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

Why Is My Cat Scratching Its Ears Until They Bleed?

Cats scratch their ears until they bleed due to extreme itchiness and irritation. Aggressive scratching with sharp, dirty claws is only likely to complicate matters further. That’s why you must identify why your cat feels the compulsion to scratch its ears almost constantly.

Infections and mites are the most common reasons for itchy and bleeding cat ears. Other explanations include allergies, hypertension, trapped objects, inflammation from the sun, and insect stings.

If your cat is scratching ears to the point of bleeding, you need to start by cleaning up the wound. Allowing the ear to bleed freely increases the risk of infections, so you’ll need to determine what’s causing the problem.

Why Do Cats Scratch Their Ears So Much?

Once the loss of blood has been addressed, you should focus on understanding why your cat is scratching its ears. Explanations include:

Ear Infections

Feline ear infections come in three forms:

Otitis externa:An infection of the outer ear
Otitis media:An infection of the middle ear
Otitis interna:An infection of the inner ear

Bacteria usually cause infections to the middle or inner ear. Wherever the infection is located, scratching of the ears is the primary symptom. Other warning signs of an ear infection include:

  • Hot, red ears
  • Shaking of the head
  • Tilting 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 start due to the presence of ear wax. This invites ear mites, which feed on this wax. The wax can also lead to bacterial or fungal infections, sometimes referred to as yeast infections.

Mites

Ear mites (otodectes cynotis) are among the most common parasites to affect cats. Ear mites feed on the wax in a cat’s ears. In doing so, the soft skin in a cat’s ears will be bitten, leading to irritation and constant scratching. Also, ear mites are often linked to bacterial infections in a cat’s inner ear.

Ear mites are removed using a topical remedy. A treatment that protects cats against fleas and ticks will work. So, Parasitology Research recommends using a treatment comprised of 10% imidacloprid and 1% moxidectin. Popular brands, such as Advocate or Advantage, will also meet these criteria.

If you clean your cat’s ears regularly, you will remove wax. This makes your cat’s ears less hospitable to mites.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

According to Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, bacterial or yeast infections do not arise organically. They are a secondary symptom of an existing issue. Most of this time, this will be due to ear mites.

If you have resolved a mite infestation in your cat’s ear, focus on eliminating the infection. This is usually achieved with a dual drug approach. A vet will prescribe ear drops and oral antibiotics.

It can take up to 8 weeks for an ear infection to be fully resolved. The prognosis is good, though. Following treatment, most cats make a full recovery and experience no permanent issues.

The Journal of the American Medical Association explains that untreated bacterial infections can cause Horner’s syndrome. This is a disorder that attacks a cat’s nervous system. Horner’s syndrome will correct itself in time.

cat ear hematoma

Allergies

If a cat has an allergy, it will lead to dry, itchy skin. Veterinary Dermatology refers to this as hypersensitivity dermatitis. This itching will be near-constant, with the head and ears commonly impacted.

You can run tests to determine the cause of a cat’s allergies. Unfortunately, tests are often inconclusive and unreliable. You may need to undertake a trial and error approach, removing potential triggers one by one.

Food is the likeliest trigger for an allergy in cats. If you have recently changed your cat’s food, revert to what your cat was previously eating. If not, put your cat on a bland diet for 1-2 days.

Atopic Dermatitis

The Canadian Veterinary Journal refers to the skin inflammation caused by this as atopic dermatitis. It is also known as non-flea non-food allergic dermatitis. Common allergies in cats include:

  • Dust mites
  • Smoke
  • Fabric softener
  • Perfume or cologne
  • Air fresheners

There is no cure for feline allergies, so all you can do is remove exposure to the allergen. In the short term, you can soothe the itching within your cat’s ears with a topical solution. This will prevent the cat from scratching its ears so much that it draws blood. The following ingredients soothe itchy feline skin:

  • Aloe vera
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint
  • Pennyroyal

Don’t get any of these ingredients inside your cat’s ear, as this may lead to infection. Focus on applying the remedy directly onto inflamed external skin using a cotton pad.

Inward-Growing Fur

Sometimes, cats’ itchy ears are caused by fur. The interior of cats ears is smooth and hair-free. The fur of a longhaired cat, in particular, grows quickly. This may result in the hair growing inward, tickling the ear.

