Can Indoor Cats Get Ear Mites?

Of all the parasites that can get to your cat, ear mites are often forgotten about. Indoor cats can get ear mites, but it is very rare. Ear mites are normally transmitted directly between animals so your cat is naturally protected if it is permanently kept indoors.  

However, there are other ways that your cat can get ear mites. Ear mites can live on surfaces for a number of days which means that you have a chance to bring ear mites into the house from the outside. This means that it is normally highly unlikely that your indoor cat will ever get ear mites but its not impossible. Treating your cat for ear mites quickly is important for their health. If left untreated, ear mites can cause permanent hearing loss for your cat. The internet seems a bit divided on how likely indoor only cats are to get ear mites so we have done our own summary of what research actually says can happen.

How can indoor cats get ear mites?

If you have another pet that interacts with pets outside of the household, they are the most likely cause of your indoor cat getting ear mites and they are likely to have ear mites too. Dogs can get ear mites when they interact with other dogs during walks. Ear mite eggs can take four days to hatch so there may be some time between an interaction with an infected animal and you noticing that your cat is infested.

There is a lot of contradicting advice online on whether ear mites can survive on surfaces outside of a host. Research has shown that they can survive on surfaces for a number of days. A 2004 study of ear mites affecting cats recorded ear mites living up to 12 days outside of a host in the right conditions. Ear mites don’t need to feed during this time, but higher temperatures cause them to die quicker. The same study also showed that a sample of ear mites lived for just five days at a temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

This means that you can pick up ear mites on your clothes and skin from other animals outside. Stray cats, dogs, and livestock are potential culprits for this. These mites can then spread through your house when you come home and then find their way into your indoor cat. Unlike fleas, ear mites can’t jump and rely on crawling to get about. This means that it is much more difficult for them to move from surface to surface which makes transferring ear mites more difficult.

How can I tell if my cat has ear mites?

Individual ear mites are just about the smallest thing you can see with a naked eye. They will appear as tiny white specs on the inside of your cat’s ear canal. They stay deeper in the ear for protection and to feed off the oils that are produced. It is normally easier to identify ear mites by the symptoms that they cause.

If your cat has suddenly started constantly scratching their ears and shaking their head, there is a large chance that they have ear mites. You can further confirm ear mites by gently holding their head to look inside of the ear. Signs of an ear mite infestation include swelling, increased wax production, and black discharge. Contact your vet for so they can advise you on the best treatment suitable for your cat. This will most likely be a type of solution that you will need to apply to the inside of your cat’s ear for a couple of days. If something seems wrong with your cat’s ears but you aren’t sure what is happening, you should book an appointment with your vet. Problems with your cat’s ears can lead to hearing loss which can be very stressful for your cat to live with.

Do I need to clean my house if my pets have ear mites?

As we’ve covered, ear mites can live up to 12 days on surfaces outside of an animal. We’ve also covered that ear mites can’t jump like fleas but instead they rely on crawling to move around. Because of this, we would recommend cleaning commonly used items in your house and especially anything that you or your cat put your heads near. The mites will eventually die by themselves in your home without a host. But during this time they have a chance to get back into your cat’s or even your ear.

Ear mites and their eggs can be killed by washing fabrics on your laundry machine’s hottest setting with normal cleaning products. Wash any fabrics like pillows, blankets, and bedding that you and your cat use. If a cat bed or cat tree can’t be washed, you could isolate it in a room for two weeks. The paper we mentioned earlier that when given the best possible conditions, ear mites only lived for 12 days in the wild without a host. Colder temperatures caused mites to die quicker so a garage or garden could make for good storage locations. We would probably also put any recently worn clothes into the wash too to be safe. To be hygienic, you can also wipe down any surfaces that your cat lay’s their head near with a household cleaning spray and warm wash cloth or disposable towel.

Conclusion

Indoor cats can get ear mites, but it is rarer than other parasites and normally happens through animal-to-animal transmission. There is a small chance that a human in the house brought ear mites back on their clothing or skin after closely interacting with an ear mite infested animal outside. These ear mites can then crawl from the surface that they are on and find their way into your cat’s ears where they will multiply and become a problem.

Cats with ear mites may show signs of discomfort in their ears by shaking and scratching their head. You can check the inside of their ears for a sign of ear mites or related symptoms. This includes swelling, oiliness, and black discharge. If your cat does have ear mites, speak to your vet for treatment and you can take the precaution of cleaning your house to prevent another outbreak.