my cat’s ears are hot and red
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Do Cats Have Hot Ears?

Cats run a slightly higher body temperature than humans. A healthy cat will have a body temperature of 100.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that a cat’s ears will often feel hot to the touch.

A cat’s ears should vary in temperature as a cat heats up and cools down. Ears that are constantly hot suggests a fever. Your cat may also have an ear infection or mites. If you find no psychical explanation for your cat’s hot ears, such as redness, then your cat may be stressed.

Cats use their ears to regulate body temperature, so variety is important. The temperature of a cat’s ears is a barometer of feline health.

Why Are My Cat’s Ears So Hot?

The temperature of a cat’s ears should fluctuate throughout the day. Cats use their ears to regulate body temperature. Cat ears contain little fur, fat or muscle, so heat leaves the body from these extremities.

During warmer times of the year, a cat’s body engages in vasodilation. This means the blood vessels widen, pumping blood faster and harder. This increases a cat’s temperature, and the excess heat leaves through the ears.

In winter, the cat’s body enters vasoconstriction. Blood vessels narrow, conserving heat within the body. You may also notice that your cat curls into a ball. This protects the ears, preventing heat from escaping.

Check your cat’s ears multiple times over the course of the day. If the temperature does not vary, there may be a medical explanation. Common explanations for a cat to have hot ears regularly include:

  • Direct exposure to a heat source
  • Fever
  • Wax build-up
  • Ear infections, including parasitic infestations
  • Polyps, cysts, and tumors
  • Allergies
  • Stress

Do not worry if your cat’s ears are hot to the touch. Be patient and ensure that it’s not a natural oscillation in temperature.

1/ Heat

Cats tend to doze and relax in warm places. This may beside a fire or radiator. The ears will be the first body part to warm up in such instances.

A cat is usually capable of moderating its own temperature. Once the heat source becomes uncomfortably hot, the cat will move. The ears will then cool down organically.

The one exception to this is direct sunlight. Cats are sun worshippers, so an outdoor cat must be monitored. A cat spending excessive time in the sun risks skin cancer.

It’s safer to let a cat bask in the sun indoors. Let a cat doze by a window, soaking up the sun’s rays through a protective layer. When it has absorbed sufficient heat through the ears, the cat will relocate.

2/ Fever

When a cat has hot ears, it is tempting to immediately assume it is feverish. This may be the case, but it is not necessarily a major worry. Cats experience a wide range of fevers every day.

A cat’s immune system is busy, constantly fighting off foreign invaders. This may lead to temporary spikes in temperature, bordering on feverish. As the cat’s body purges the invader, the ear temperature will return to normal.

If your cat’s ears are consistently hot, the fever is clearly not passing. There are many explanations for this, including:

  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Bacterial infections (often caused by bites from other cats)
  • Heatstroke or hyperthermia
  • Reactions and side effects (medications and vaccines)
  • Consumption of toxins
  • Chronic pain (i.e. arthritis)

If your cat has a wet and streaming nose and eyes, it has an infection. This will typically be treated by antibiotics.

Reactions to vaccines will pass in a day or two. If your cat is responding to medication, speak to your vet. An alternative prescription is advisable.

If your cat has heatstroke it will be dehydrated, lethargic, and may experience seizures.

3/ Earwax

A small amount of wax in your cat’s ears is normal. Just do not allow the wax to build in volume. This restricts your cat’s hearing, invites bacterial infection, and feeds parasites. All of these issues will lead to hot ears.

To avoid an unwelcome build-up of earwax, clean your cat’s ears regularly. You’ll need a specialist ear-cleaning product. Once you have this:

  1. Ensure the cat is calm
  2. Apply ear-cleaning product to a cotton pad (not a Q-Tip)
  3. Gently wipe the inner ear with the cleaning solution
  4. Wash off the remaining product to discourage scratching

Outdoor cats will need their ears cleaned more. When a cat roams outdoors, it attracts all manner of dirt and dust. A cat’s ears should typically be cleaned at least once a week.

4/ Ear Infections

There are two primary types of ear infections that affect cats. Otitis interna is an inner-ear infection, usually caused by inflammation. Otitis externa, as the name suggests, impacts the outer ear. Usually, this will be around the eardrum.

Whether internal or external, the symptoms of feline ear infections are universal. These include:

  • Excess heat from the ears
  • Redness and swelling
  • Discharge from the ear (yellow, black, or brown)
  • Foul smell from the ear
  • Temporary deafness or restricted hearing
  • Lack of balance and uncoordinated gait

Ear infections can be painful. Thankfully, they are easily treated, though the infection can cause secondary health concerns. Minimize the risk of ear infections by keeping your cat indoors and regularly cleaning its ears.

