For The Love Of Your Pets: Itchy ears indicate many different problems for cats

Dec. 9, 2010 at 6:09 a.m.

By John Beck

My cat is constantly scratching at his ears. When I try and look in them, they look pretty clean. My neighbor thought it might be ear mites so I bought some medicine from the feed store. I followed the directions on the bottle but right after I stopped the meds, he started scratching again. What could the problem be?

Cats scratch at their ears for a lot of different reasons. They can scratch from a mild-moderate wax build-up, to a severe infection. If your cat is scratching all the time, there is probably more than just wax in his ears. You should take him to the veterinarian to have them looked at.

The simplest problem could be ear wax. Sometimes, ear wax can build up so much in an ear that it causes what we call a wax plug. This wax plug can lodge in the ear canal causing discomfort and partial hearing loss. Ear wash can sometimes dislodge the plug but most of the time, it will have to be taken out by a vet, which sometimes involves anesthesia to hold your pet still.

Another common problem we have in south Texas is bug bites. Mosquitoes are the leading cause of irritation around the cat's ear. The cat appears to have small little scabs around the tips of the ears, along with hair loss. There is a pretty distinctive pattern that your vet can recognize just by looking at your cat's ears. Treating the scabs with ointment will help them heal faster, and rubbing pet-approved mosquito repellant on the tips of the ears, or keeping your cat inside for awhile will help deter the bug bites.

Ear mites are definitely a cause for ear trouble. The veterinarian will look into your cat's ear and take a swab and look at it under the microscope to determine if your cat truly has ear mites. Without a magnifying device you cannot tell whether there are mites in your cat's ear or if it is a yeast infection. Both present with the same symptoms: scratching at ears that might or might not cause hair loss around the ears and a black waxy build-up inside the ears and a foul odor from the ears. If you do have ear mites, you will likely be prescribed a drop to place inside both ears every day for 10 days. Then about a week or two later you will need to repeat the drops every day for 10 more days. If you don't repeat the drops as recommended, your mites will hatch a new batch and your problem will continue.

If an infection is what you're dealing with, a swab taken from your cat's ear will be looked at under the microscope. This swab will tell your vet rather you have a bacterial, yeast, fungal or combination infection. Depending on the type of infection, your vet will prescribe topical, oral or both types of medications to treat most effectively.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me or your local veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at



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