Cats rely on their ears. Cats use their hearing for hunting and survival on a daily basis. Sudden ear movement and twitching mean that something has captured your cat’s attention or is irritating the inner ear.
If your cat’s ears twitch, it likely that it has heard something outside the human range. Cat ears can also twitch due to infection, polyp growths, or infestations of ear mites. Cuts, plant or insect stings, or embedded foreign objects also cause twitchy ears in cats.
Twitching cat ears always merit investigation. Even if your cat is just hearing a sound that you cannot, it may still be important. How long the twitching continues is a crucial consideration.
Why Do Cats Ears Twitch?
A cat’s ears are among the most expressive parts of feline anatomy. If a cat’s ears are twitching, it invariably has a meaning.
This could be as simple as a cat’s hearing picking up sounds humans cannot detect. Alternatively, your cat may have an irritation in the ear. Common explanations for twitching ears in cats are:
- Hearing something that you don’t
- An ear infection
- Parasitic infection
- Polyps (non-cancerous growths) in its ear
- Something is trapped in its ear
- Cut in its ear
- Stung in the ear by an insect or plant
- Expressing emotion through body language
Each of your cat’s ears contains over thirty separate muscles. For comparison, the human ear contains just six.
Cat’s hearing is vastly superior to humans. Hearing Research confirms that cats have hearing comparable to any mammal.
If a cat’s ears twitch seemingly at random, the cat may be hearing something you cannot. A cat can hear at distances up to five times further than humans. What’s more, a cat can pinpoint the location of a sound from three feet away.
Examples of things that your cat may be hearing include:
- Insects or rodents in a wall, attic, or crawlspace
- Birds singing in the distance
- People going about their business on the street outside
- The television, radio, or conversation of your neighbors
- Vehicle engines starting or backfiring in your neighborhood
- Sirens and car horns from several blocks away
A cat that sits by a wall with its ears twitching, for example, may hear termites. Taking action early can prevent structural damage.
Due to this enhancing hearing, cats can appear needlessly skittish. Cats can hear threats, whether real or perceived, that humans remain oblivious to.
This even applies to a sleeping cat. It is not uncommon for a cat’s ears to twitch while it sleeps. This is perfectly natural. The cat is processing sounds as normal. If these sounds become unduly concerning, the cat will wake up and take action.
This excellent hearing also means that a cat’s ears must be protected. Always offer your cat a safe passage away from the noise in your home. A TV or stereo that’s loud to a human can be deafening to a cat.
Does a Senior Cat Still Have Good Hearing?
As cats age, their hearing will start to fade. This will be a slow and steady process. Even a senior cat will enjoy superior hearing to a human, though. Your older cat’s ears will still twitch regularly.
In fact, a senior cat may twitch its ears even more. Cats pick up on sounds through air vibrations using their whiskers. In addition, a cat’s sensitive paws may pick up on ground-level vibrations.
If your older cat cannot hear as well as before, it will work harder to listen. This, naturally, will lead to enhanced twitching of the ears. Your cat is trying to pick up on whatever sound it can. This suggests that a cat still retains at least some of its hearing prowess.
2/ Ear Infections
Ear infections in cats are rare. When they do occur, infections can be due to an infestation. Sometimes, a cat develops an inner ear infection unrelated to foreign invaders. The infection will make the cat’s ears twitch in pain and irritation.
Other symptoms of an ear infection in cats include:
- Shaking and tilting of the head
- Scratching at pawing at the ear
- Loss of balance
- Swelling around the ear
- Discharge from the ear
- Foul smell from the ear
A build-up of wax or ingrowing hairs are the most common explanations. Sometimes, the cat has caught a contagious bacterial infection. If this is the case, antibiotics will be required.
If your cat’s ears are regularly twitching, shine a torch into the ear. If you spot a build-up of wax, take action. Pick up a cat-friendly cleaning solution from your vet. Pour this onto soft cotton wool and gently clean up the ear. This will ease irritation.
Do not use a Q-Tip. You risk causing damage if the cat fidgets. If necessary, arrange for your cat to have its ears syringed. This will flush out any stubborn wax.
3/ Ear Mites
Ear mites are the most common parasite to affect cats. Like fleas, ear mites can jump from cat to cat. Alternatively, ear mites may be found in the home or outdoors. The mites crawl inside a cat’s ear and feed on wax and skin oil.
Ear mites will bite the inside of your cat’s ears. This will cause irritation. Your cat’s ears will twitch near-constantly if it is living with ear mites. The cat will also show other signs of distress.