Naturally, this will cause ear irritation, so your cat will scratch at the ears to provide temporary relief. Doing so will not remove the hair, so the cat will keep scratching, never managing to relieve the tickling sensation.

Trim the overgrown hair around a cat’s ears carefully.

Trauma and Wound Healing

Conflict with other cats is the most common explanation for an inner ear wound. Cats can also damage their ears due to falls and collisions when exploring the outside world.

If your cat returns home with an ear wound, focus on cleaning and sterilizing the site of the injury. Ensure the wound is not swollen, as this suggests that the cat has an infection.

If a cat has a cut or wound in its ear, it will slowly repair itself. As the skin knits itself together, it will start to itch, which denotes healing. If the cat scratches this area, it risks reopening the wound. You need to stop your cat from scratching its ears with an Elizabethan collar. If this is not an option, cover the ear until the itchiness subsides.

Stings

If your cat spends time outside, it may get stung by insects or plants, leading to an itching sensation. Bees, wasps, horseflies, midges, mosquitoes, and ants are the likeliest culprits.

As discussed in the Journal of Physiology, cats may also experience discomfort from stinging nettles. As cats are low to the ground, they may brush past a nettle at ear-height.

Relieving Itching from Stings

Bee stings will remain in your cat’s ear, but don’t remove them with tweezers as you’ll squeeze the stinger, pumping more venom into the cat’s ear. Scrape the sting away with a flat piece of plastic. Apply bicarbonate of soda to the sting site as this will neutralize the acid in the sting.

Wasp stings will not remain in place. So, dabbing a mix of water and vinegar will soothe your cat’s ear. You can reduce any swelling and itchiness with an icepack.

Stinging nettles will leave tiny needles in the ear of your cat. This will cause constant itching and discomfort. Gently wash the cat’s ear with soapy water and reduce swelling with an ice pack.

Sun Damage

Cats, especially those with light-colored fur, can suffer following exposure to the sun’s UV rays. As Cutis explains, the sun can cause inflammation of the skin. Cats can also be prone to sunburn, and your cat will scratch its ears to relieve this sensation. As a sunburn dries out the skin, bleeding becomes more likely.

If your cat roams outdoors, limit its time outdoors during the hottest months of the year. Let your cat wander early in the morning and later in the afternoon. The sun is usually at its hottest between 12 PM and 3 PM. You can also apply sunscreen to your cat’s ears as a further precaution. Use a brand that is devoid of perfumes or fragrances. The SPF should be in the 15–30 range.

Trapped Foreign Objects

Foreign objects cause ear irritation. Look inside your cat’s ear with a small torch. The foreign object may be something as small and innocuous as a blade of grass or dirt or grit. It is also possible that insects will crawl into a cat’s ear, causing a similar reaction to mites. The cat will feel the insect crawling around and scratch to remove it.

If you can see an object, remove it with tweezers. You may need a second pair of hands as the cat will likely wriggle and struggle to get free from your grasp. For its own safety, the cat should be restrained. If you cannot see anything in your cat’s ear, do not prod and poke as you risk causing further irritation and damage.

A vet can usually remove a trapped foreign body with ear irrigation. This is mild water pressure to the cats’ ear.

how to keep a cat from scratching a wound

Hypertension

Older cats are more at risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine links hypertension to hyperthyroidism and renal failure.

If a cat has high blood pressure, the blood will flow to its head, manifesting as a throbbing in the cat’s ears. This can lead to an itching, tickling sensation.

Hypertension can also be provoked by stress in cats. Cats scratch and groom more when they’re feeling anxious. A veterinarian will be able to prescribe medication for hypertension in cats.

Polyps

Polyps are small growths of tissue in a cat’s ear. As per the Journal of Small Animal Practice, polyps start off in a cat’s throat (nasopharynx), making their way into the ear.

Despite not being harmful, polyps can be annoying for cats. They will feel the polyp in its ear, and they can restrict hearing. Polyps can also cause wax build-up and impact balance. The cat will scratch, trying to remove this growth.

Diabetes

If your cat is overweight, it is most at risk of diabetes. This condition has a number of symptoms, including itchy skin. Other warning signs that your cat is diabetic include:

  • Excessive thirst and increased urination
  • Weight loss, despite increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Clumpy and greasy fur
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting

Itchy ears are annoying for cats, but the condition has other more troublesome effects. It is pivotal that you reduce your cat’s weight, give your cat daily medication, and closely monitor its blood sugar levels.