Why Are My Cat’s Ears Itching?

If your cat has been constantly scratching her ears or the area around them, you should be concerned. It could be due to mites, infection, or another underlying medical issue. In this article, we discuss some of the reasons your cat’s ears may be itching, and some common remedies for this condition. 

Why are my cat’s ears itching?

Your cat’s ears may be itching because of ear mites or otodectic mange.  These parasites can be contagious and an infestation in one cat can spread to other cats and dogs. The mites thrive in the warm, moist skin of a cat’s ear canal, where they spend their life cycle. When the mites become too numerous, cats tend to scratch a lot, which could cause infection or damage to the ears. 

Signs and symptoms of ear mites

Common signs of ear mites include incessant scratching of the ears. Your cat may also shake her head often or keep her head tilted at a certain angle. A waxy, crusty discharge resembling coffee grounds may also be seen on the inner and outer parts of the ears. 

According to Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinary doctor, the presence of spots like coffee grounds is evidence of ear mites. He further notes that those spots are the blood of mites that are feeding and spilling over. No matter how a cat shakes, scratches or paws, the sensation of itching never ceases. 

How do cats get ear mites?

Ear mites are contagious and cats tend to pick them up from other cats. Eggs are laid and hatch in the ear, and adult mites become mature at roughly three weeks. These adult mites can then breed and add to the infestation. Aside from the ears, the mites could also cause itching on other areas of the cat’s skin. 

What should you do if your cat has ear mites?

Take your cat to the vet for a complete diagnosis, so that she can be properly treated. The vet will check the ears through an otoscope to ascertain and confirm the presence of ear mites. He may also place a sample on a dark background and use a magnifying glass to check for moving white specks.

Ear mites: Treatment   

To treat ear mites, use antiparasitic medications that are available from your veterinarian. Some of these medications provide single-dose applications for quick relief. Clean your cat’s ears thoroughly before applying the medication. Once you have removed the crusty, waxy discharge, apply the medication according to the instructions provided by your vet. If the cat’s ears are inflamed, your vet may recommend certain medications to reduce the swelling and ward off any infection caused by the cat’s repetitive scratching. 

Common ear problems among cats

Allergies 

Food allergies could lead your cat to develop itching around the head or ears. If your cat is suddenly scratching these areas, it could be due to an allergic reaction. Change your cat’s diet to a limited-antigen diet for at least two months to check whether it has a food allergy.

Outer-, inner- or middle-ear infections

Bacterial and fungal infections could result in itching, scratching and head-shaking. There could be a foul discharge, and the ears may become red and swollen. Take your cat to the vet for a thorough checkup so that proper treatment can be given. Middle- and inner-ear infections could also develop as a result of an outer-ear infection that  has moved deeper into the ears. 

Common symptoms of middle- and inner-ear infections include head-shaking, rubbing at the ears, lethargy, decreased appetite, squinting, raised third eyelid, head tilt, abnormal eye movement, unequal pupil sizes, and poor hearing. 

These infections are usually diagnosed with the help of a physical exam and an ear exam, X-rays and CT scans of affected areas. Treatment may include systemic antibiotics, topical medicine or surgery. 

Polyps 

Polyps are non-cancerous growths in a cat’s middle ear or eustachian tube. They could lead to middle ear infections. To diagnose these polyps, a vet may have to anesthetize the cat for a thorough examination of the ears and nasopharynx, and may also need to take X-rays. Surgery is often advised to remove the polyps. 

Foreign bodies 

Cats that have access to the outdoors could get bits of grass or other foreign bodies in their ears. They may shake their heads or paw at their ears in an attempt to get them out. If you can see a piece of grass in your cat’s ear, gently pull it out with a pair of tweezers. Consult your vet if you are uncertain about how to handle the situation. Your vet may have to sedate your cat to dislodge the foreign body and examine the ears for damage, and to prescribe medication. 

Conclusion 

Ear mites may be causing your cat to shake her head incessantly and scratch or twitch her ears. These mites are parasites that thrive in the moist, warm area of a cat’s ear canal. They are very contagious and the infestation can be passed to other cats, as well as dogs. Other causes of ear itching are allergies, foreign bodies, polyps, and ear infections.

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