You will be unlikely to see ear mites with the naked eye. These insects are microscopic. If you do notice them, the mites will resemble tiny white dots. Ear mites are more commonly identified by a thick, black discharge. In some cases, the cat may even bleed from the ears.
If your cat has ear mites, treatment will be necessary. The mites will continue to reproduce and bother your cat otherwise. In addition, ear mites can cause serious bacterial infection.
Thankfully, ear mites are comparatively easy to deal with. You may not even need a prescription remedy.
Parasitology Research recommends a treatment that has 10% imidacloprid and 1% moxidectin.
The popular brand Advocate meets these criteria. You can find ‘Advocate’ at any reputable pet store.
When the mites are dead, keep your cat’s ears clean. This makes a recurrence less likely. Clean ears offer mites little nourishment.
Polyps are benign growths that can be found in a cat’s middle ear. As the Journal of Small Animal Practice explains, ear polyps begin in the nasopharynx. This is located at the back of your cat’s throat. The polyps develop here as thickened tissue. The polyps then travel to the cat’s ears through the Eustachian tube.
Nasopharyngeal polyps manifest as tough, pinkish-white lumps of skin in a cat’s ear. This will feel strange to your cat. Your cat’s ears will involuntarily twitch as a result. Aside from the sight test, symptoms include:
- Discharge from the nose
- Labored breathing
- Shaking and tilting of the head
- Trouble balancing
- Constant ear scratching
- Foul smell from the ear
Although nasopharyngeal polyps are benign, they should be removed. These growths do not only impact a cat’s ear. They can cause issues with the throat, making eating and even breathing difficult.
Nasopharyngeal polyps are removed surgically. This is usually a straightforward, in-patient procedure. Anaesthetic will be required, though. If the polyps are successfully removed, they should not return.
5/ Foreign Objects
If a cat gets a foreign object embedded in its ear, it will itch and tickle. This will lead to twitching of the ears. Common things that become trapped in a cat’s ear canal include:
- Twigs and branches
Be careful when removing foreign items from a cat’s ear. Cats do not like having their ears touched. Every time you brush against the tiny hairs within, you will irritate the cat. This will make the ears twitch, and possibly fold over. This, in turn, can embed the item further.
The skin inside a cat’s ear is delicate and easily cut. Your cat may end up with a cut in its ear by scratching itself to ease irritation. If the cat fights with another animal, a cut to the ear is likely. Cats know how to aim for a weak spot to end a fight early.
This cut will itch and tickle, leading to twitching ears. There is also the risk of infection to contend with.
Immediately tend to a cut inside a cat’s ear with an antiseptic solution. If the cut is wide or bleeds regularly, consult a professional about stitches.
If your cat wanders outside, it may be stung in the ear by plants. Stinging nettles are a common example. If a cat brushes against a nettle, tiny hairs will embed within the ear.
This will cause irritation, leading to twitching. Different cats have different sensitivity to stinging nettles. Some cats will barely notice the irritation, but others will grow distressed.
In addition to plants, a cat may be stung in the ear by an insect. If your cat lies on its back to sunbathe, insects can crawl inside the ear. Ants, spiders, or scorpions may proceed to sting.
Your cat’s ears will always twitch after being stung. The cat is attempting to rid itself of the irritation. Some insect stings can cause more significant damage. In the event of swelling in the ear, seek veterinary advice.
Bee or wasp stings can be dangerous to cats, especially within the ear. The swelling will always happen in this instance. This can block a cat’s ear canal and restrict hearing. Check the inside of your cat’s ear. If you see the sting, a bee was responsible. If not, it was a wasp.
Never remove a bee sting with tweezers. In doing so, you will squeeze the stinger and release more venom into the ear. Scrape it away with a credit card. Observe your cat carefully, ensuring it does not enter anaphylactic shock.
8/ Body Language
Your cat’s ears may be twitching because your cat is attempting to communicate. Cat ears are expressive. Even if your cat has a poker face, twitching ears can reveal a state of mind.
Twitching ears are often a sign of nerves or anxiety in a cat. Remember, cats have excellent hearing. Your cat may be picking up on something you are not. If somebody is letting off fireworks from several blocks over, your cat will hear. Its ears will twitch and turn sideways.
If your cat’s ears twitch then fold flat against the head, the cat is unhappy. This is often a precursor to aggressive behaviors. The cat will likely follow the twitching ears with hissing and even pouncing.
Twitching ears pointing straight upward suggests happiness. You will often see this posture before a favored human comes home. The cat has heard and recognized a familiar voice or footsteps from a distance.