cat scratching ear

Key takeaway

If your cat is frequently scratching its ears, it may be a sign of ear mites, allergies, or infections. Treatment requires appropriate diagnosis from a veterinarian, and involves treating the root cause of itch. 

It’s normal to see your cat scratch at their ears from time to time. We all have itches– even cats. But when your cat keeps scratching their ears, then it might be an indication that something is wrong, and it’s time you take a closer look.

There are many reasons why your cat may be scratching their ears more often than normal. The causes of cat itchy ears can range from allergies to ear mites, so it’s important to bring your cat to the vet as soon as you notice them itching more often so that you can get them checked. Your cat scratching their ears is not something to take lightly. Not only is it painful for your kitty, it could also be a symptom of a more serious health condition.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing the common causes of itchy ears in cats, the symptoms of cat itchy ears, and what you can do to help your cat scratching their ears. To learn more, continue reading the entire article from start to finish, or use the links below to jump to a section of your choice.

Why  is My Cat Scratching Their Ears?

So, your cat is scratching their ears more frequently than normal. What does this mean? Your cat scratching their ears can mean a host of different things. Your cat may be scratching their ears because they’re having an allergic reaction, or they may be scratching their ears because they have ear mites. Regardless of what’s causing your cat’s itchy ears, it’s important to get them treated as quickly as possible, as itchy ears can be quite uncomfortable for your feline friend.

Common Causes of Itchy Ears in Cats

It’s not uncommon for a cat to have itchy ears, but it’s important to know exactly what’s causing it so that you can get them the proper form of treatment. Below, we’ll discuss the most common causes of itchy ears in cats.

potential reasons your cats ears are itchy

Ear Mites

Ear mites are a very common cause of itchy ears in cats. Cat ear mites can be seen by the naked eye, but they’re extremely small, so it’s very hard for an owner to detect them in their cat. Ear mites can reproduce very quickly, so it’s important to get your cat treated as soon as possible if you suspect they have ear mites. They can also be spread from cat to cat, so the sooner they are treated, the less likely they are to spread.

Some symptoms of ear mites in cats include folding their ears back and excessively scratching, shaking their head from side to side, dark, flaky ear wax, and an inflamed outer ear. Your vet will most likely be able to spot the ear mites as soon as you bring them in and will prescribe you with an oral or topical treatment.

Allergies

Allergies are very common in cats, and the reason for your cat scratching their ears might just be because they’re having an allergic reaction. Cats can be allergic to anything from food to environmental factors, but food allergies are most commonly related to itchy ears. An allergic reaction can cause the inside of your cat’s ears to become red and inflamed, which leads to increased moisture and temperature inside the ear, causing yeast and bacteria to grow, and thus leading to your cat scratching their ears. 

cat scratching ear

Some other symptoms of cat allergies include sneezing, itchy eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea. Treating a cat’s allergies ultimately depends on what they’re allergic to. If they have a food allergy, you should remove that ingredient from their diet. There are also cat allergy medications you can give your cat to reduce their symptoms, but be sure to discuss this with your vet beforehand.

Infections

Just like humans, cats can get ear infections, too. Cats are actually fairly susceptible to ear infections because their ears are so sensitive. Cat ear infections are even more common in cats with certain health conditions, such as diabetes and feline leukemia. Symptoms of a cat ear infection include scratching ears, pawing at the ears, shaking the head rapidly, and rubbing ears against furniture. 

cats can be very susceptible to ear infections

Ringworm is another infection that can cause a cat to have itchy ears. Ringworm will typically affect the ear flaps, but not the ear canal. Some other symptoms of ringworm include hair loss and inflamed ear flaps. 

It’s very important to get an ear infection in a cat treated as quickly as possible, as the infection can easily spread and lead to more serious problems, like hearing loss and loss of balance. If you suspect your cat is suffering from an ear infection, bring them to the vet immediately. Your vet will likely prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics to clear up the infection.

