scabs on cat's ears and head
Cat Health and Wellness

Cat Scratching Ears Until They Bleed?

Cats often scratch their ears until they bleed when they are unable to resolve the underlying cause of the problem. Your cat drawing blood through aggressive scratching is a clear warning sign of a health issue that should not be ignored by a pet owner. It is very unlikely to go away on its own.

Why do cats scratch their ears until they bleed? Ailments such as ear infections, fungus, mites, fleas, allergies, and wounds from fighting are common reasons for irritation. Check to make sure that nothing has become lodged in your cat’s ear. Also, the growth of a tumor on or within the ear could be the culprit.

We will look at the most common causes of ear bleeding and detail the primary symptoms. Knowing what to look out for enables you to take steps to get your cat the medical treatment it urgently needs.

Feline Ear Structure and Function

Ears and their structure and function are fundamental to all living creatures, but the ears of a cat are quite remarkable. This fact, among many others, is why it is so vital to protect your cat’s ears as much as possible.

Highly sensitive to sound, cats can hear sound frequency (above and below) better than humans and most dogs. Regarded as a vital organ of not only hearing but also balance, the ears are in many ways the foundation for a cat’s physical abilities.

Consisting of the outer, middle, and inner each portion serves a critical role.

  • The pinna (the visible outer area) is shaped to receive sound and transfer it through the ear canal and directly to the eardrum. The pinna can move in an independent fashion of each other thus making the transfer of sound better than that of humans. With a deeper ear canal, cats can detect many things that likely go unnoticed by humans. Although a deeper canal can lead to a buildup of dirt, wax, and foreign bodies, a cat’s ability to hear at an extraordinary level is one of its finest qualities.
  • The middle ear is where the eardrum, hammer, anvil, and stirrup are located. Within the middle ear are also two critical muscles that connect the middle ear to the back portion of the nose. This connection allows air to be transferred to the middle ear.
  • Fundamental to proper hearing and balance, the inner ear includes the cochlea and the vestibular system. It is due to this system (impeccable balancing organ) that cats can fall from various heights and positions and land on their feet. The complexity of the inner ear is the cornerstone for what separates a cat from so many animals and gives cats their amazing hearing and balancing talents.

Why Do Cats Scratch Their Ears Until They Bleed?

Cats scratch in this manner due to a problem that has yet to be resolved. Because cats are unable to pull the ear (like humans with thumbs) and are unable to lick the area, scratching is the only reasonable solution.

In most cases, the blood does not signify the cause of the problem but rather the lengths that your cat has gone to rectify the issue. If your cat is producing blood, it is reasonable to conclude that something is irritating or causing your cat pain.

Middle and Inner Ear Infection

Infections of the middle and inner ear, primarily caused by bacteria, can prompt a host of symptoms. These symptoms, as well as your cat’s reaction to the symptoms, usually depends on the location of the infection. It is possible for both ears to become infected in some cases.

Notable signs…

  • Head shaking
  • Rubbing the ears (with paws)
  • Head dramatically tiled to one side
  • Lethargy
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Facial drooping
  • Squinting
  • Change in pupil size (one eye different than the other)
  • Poor hearing
  • Trouble walking (lack of a secured balance)

Your veterinarian will be able to properly diagnose a middle or inner ear infection through recognizing symptoms and conducting a physical exam. Tests such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can also confirm a problem.

In most cases, antibiotics can treat the issue, but surgery can be an option depending on the severity of the situation.

cat scratching ear and shaking head

Mites

You’ll often find that mites live around the ears of a cat. They common and can promote an issue for both feline and owner alike. Often passed from cat-to-cat, mites are typically diagnosed in the early stages of a cat’s life.

White in color (when living) mites are tiny and can often be missed by the naked eye. The presence of what looks like coffee grounds inside your cat’s ear is usually a sign of this parasite. Your vet can confirm his diagnosis by looking at ear samples under a microscope.

While a one-time application of an OTC medication can remedy the problem, it is vital to have your other cats examined. All cats must receive treatment even if no signs and symptoms are present.

Mange

Mange mites often reside on the head and ears of a cat. Quite aggressive, mange can drive your cat to rip out fur (and even skin) as a means to remedy the issue. Self-mutilation is often what sets mange apart from mites. In severe cases, cats can die from illness caused by their aggressive behaviors.

