Why Do Cats Scratch Their Ears?

Cats scratch their ears until they bleed, if they are incredibly itchy and irritated. However, aggressive scratching with sharp, dirty claws only complicates matters. That’s why you need to find out why your cat always craves the urge to scratch his ears.

When cats scratch their ears, it can be for a variety of reasons. Infections and mites are the most common reasons for itchy and bleeding cat ears. Other causes include allergies, high blood pressure, foreign bodies, inflammation from the sun, and insect bites.

If your cat scratches his ears so severely that he bleeds, you first need to clean the wound.

Allowing the ear to bleed unchecked will increase the risk of infection. So you should find out what is causing the problem.

Why Do Cats Scratch Their Ears So Often?

To do something about your cat scratching his ears, you first need to find out why he is doing it. There are a few possible explanations for this.

Ear Infections

Ear infections in cats come in three forms:

  • Ear canal infection (otitis externa)
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media)
  • Inner ear infection (otitis interna, labyrinthitis)

Usually, bacteria cause infections of the middle or inner ear. Regardless of where the infection is located, scratching the ears is the most common symptom of inflammation.

Other warning signs of ear infection include:

  • Hot, red ears
  • Shaking the head
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Lack of balance
  • Drooling from the side of the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of depth perception
  • Foul odor from the ear
  • Discharge from the ear

Ear infections usually result from the presence of too much ear wax.

This attracts ear mites that feed on this wax. These ear mites can lead to a condition called ear mange.

The ear wax can also lead to bacterial or fungal infections, sometimes called yeast infections.

Ear Mites

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are one of the most common parasites that infest cats. These ear mites feed on the wax in the cat’s ears.

They bite the soft skin in the cat’s ears, causing irritation and constant scratching. In addition, ear mites are often associated with bacterial infections in the cat’s inner ear.

Ear mites are removed with a topical preparation. Treatment that protects cats from fleas and ticks is effective.

Cleaning your cat’s ears regularly will remove earwax. This will make your cat’s ears less susceptible to mites.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Bacterial or fungal infections do not occur by chance. They are a secondary symptom of an existing problem. In most cases, this is due to ear mites.

If you have noticed a mite infestation in your cat’s ear, you should focus on eliminating the infection.

This is usually done with a dual-drug approach. The veterinarian will likely prescribe ear drops and oral antibiotics.

An ear infection can take up to 8 weeks to clear completely. However, the prognosis is good.

After treatment, most cats recover entirely. There are usually no permanent problems.

However, untreated bacterial infections can cause Horner’s syndrome. This is a disorder that attacks the cat’s nervous system. Horner’s syndrome will resolve itself over time.


When a cat has an allergy, it causes dry, itchy skin. This itching is almost constant, with the head and ears often affected.

You can perform tests to determine the cause of your cat’s allergies. Unfortunately, these tests are often inconclusive and unreliable.

You may need a trial-and-error approach, ruling out one potential trigger after another.

Food is the most likely trigger for allergy in cats.

If you recently changed your cat’s food, you should return to the previous food your cat ate.

If not, put your cat on a gentle diet for 1-2 days.

Atopic Dermatitis

The resulting skin inflammation is called atopic dermatitis. It is also referred to as neurodermatitis.

Common allergic triggers in cats are:

  • House dust mites
  • smoke
  • fabric softener
  • perfume
  • air fresheners

There is no cure for cat allergies. All you can do is avoid contact with the allergen.

In the short term, you can relieve the itching in your cat’s ears with a topical solution. This will prevent the cat from scratching his ears so much that they bleed.

The following ingredients relieve itchy cat skin:

  • Aloe vera
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint
  • Pennyroyal or Polei mint

Do not get any of these ingredients in your cat’s ear, as this might lead to infection. Apply directly to the inflamed outer skin with a cotton ball.

Inward Growing Fur

Sometimes, itchy cat ears are caused by fur.

The inside of a cat’s ears is smooth and hairless. However, the fur of a long-haired cat, in particular, overgrows.

This can cause the hair to grow inward and tickle the ear.

This causes irritation of the ears, so your cat scratches the ears for temporary relief.

