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Common Ear Problems in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Care

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Cats may be experts when it comes to grooming, but your cat’s health and hygiene isn’t limited to her fur and coat. If your kitty is frequently scratching her ears or tilting her head, she could be showing signs of ear problems. 

While many common cat ear problems have similar symptoms, there are still plenty of ways to differentiate between the specific ailments so you can take the proper steps to ease your cat’s discomfort.

Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny, highly contagious parasites that are commonly found in kittens. If your kitty is frequently shaking her head and scratching at her ears, head, and neck, check her ears for evidence of ear mites. If you see something resembling coffee grounds in your cat’s ears, you’ve likely found the culprit.

Of course, a vet will be able to give a proper diagnosis after a thorough examination. While there are over-the-counter treatment options to get rid of ear mites, a vet can clean your cat’s ears and offer prescription medication. If you have multiple cats, make sure they all receive proper treatment to get rid of any potentially lingering pests.


A benign growth in your cat’s middle ear or Eustachian tube is called a polyp. While the growth itself is relatively harmless, the blockage it causes can lead to ear issues.

Depending on the location of the polyp, it can also cause minor breathing issues, such as loud breathing or wheezing, or nasal discharge. Generally, cats with polyps will exhibit similar symptoms as cats with other ear problems: discharge, head tilting, and pawing at the ear. 

Most polyps can be treated with surgery; depending on the success of the surgery, the ear polyp may be eradicated entirely or it may grow back gradually, with repeated surgery later on.

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal Allergies can cause your cat to feel itchy or uncomfortable in various areas on her body, ears included. Depending on the type of allergy, you may also notice other signs such as swelling and redness, sores on the body, or changes in behavior and appetite. 

The best way to identify an allergen—allergies to pests, food allergies, or environmental allergies—is to visit the vet. 

Ear Issues

Outer, middle, and inner ear issues are generally the result of other underlying issues: yeast or bacteria overgrowth; wax buildup; seasonal allergies; polyps; foreign bodies; autoimmune issues; and lack of proper hygiene, to name a few. 

Cats with weak immune systems, seasonal allergies, or other health issues are generally more susceptible to ear problems. Talk to your vet as soon as you notice any signs of ear discomfort, as untreated infections can spread and/or cause further problems.

Other Ear Problems

As your pet goes about her daily life, she’s prone to general wear and tear simply as a result of exposure to the elements. 

Parasites such as fleas or mange can irritate the skin and ears, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on routine pest prevention medications. You may also want to give your kitty a bath using cat-friendly shampoo specifically formulated to soothe the skin. 

It’s also possible for your cat to get foreign bodies in her ear, especially if she frequently goes outside. If you see something in her ear that looks easily accessible, such as a large piece of grass, gently pull it out. If the item is stuck or lodged deeper into her ear, call your vet for assistance to prevent damaging her ear. 

If you have multiple pets in your household, your cat may get into the occasional tussle with her furry counterparts. Even with innocent play, she may end up with bites or scratches on her ears or body. Minor cuts can generally be treated with home remedies, but more serious or non-healing wounds should be looked at by your vet. 

Caring for Your Cat’s Ears

Depending on their grooming abilities, some cats need more help than others when it comes to cleaning their ears. Whether or not your kitty needs an extra hand when accessing her ears, there are certainly benefits to routine ear cleaning together. Not only does this help with cleanliness, it gives you an opportunity to inspect your cat’s ears for any signs of problems.

To start out, make sure you’ve found a quiet, calm environment. Some kitties may feel more secure when wrapped in a towel—after all, snug spaces are comforting for cats. If your cat is reluctant to sit still, take a break and try again later. You want this to be as much of a positive bonding experience as possible. 

Check your pet’s ears for any signs of pests, debris, swelling, discharge, or excess wax. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any abnormal lumps and bumps or scratches, or signs of pain or sensitivity. If you notice any odors coming from your cat’s ear, this could also be a sign of an ear problem. 

Next, clean one ear at a time using a cat-friendly ear cleaner. Gently place a few drops into the ear and massage its base and outside area. Next, use a wipe or cotton ball to gently wipe out any excess cleaner and loosened debris. Be prepared for your cat to do some head shaking! 

Of course, don’t forget to offer your cat plenty of treats and snuggles for a job well done. 

In addition to helping your kitty with her hygiene, it may be helpful to invest in dietary supplements to promote immune health. After all, the stronger the immune system, the faster your cat can experience less ear issues. 

Promote your cat’s ears and overall health with Pet Honesty’s Clean Cat 3-Pack, which includes a dynamic trio to keep your cat feeling clean and healthy: 

  • OTIC Ear Cleaner and Drier 
  • Allergy Itch Relief Shampoo 
  • Digestive Probiotics+