Similar to the diagnosis of mites, your vet will have to inspect a sample under a microscope to make a final diagnosis. This condition is quite urgent, and the sooner it is treated, the faster your cat will heal.

Feline sarcoptic mange, notedric mange, and demodectic mange are the three core types. Generally speaking, notedric mange is the most common among cats. However, it should be noted that mange is rarely diagnosed in cats and primarily affects dogs.

Notable symptoms in cats include…

  • Restlessness
  • Aggressive scratching
  • Hair loss (self-mutilation as noted…)

While mostly confined to the head and face, mange can spread over the entire body.

It should also be stated that some types of mange can be contagious and infect humans. Large red bumps (mosquito bite in appearance) can form and cause a great deal of discomfort.

Although mites are unable to spread and complete their life cycle without their original host (your cat), the existence of mite bites can be uncomfortable and worrisome.

  • Cats that are malnourished or have an already compromised immune system are more susceptible to mange.

Fleas

Although fleas can become commonplace to some degree, an infestation can pose harm to your cats. Similar to mange from a behavioral standpoint, cats will often self-harm as a means to cope with the itch, leading to overly hot ears. The constant biting of the head and ears can cause your cat pain.

If you spot fleas on your cat and begin to notice blood and black scabs along the ears, it is vital to consult a professional. While this condition can be managed, it can quickly spiral out of control if not dealt with accordingly.

  • Fleas can overrun your home in extreme cases. Your vet can advise you on a series of home spray products to eliminate the issue.

Common ways to treat your home for fleas…

One female flea can produce as many as 50 eggs per day. If your cat has been diagnosed with a flea infestation, there is a strong likelihood that your home has been transformed into a breeding ground. Hiding in your sofa, rug, couch, etc., flea’s eggs can hatch and make an existing problem become a nightmare in a matter of hours.

  • Vacuuming your home and cleaning your carpets (daily) can help to suck up eggs before they hatch. By completing this task and promptly throwing away or thoroughly washing and cleaning the vacuum bag, you can kill most of the infestation.
  • Every 5-7 days, it is vital to wash bedding, sofa covers, and any other washable fabrics in your home. Through the use of hot water, you can kill any fleas that are present while cleaning your fabrics thoroughly.

You can prevent a future flea outbreak by providing your cat with a flea treatment or medication. Consult with your vet and ask which products would work best for your cat and its unique situation.

cat ear hematoma

Allergies

Similar to human allergies, feline’s will scratch themselves constantly if an allergy-related issue arises. Often caused by food, the harsh itch is usually found around the head and ears.

While detecting an allergy can be difficult, switching foods could provide a clue. Providing your cat with nothing but water (for a short time) could also help you to determine if the scratching is the result of an allergic reaction to food.

  • Quality hypoallergenic foods can be introduced by your vet. A dietary change could be beneficial.

Damage from Sun Exposure

Inflammation caused by the sun can impact the tips of the ears and cause pain. Primarily affecting cats with lighter-colored ears, sun damage can cause ears to become pink, develop a rough texture, and eventually crust over in severe cases. Either through scratching or the natural flaking away of the scab, bleeding can occur.

If sun damage of this nature is left untreated, the area can become cancerous. Surgery to remove the tips of the ears is often the most common treatment at this stage.

Advice for keeping your cat secure…

  • Avoid long-term daily exposure during the hottest period of the day.
  • Apply a special sunblock to your cat’s ears and nose.

Fight Wounds

Cats that primarily reside outdoors can fall victim to ear damage caused by fighting. Biting and scratching from other cats (or other animals) can cause cuts and punctures. This situation can become severe if an infection sets in.

While most wounds are minor and will heal without issue, it is always important to monitor the healing process. Deeper wounds that fail to heal or become worse should be treated immediately.

  • If your cat fights with a neighboring cat (or vice versa), it is crucial that you put an end to it. It is common for outdoor cats (within a neighborhood) to mingle in various yards and form an association. While many cats can get along just fine, there will always be an aggressive type. If your cat is constantly fighting with the same cat, some degree of separation may be necessary. Although it is natural to want your cat to run, play, and receive proper exercise, placing your cat in the line of fire can be consequential.
  • When dealing with fight wounds, another thing to consider is the age of your cat. While you should never let your cat tangle with other cats, a senior cat should never be placed in that position. If your cat is 11+ years or older (most notably 15 or older), you should never place them in danger. Cuts and abrasions to a senior cat could prove fatal. With a weakened immune system and reduced mobility due to joint pain and arthritis, a senior cat should never be placed in a position to potentially sustain fight wounds.

