It is important to pay close attention if your cat or kitten starts scratching at his ears. An occasional scratch is not of any particular concern, but if the scratching continues or is incessant, there is likely a problem that needs to be addressed.
In young kittens, ear mites are a relatively common diagnosis. This is especially true if the kitten was a stray or was born to a barn cat or outdoor cat. Ear mites are very tiny, you won’t see them when you look into your kitten’s ears. However, you will see evidence of these pests in the form of dark brown, crumbly “dirt” in the ear canal. Medication must be used to treat the mites, so a trip to your veterinarian is a definite must. Your veterinarian will likely use a swab to take a sample from the ear. Often, just the insertion of the swab into the ear canal will cause your kitten to scratch that ear like crazy – these things are VERY itchy! Often, mineral oil is used on the swab and then your veterinarian or veterinary technician will look at the slide under the microscope. The mites look like ticks moving around on the oily slide. Your kitten will need a thorough ear cleaning and then medications will be sent home, either drops to go into the ears or drops to put on the skin (your vet may apply this in the office) or even an injection of medication. The treatment depends on how old your kitten is and how severe the ear mite infestation is. Other cats or kittens in the household should also be checked for the mites.
Ear infections are not very common in cats, but certainly are possible, especially in cats with allergies. So, in an adult cat with itchy ears, your veterinarian will look for mites to make sure they are not there, but will also likely look for evidence of an infection or irritation within the ear.
Cats that are allowed to continue to scratch at their ears without treatment will often end up with bloody ears or bloody scratches on their heads because they scratch with their back feet. Very few cats have their back feet declawed, so the sharp toenails can often cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time.
If you notice your cat scratching a lot, make sure to call your veterinarian for an appointment as soon as possible.
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Veterinary Technical Services Department