Ear mites are tiny parasitic mites that infest the ear canal of pets, causing itching, scratching, and irritation. They are contagious and spread between pets in close contact. Pets often groom one another, transferring ear mites from their ears to each other and to bedding, clothing, and furnishings.
The mites can survive for days on soft surfaces, such as pillows and upholstered furniture, but they will die in hot water or after being exposed to an antiparasitic treatment, such as drops or a shampoo, that kills them. They are also killed by a number of common household products, such as insecticide sprays and rubbing alcohol.
Infected cats typically have dark discharge from their ears and scratch their heads a lot, which can lead to scabs and crusty or flaky material in their ears. Your vet will examine your cat's ears to determine whether or not ear mites are present and recommend treatment with a medication that kills the mites and alleviates your pet's symptoms.
The vet may also prescribe treatment for the rest of the family pets to prevent re-infection, and instructions for cleaning the house will be provided. This usually involves washing all linens and stuffed toys in hot water, vacuuming all carpets and upholstery, and spraying the house with an insecticide. Ideally, the infected animal should be isolated from other pets until they are free of ear mites, which can take 10-14 days for most animals to show signs of having them.