and crusts from the mites and debris due to the scratching. Cats that have ear mites sometimes show a scratching movement of the back leg when the ear canal area is rubbed. This reflex is rarely seen in cats that do not have mites. Other symptoms of ear mite infection may include fever, walking in strange patterns such as circles, and loss of balance. A veterinarian is best qualified to make a proper diagnosis.

Eradimite is an OTC treatment for ear mites

Luckily there are many treatment options for animals with ear mites. A product called Eradimite Ear Mite Treatment does not require a prescription and contains pyrethrins that work as an insecticide to kill ear mites. The way to use this product is to apply 10 drops to each ear and massage in well. This treatment is repeated every 2 days until the condition is cleared. Mita-Clear is also over-the-counter, and is extremely effective at killing both adult and larval stages of ear mites. This product comes as a convenient lotion that is generally applied to the affected area after the ear has been cleaned by a separate ear cleaning solution such as the 1800-PetMeds Ear Cleaning Solution. Another treatment which is also applied topically is called Tresaderm which contain thiabendazole. This medication does require a prescription and kills yeas and mites as well as their eggs. Tresaderm also contains an antibiotic to help treat any secondary infection that might have been caused by the constant scratching. Revolution for cats is also a prescription product that may be used for the treatment as well as for the prevention of ear mites. Selamectin, the active ingredient in Revolution, is effective against ear mites as well as heartworms, fleas, roundworms and hookworms.

There are other treatments that may be used for ear mites that your veterinarian may choose to recommend or prescribe. It is extremely important not to make any assumptions about ear mites on your own, and always take your pet to be evaluated by a veterinarian. Even though ear mites seem easy to identify, the discharge could be a sign of a more serious infection. If ear mites are diagnosed in a multi-pet household, all pets will most likely have to be treated to prevent the back and forth spreading of the mites. After treatment is completed, it is also important to take the pet in for a recheck to ensure that the infection has been totally eradicated and to make sure there is no secondary bacterial infection that still remains untreated. Also, don’t hesitate to call your PetMeds pharmacist who is always more than happy to answer any of your medication related questions or concerns.

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  1. I have been treating my dog for ear mites with Happy Jack Mltex for ear mites. How long should it take for this product to work? Also, one of my family members told me to put mineral oil in her (my dog) ear? What do you think about this?

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 5, 2013 at 9:04 am

    I dont think mineral oil will help. I would think that after several days of use with this product you would see some sort of results. may be better to try an approved veterinary product such as topical revolution from 1800petmeds.

  3. A vet tech told me that pyrethrins is toxic to cats. Is this true?

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 6, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Not that I am aware of.

  5. My 6 yr old cat, who doesn’t go outside but she does go out on the patio for fresh air etc. has been scratching on her neck and when being pet she always likes to have her head and ears rubbed. She has been on revolution for two years for fleas etc. I always thought it was ear mites but after reading the blog and your answers I don’t think it is mites after all. She doesn’t scratch IN her ears, When being petted if you put your hand out she will rub her ears so I assumed mites. She is a small mix breed, part northern cat I think because she had a lot of hair in her ears and tufts of fur on her paws. Is there any other issue that would cause her behavior? Thank you.

  6. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 19, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I would not assume ear mites. Could be allergies causing rubbing of ears as well as secondary bacterial or yeast infection. Best to see vet for proper exam and diagnosis. Zymox otic is great product possibly to consider from 1800petmeds.

  7. Someone dumped a pregnant cat near my home days before she gave birth. Since I already have several pets, I have kept mother and babies sequestered and have now found homes for all of them. They are 9 weeks old and and a vet check revealed ear mites. I have treated them with revolution and wonder how long they will be contagious. Their new owners are ready for them, but I don’t want to risk infecting their existing animals. Any advice?

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