Ear Cysts

Cats can develop a condition called feline ceruminous cystomatosis. This condition is characterized by small dark cysts on the skin within the ear canal that produces a dark waxy substance; this leads to a buildup of wax within the ear canal. The waxy buildup can become very itchy and lead to chronic issues and recurrent ear infections. Your vet will help you treat this condition, but it will ultimately require surgery to have the cysts removed, although they can come back in the future.

ringworm will typically affect a cat's ear flaps, not the ear canal

How Do I Tell If My Cat Has Ear Mites?

There are a few key signs that can tell you if your cat has ear mites. If your cat has ear mites, they will excessively shake their head, scratch their ears, and have red and inflamed ears. A cat with ear mites may also produce a black, dry ear discharge that can have a bad smell. The symptoms of a cat scratching their ears with no mites can look similar to the symptoms of a cat with ear mites, so it’s important to bring your cat to the vet so they can get a proper diagnosis. 

Is it Normal for Cats to Scratch Their Ears?

A cat scratching their ears from time to time is completely normal. We all have itches that need to be scratched! But when your cat keeps scratching their ears, or when the ear scratching is accompanied by other symptoms, that’s  when it becomes a problem. If you notice your cat scratching their ears more frequently, you should bring them to the vet so they can get checked.

How Can I Help My Cat With Itchy Ears?

The best way to help your cat with itchy ears is to take them to the vet. Your vet will have the best idea about how to go about treating them depending on the root cause of the issue. When you go to the vet, you’ll want to discuss any symptoms your cat is showing and how frequently they occur. Your vet will then perform a physical exam so they can get a closer look at your cat’s ears.

Cat’s Itchy Ears Treatment Options

Treating your cat’s itchy ears ultimately depends on what’s causing it. The treatment methods for cat ear mites are different from the treatment methods for allergies. When you bring your cat to the vet, they may start by cleaning your cat’s ears or recommend you to clean their ears at home. If you do it yourself, make sure you use a cleaner that’s specifically made for cat’s ears.

If your cat has ear mites, your vet will most likely recommend either spot-on treatments or ear drops. Spot-on treatments can prevent and treat ear mites, and they’re typically the easiest way to treat ear mites and relieve your cat’s symptoms. Ear drops are another treatment method that can reduce and relieve pain and inflammation caused by the ear mites. Your vet will have the best idea of which treatment method is right for your cat.

vet treating cat with itchy ears

If your cat has an ear infection, your vet will treat it with antibiotics, antifungals, or anti-parasites, depending on what the infection is. If the infection has affected the middle of the ear but not the eardrum, then your vet may prescribe oral or injectable antibiotics.

If your cat’s itchy ears are due to allergies, the treatment will depend on what type of allergies they have. Cat allergy symptoms can be treated with antihistamines and decongestants. If your cat has an environmental allergy, you’ll want to reduce their exposure to the allergen. If your cat has a food allergy, you’ll want to eliminate that ingredient from their diet.

Final Notes

If you see your cat scratching their ears more often than normal, don’t just brush it off as nothing. A cat scratching their ears can be a symptom of a variety of different health conditions, which require treatment from a vet. If you need help seeing a vet, you can use Dutch.com.

With Dutch, you can easily make remote appointments with licensed veterinarians and your cat can be seen, diagnosed, and treated  much quicker than if you brought them to a traditional vet. Dutch parents with a network of veterinarians who are licensed to help with a host of pet health conditions. If you need help answering why a cat is pacing, or where to pet a cat, Dutch.com is always here to help. All you have to do is sign up online and you’ll be connected with one of our licensed vets in as little as 24 hours. And if your cat is given a prescription, you’ll get that prescription delivered right to your door within 7 days. Connect with Dutch today and get your kitty the care they need.

References

  1. “Anemia, iron deficiency, and cobalamin deficiency in cats with chronic gastrointestinal disease”, National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33226151/

  2. “Severe anemia in cats with urethral obstruction: 17 cases (2002-2011)” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26748857/

  3. “Hyperthyroidism in Cats—There’s an FDA-Approved Drug to Treat It”, US Food and Drug Administration: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/hyperthyroidism-cats-theres-fda-approved-drug-treat-it