How can indoor cats get ear mites?

Other associated questions are: “Where do ear mites come from? and how do cats get ear mites?” Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are about the size of a pinhead. Indoor cats get ear mites from another cat or a dog who has access to the outside. Kittens can get them from their mother while in the nest.

Ear mite
Ear mite. A nasty and distressing external parasite. Photo in public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

To the best of my knowledge, they don’t exist or multiply in the home on furniture or carpets. The live in the ear canal and multiple there. They will be brought into the home by an animal. Ear mites very rarely infest humans. Can humans bring them into the home on their clothes or on their person? Well, the information on how indoor cats get ear mites is very poor on the internet and in the books that I have, which surprises me. All the information is about symptoms and treatments. Not much about proactive steps to prevent an infestation.

If humans can rarely get ear mites it stands to reason that a cat owner could (rarely) transmit the parasite to their cat if mites were on them but not in their ears! Ear mites can’t fly or hop so they crawl from one animal to another in the home.

For humans, it might happen when they cuddle their cat. The mites make their way to the ear canal of the animal. Sometimes ear mites migrate from the ear canal to other parts of the cat when the ears are being treated. Both ears are normally infected.

Outdoor cats are prone to getting an infection when playing with another cat or dog outside.

Can cats give ear mites to humans? Yes, rarely. Click the image to read more.

Can cats give ear mites to humans?
Can cats give ear mites to humans? Yes but very, very rarely indeed.

Conclusion

To repeat, my research tells me that ear mites are only acquired when cats and dogs are outside the home. The mites are on grass or other vegetation. The mites crawl from grass to the animal who walks them inside the home and transmits them to other animals by direct contact with them or via their bedding and/or toys.

That said, if all the companion animals in a home remain in the home at all times and don’t have access to a catio or garden enclosure they shouldn’t be infested.

My cat

My cat is an indoor/outdoor cat and he spends most of the night outside. Touch wood, he has never had ear mites.

Symptoms

You probably know the symptoms. As they are very itchy a cat will scratch their ears and shake their heads. They may damage the skin causing a bacterial infection. Check for dark crusty material in the ear canals. And the ears may smell badly.

Discharge from cat ear mites can be foul smelling
Discharge from cat ear mites can be foul smelling. Image: PoC.

If you diagnose ear mites don’t stuff a cotton bud down the ear. If you are unsure, I’d advise booking a vet visit and let them deal with it. But it needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. There is another mite that an also affect cat ears: Demodex cati. Vets diagnose by viewing the parasites under a microscope.

Cornell say: “There are many topical, oral, and systemic agents and most, such as ivermectin, are highly effective”. Amazon sell it. It can be administered by drops into the ear. The entire cat needs to be treated as per vet recommendations because the little devils can occupy other parts of the body. Claws should be clipped to stop damage to the ear canals through scratching.

In the US Nolvamite and Mitaclear are also used.

SOME MORE ON EAR MITES:

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