One of the abilities cat owners wish their fur babies had whenever they don’t feel well, is the ability to talk. It would make addressing a cat’s health problem much quicker if your cat could just tell you what part of his body hurts and how long it has been hurting and how much it hurts. Unfortunately, the burden is on the owner to discern when their cat is going through an illness.
One of the telltale signs that a cat has a problem with their ears is when they can’t seem to stop shaking their heads. Multiple things can cause this odd behavior. It can be as benign as a small scratch somewhere around the inside of an ear, or it can be as serious as a deep infection or a tumor.
Why do cats keep shaking their heads?
The most common reason why cats shake their heads is that something is bothering them in their ears.
To be clear, the occasional head shake from your cat is fine and normal. They usually do this after they have been lying down for a certain period of time, as well as after running around and climbing furniture. They shake their heads to realign the fluids in their ears for equilibrium and help with their balance.
When they do it excessively, it most probably means that there is something that is bothering them about their ears. Ear infections are a painful and uncomfortable experience for cats.
One of the most common causes of cat ear infections are ear mites.
Possible causes of excessive cat head shaking without mites
In case you have been able to eliminate ear mites as a possible cause, your cats ear issues may be caused by one of the following:
1. Injury sustained during a fight
More common to outdoor cats, scratches and small abrasions in a cat’s ear can be caused by getting attacked or bitten by another cat or another animal. The wound is painful so your cat instinctually will shake his head whenever the pain starts.
Cats are fiercely territorial so it is not that uncommon for them to get into a tussle with creatures they deem as intruders. Since cat ears are exposed and quite delicate, they take damage easily.
Make sure to clean the small wounds and the surrounding area so that it heals and your kitty can recover quickly.
If you find larger or deeper wounds, it is best to take the cat to the vet for professional care, because antibiotics may need to be given to avoid risking infection.
2. Infections in the outer ear
Outer ear infections can be mistaken for ear mites because at first glance they are indistinguishable. But if you take a closer look you notice the difference.
Ear infections cause redness and inflammation in the affected area. There can be a foul-smelling discharge. You may not always see it, but if it stinks, it is there.
Take your cat for a consultation with their vet. They will swab the ear for a sample to determine the bacteria or yeast responsible for the infection. They will clean the infected area and prescribe the appropriate medication to clear the infection right up.
3. Infections in the middle and inner ear
Infections in the middle and inner ear start from the outer ear. Usually it is an untreated outer ear infection that travels inwardly into the middle and inner ear. These infections are a lot more serious than those in the outer ear because of the sensitive inner tissue needed for hearing. If left untreated, this can cause the cat to become deaf.
Aside from constant head shaking and pawing at the ears, other symptoms to spot are:
- Tilting their head
- Difficulty keeping their balance
- Blinking and squinting more than usual
- Loss of appetite
The cat needs to be taken to the vet as soon as you suspect a deep ear infection. Tests will need to be done to assess the level of infection and plan out the most effective treatment.
4. Aural hematoma
An aural hematoma develops when a blood vessel is damaged resulting in a blood-filled swelling in the cat’s earflap. This damage in the blood vessel may be caused by the cat scratching their ear, shaking their head too much, an ear mite infection, or a skin problem.
The hematoma on the earflap may be a cause for annoyance for the cat and that is why he is shaking his head.
Take your cat to the vet to get the hematoma drained, do not wait for it to heal on its own, especially large ones, because they will cause the ear skin to harden.
Atopic dermatitis is a condition where the skin on a cat’s body has an allergic reaction to something in the environment, such as grass, pollen, molds, or dust. It is possible that the reason your cat is shaking his head is because he has come into contact with an allergen that caused his skin to become red and itchy.
Some cats are allergic to cat food, so consider that a possibility as well. Did you change your cat’s food recently? You can correct this by switching to hypoallergenic cat food.
It can be difficult to be certain that the head shaking is caused by an allergy, but if all the other causes have been ruled out, this is the most likely culprit.
6. Foreign body
An object stuck in your cat’s ear can cause irritation and a possible infection. Since cats’ ears stick up straight, it is quite easy for small things such as grass, dirt, small stones, and little bugs can make their way in there.
If your cat is shaking his head, take a flashlight and have a look inside your cat’s ear. It is not advised, though, to do the poking and prodding to get the object out yourself. Always seek the help of a professional, because the inside of a cat’s ear is very delicate. You just might end up causing more harm than good.
7. A lump or growth
Nasopharyngeal polyps are pinkish, benign, growths that can appear in the Eustachian tube of a cat’s ear. Not much is known about what causes these polyps to develop, but they have been connected to middle ear infections.
Your cat will shake their head and paw at their ear, and the vet will see the growth during the examination.
Your cat may need to undergo a surgical procedure to remove the polyps. No need to worry because it is a quick and simple procedure.
What should I do if my cat keeps shaking their head but not because of ear mites?
Your cat’s natural response to an ear infection is to paw at their ears or to shake their heads. An ear infection not caused by ear mites is most probably due to an outer, middle, or inner ear infection. It can also be due to an allergic reaction or an injury from a fight. It is also possible that a foreign object found its way inside the cat’s ear, or it can be due to an aural hematoma or a growth in the ear canal.
Either way, whatever the cause of the irritation or infection, bring your cat to the vet so they can perform the proper procedures that need to be done and give the medication that needs to be given.
Image: istockphoto.com / Abril Lujan