Ear Mass (Tumor)

More common in older felines, tumors can develop under the skin within the ear canal. Often beginning as benign polyps, they can turn malignant if left unnoticed and untreated.

Primarily appearing in tiny clusters, tumors of this nature can display a secondary infection or illness. It is through this symptom that a problem is often initially noticed.

Through a detailed vet examination and necessary biopsies, a complete diagnosis can be made. With this diagnosis will come the proper treatment options. In some cases, a surgical procedure for tumor removal will be required.

  • Make it a priority to feel your cat’s ears while petting him or her. It is often during petting sessions that lumps, masses, and other skin and body issues can be identified.

Yeast Infection

Similar to an ear mite concern from a visual standpoint, a yeast infection can have many of the same symptoms (head shaking, aggressive scratching, etc.)  But, through a more detailed examination, you may be able to notice the differences.

Yeast infections can cause your cat’s ears to become very red and swollen. This is often not the case (or at least to a lesser degree) with a mite issue. Additionally, the discharge that can be the hallmark of a yeast infection can have a slightly unpleasant odor.

Getting to the genesis of the infection is critical. Once the bacteria have been identified, a treatment plan can be formulated. Ear cleaners, topical medications, oral medications, and pain relievers are common.

Foreign Object

If your cat spends ample time in the great outdoors, it will naturally be more susceptible to foreign objects becoming stuck in the ears. Signs include random shaking of the heading and pawing at the ears. This behavior is similar to an itch that cannot be satisfied.

You need to be alert to these symptoms. If you can see an object within the ear, you should attempt to pull it out carefully. Something such as grass should be able to slide out without issue. However, if the removal attempt is met with resistance, you should stop immediately.

Many times, the removal of a large foreign body will require a brief period of sedation. However, unless damage has been done to the structure of the inner and middle ear, no consequences should occur. Medication may be prescribed to ensure healing.

how to keep a cat from scratching a wound

What is Ear Dermatitis?

Inflammation of the ear, primarily of the external nature, is what is classified as ear dermatitis. Infections, physical trauma, and allergy issues are the leading causes of this ailment.

If left untreated, ear dermatitis can lead to inner ear damage and cause severe pain and inflammation. This can, in rare cases, lead to hearing loss.

Aggressive scratching (bleeding) of an ear afflicted with dermatitis can lead to a cauliflower ear. This is the result of ruptured blood vessels within the ear. The swelling caused by this action can cause the ear to become noticeably deformed.

  • The swollen blood-filled area that forms following a rupture of blood vessels is known as a hematoma. Cauliflower ears can be the byproduct of a scarring left by the existence (and treatment) of a hematoma.

Treatment Options for Ear Bleeding

Home remedies and immediate care options for ear bleeding involve applying direct pressure to the area.

The application of gauze can be used if the scratched area is visible and easy to dress.

  • Use latex gloves when treating your cat. This will prevent blood from coming in contact with your hands.
  • If the scratched area is minor and your cat is not exhibiting any signs of concern, you may wish to clip your cat’s nails. This will prevent further scratching and irritation. This should be done very gently and with great care.
  • These recommendations are for non-serious ailments, such as standard cuts and abrasions.

When Should You Consult a Vet?

Vet care is crucial when a diagnosis is needed. Unless you witnessed your cat cut its ear through a minor event, the issue of uncertainty needs to be addressed through professional care.

If your cat’s ear is bleeding, the scratching is chronic, and illness is an issue you should consult a vet.

  • Financial concerns often play a role in vet care. Not everyone can afford to take their cat to the vet, so they feel compelled to hope for the best. This is understandable. However, arrangements can often be made to accommodate your situation. Payment plans can be structured, and generic medications can be given to soften the financial blow.

Bleeding ears should be taken seriously. Scratching is often a natural reaction to the problem rather than the underlying cause. If your cat is aggressively scratching until blood is drawn, you should take that as a sign of a severe medical issue.

Missing fur, tears to the skin, signs of swelling, and the appearance of numerous scabs should never be ignored. Most causes of ear bleeding can be easily diagnosed and treated. It all starts with alertness and taking action when it’s clear that something is wrong.