This, of course, does not remove the hair, and the cat continues to scratch without really providing relief.

So trim the overgrown hair around the cat’s ears carefully.

Trauma and Wound Healing

The most common explanation for an inner ear wound is a conflict with other cats. Cats can also injure their ears from falls and collisions while exploring the outside world.

If your cat comes home with an ear wound, focus on cleaning and sterilizing the injured area. Make sure the wound is not swollen, as this indicates infection.

If a cat has a cut or wound in the ear, it will slowly heal itself. However, the skin will start to itch as it heals.

If the cat scratches in this area, there is a risk that the wound will tear open again. It would help if you prevented your cat from scratching its ears with a neck brace.

If this is not possible, cover the ear until the itching subsides.

Insect Bites

If your cat is outdoors, it may be stung by insects, causing itching. Bees, wasps, horseflies, mosquitoes, and ants are the most likely culprits.

However, cats can also be bothered by stinging nettles. Since cats live low to the ground, they can brush past a stinging nettle at ear level.

Relieve the Itching from Stings

Bee stings remain in your cat’s ear. But don’t remove them with tweezers, or you’ll crush the stinger and pump more venom into the cat’s ear.

Better scrape the stinger away with a flat piece of plastic. Apply baking soda to the sting site to neutralize the acid from the sting.

Wasp stings do not stay in place. Therefore, dab a mixture of water and vinegar on your cat’s ear to soothe it.

An ice pack can relieve swelling and itching from an insect bite.

Nettles leave tiny needles in your cat’s ear. This causes constant itching and discomfort. Wash your cat’s ear gently with soapy water and reduce the swelling using an ice pack.

Sun Damage

Cats, especially those with light-colored coats, can suffer from UV radiation from the sun. The sun can then cause inflammation of the skin.

Cats can also be prone to sunburn. Cats will then scratch their ears to relieve this sensation. Since sunburn dries out the skin, bleeding is more likely to occur.

If your cat spends time outdoors, limit their time outdoors during the hottest months of the year, even though cats usually love the sun.

Let your cat roam freely in the early morning and late afternoon. The sun is usually hottest between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.

As another precaution, you can apply sunscreen to your cat’s ears.

Use a brand that does not contain fragrances or perfumes. The SPF should be in the 15-30 range.

Foreign Bodies

Foreign bodies can irritate the ear. Look inside your cat’s ear with a small flashlight.

The foreign body may be as small and harmless as a grass, dirt, or grit blade.

It is also possible for insects to crawl into a cat’s ear and cause a reaction similar to mites. Cats sense an insect crawling around and scratch their ears to remove it.

If you manage to spot an object, remove it with tweezers. A second pair of hands might be helpful, as the cat will likely wriggle and struggle to free itself from your grasp.

For their safety, hold the cat tightly. If you can’t see anything in your cat’s ear, don’t poke it, or you will cause further irritation and damage.

A veterinarian can usually remove a trapped foreign body with ear irrigation. This involves flushing the cat’s ear with light water pressure.


Older cats are at higher risk for hypertension or high blood pressure. There is also a link between hypertension, hyperthyroidism, and kidney failure.

When a cat suffers from hypertension, blood flows more into its head, which manifests as throbbing in its ears.
This can lead to an itchy, tickling sensation.

High blood pressure in cats can also be triggered by stress. Cats scratch and preen more when they feel anxious.

A veterinarian can prescribe medication for high blood pressure in cats if needed.


Polyps are small tissue growths in a cat’s ear.

They usually develop in the cat’s throat and then move into the ear. Although they are not harmful, polyps can be bothersome to cats.

They can feel the polyp in their ear, affecting their hearing. Polyps can also cause wax buildup and affect balance.

Cats will also scratch their ears to remove this growth.


If your cat is overweight, they are at increased risk for diabetes. This disease has several symptoms, including itchy skin.

Other warning signs that your cat may have diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss despite increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Sticky and greasy coat
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting

Itchy ears due to diabetes are troublesome for cats. However, diabetes has other, more severe effects.

It would be best if you reduced your cat’s weight. After consulting a veterinarian, you should also give her daily medication and closely monitor her blood sugar levels.