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The Most Common Ear Problems Cats Can Have | VetDERM Clinic

The Most Common Ear Problems Cats Can Have


Has your cat been scratching at their ears a bit more than usual? Do you notice changes in your cat’s ears? If so, your cat may be showing symptoms of one of the common cat ear problems. If you suspect that this is the case, it is time to take your cat to your vet. If your cat’s ear problem is proving too complicated or complex, a cat dermatologist can help you both out.

It’s good to know about the most common ear issues a cat can have as well as understanding what symptoms to look for. It is always a good idea to take your cat to your vet’s office or for an ear examination, if one or more ear problem signs are seen.


If you find your cat showing any of the following symptoms, it is time to see your vet. If the problem keeps comes back or does not resolve with treatment, it is likely time to take your kitty to a vet dermatology clinic for an ear examination.


Common Symptoms of Ear Issues

  • Scratching and pawing excessively at ears and head
  • Sensitivity to the ears upon being touched
  • Tilting of head to one side
  • Shaking of the head frequently
  • Disorientation and balance problems
  • Outer ear and/or ear canal redness
  • Swollen ear flap or ear canal
  • Foul odour
  • Ear discharge that may be black, brown or yellow in colour
  • Excessive brown ear wax
  • Partial or complete hearing loss
  • Ear bleeding
  • Behavioural changes such as depression or irritability

Some Of the Common Cat Ear Problems

Ear Mites:

Ear mites are quite common in young kittens and in cats that spend some time outdoors. Easily passed between cats, ear mites are tiny parasites that can affect the ears and skin around the ears.

You can suspect mites if you see your cat shakes its head and scratches around the ears, head, and neck. If you see a dry dark brown to black ear discharge (described as tiny coffee ground material) in a cats’ ears, it may be due to presence of ear mites. To confirm this diagnosis, a veterinary consultation is advised as other problems can appear similar.

Outer Ear Canal Infections:

This is the most common ear problem as infection can occur in ears due to many medical conditions. Ear infection is general caused by bacteria, or yeast (a fungus), or possibly due to both bacteria and yeast. Bacterial and fungal (yeast) outer ear infections can look like that of mite infestations. A range of other signs can be noted including redness or swelling of ears, any type of ear discharge, a foul odour, etc.


Ear infections in cats should always be confirmed by a veterinarian prior to treatment. Some ears may look infected but may not need the same treatment as the previous ear infection in your cat. Moreover, if an ear infection or problem appears recurrent, even occurring as less as once a year, it is time to find out why your cat is prone to ear infections. Finding the cause of ear problems will prevent more severe problems and complications in the future.


Based on an ear examination, a treatment for ear infection is needed when there is an infection present. A range of ear treatments are available and selecting the correct one for your cat if key in resolving cat ear infections.

Ear Polyp:

Ear polyps are a type of ear mass found in the ears of cats. Usually these masses are less scary than tumours or cancer, as these appear due to inflammation in the ear or surrounding tissues. Thus, these are called ‘inflammatory’ polyps. These are not very common, but can be suspected in cats with recurrent or non-resolving ear infection or ear problems.

In order to diagnose a ear polyp, this mass needs to be seen visually in the ear canal. A video-otoscopic examination by a veterinary dermatologist can definitively tell if an ear polyp is present in a cat ear canal. Large polyps can also be diagnosed by traditional otoscopic ear exams at your family veterinarian clinic.

Treatment for ear polyps is their removal using video-otoscopic procedures. In addition, the cause of this ‘inflammatory’ mass as well as possible infection need to be identified and treated to ensure the mass does not come back. If inflammation persists in the ear canal, a new inflammatory polyp can possibly develop in the future.

Dermatophytosis (Ringworm):

Ringworm (a fungal infection of skin and hairs in cats) does not typically affect the ear canal. This infection may occur at the haired portion of the ear flaps quite commonly, especially in young kittens. Some breeds of cats such as Himalayans and Persians are more likely to be affected by this condition. Hair loss, redness of ear flaps, and itchiness at ears are some symptoms that may be noted along with the typical crusting and flaking of ear skin in cats. Other causes such as skin mites, or an auto-immune condition, like pemphigus, can cause similar signs around ears of cats. Thus, a veterinary exam and diagnosis is always a good idea before trying treatment of skin or ear problems in cats.


Allergies affecting your cat can commonly lead to itchiness in the ears and at the head. Additional symptoms affecting the skin may also be present. Common allergens affecting your cat may include food allergens (fish and milk are some common triggers) as well as environmental allergens (pollen and house dust mites are some common triggers).

Allergies can be a complicated condition and can cause persistent or recurring ear problems in cats. A veterinary exam is a good idea for any cat problems, especially for suspect cat allergies.


If more than one ear infection has been noted in your cat, or if your kitty is continually affected by any of the common cat ear problem symptoms listed above in this blog, a dermatology specialist exam may be a good idea for your feline friend.


If you think your cat may have ear problems, you should seek a consultation and treatment by your vet or your veterinary dermatologist. Your comfortable and happy cat will appreciate the vet visit, even if he or she may not look delighted during the visit!

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to VetDERM Clinic and a clickable link back to this page.



Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.


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