To treat an ear infection, start with over-the-counter eardrops. This may negate the need to see a vet. If the symptoms cease, your cat is fine. It is possible the infection has spread, though.

In this case, prescribed antibiotics or medications will be required. In addition, be mindful of signs of parasitic infestation in your cat’s ears.

Parasites in the Ear

Fleas and ticks can congregate in a cat’s ears. More common are ear mites (Otodectes cynotis.) Mites feed on wax in a cat’s ears and cause a distinct discharge.

According to Veterinary Parasitology, ear mites are responsible for 50% of inflammation cases in feline ears.

The symptoms of ear mites in a cat include:

  • Heat rising from the ears through inflammation
  • Brown discharges from the ear canal that resembles coffee grounds
  • Itching in the ears and surrounding areas
  • Cracked skin in the ears
  • Shaking and tilting of the head

As far as parasitic infestations go, mites are comparatively minor. They are more of a nuisance than a significant health concern. Left untreated, mites will multiply and cause increased levels of distress.

Treatment involves simple cleaning of the ears. You will need to use a specialist, prescribed cleaning product. This will kill off any eggs that have laid in the cat’s ear.

Minimize the risk of ear mites by remaining up to date on your cat’s parasite deterrents. A reputable flea and tick treatment will also protect against ear mites.

5/ Polyps, Cysts, and Tumors

Sometimes, hot ears in cats can be caused by an unwelcome growth. Check your cat’s inner ear with a torch.

Not all growths are a medical emergency. Sometimes they are completely benign. All the same, growths can restrict hearing and cause discomfort. Removal may be advisable.

Ear Polyps

Polyps are growths found in a cat’s inner ear. They are benign and non-cancerous but can be awkward, as they are a result of inflammation.

The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains how polyps are often linked to ear infections. Feline calicivirus can also result in polyps. This means that cats will experience hot ears when they have polyps.

Respiratory problems can also accompany feline ear polyps. This is because the growths often stretch into a cat’s throat. In such an instance, the cat will be reluctant to eat. This is because the inflammation in the throat makes swallowing difficult and painful.

cat has one hot ear

Most ear polyps are visible upon inspection. X-rays and scans may be necessary though. If you cannot see an ear polyp, look out for these symptoms:

  • Loud breathing and snoring
  • Loss of balance
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Shaking the head
  • Sneezing
  • Foul odor from the ear

Polyps are removed surgically. This is usually a straightforward process, conducted under mild anesthetic. This means that it is usually considered safe, even for senior cats. The polyps may recur after the procedure. If so, a vet will consider a more permanent solution.

Cysts in the Ear

Cysts in a cat’s ear are often a result of ceruminous cystomatosis. They manifest as small, blue or purple nodes.

Ceruminous cystomatosis is non-cancerous, and it rarely causes pain for the cat. It may lead to an ear infection, though. This will result in hot ears. If you inspect your cat’s warm ears and find these lumps, it can be horrifying.

These nodes are considered an aesthetic concern by vets. This means that a vet may choose not to take action. Senior cats, for example, may not have to face the risks associated with surgery.

If the nodes are removed, this will be done by laser or scalpel. When ruptured, the nodes emit thick black pus. The nodes will likely recur afterward, so keep an eye open.

Ear cysts can also be a result of ingrowing hairs, trapped air or parasite bites. Cysts of this nature will typically be clear in appearance. They will be mobile and non-painful to the touch. They can swell and clog a cat’s ear canal, though.

If treatment is required for a standard cyst, it will be drained with a needle. This is an inpatient procedure. Your cat will be able to return home after the procedure, albeit feeling a little groggy.

are cats ears hot when they have a fever?

Tumors in the Ear

More concerning are cancerous tumors in the ear. Like all tumors, these manifest as angry-looking lumps. These lumps will be hot and painful to the touch. Your cat’s ears will be constantly burning as a result.

If you suspect that your cat has a malignant tumor in its ear, see a vet at once. A range of scans and tests will be necessary. If confirmed that your cat has a cancerous tumor, referral to a specialist is likely. Ear surgery is complicated. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be more impactful.

The prognosis of cancerous tumors in cats varies from case-to-case. The earlier you catch the problem, the better. Your cat will be in pain if living with a tumor, so take action straight away.

6/ Allergies

Hot ears are not the most prominent sign of an allergy in cats, but they are a symptom. When your cat has an allergic reaction, its entire body gets to work. The body will locate the invader and work to purge it.

If your cat’s ears are hot, watch out for other odd behaviors. These include:

  • Scratching
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Swelling around the paws
  • Struggling to breathe

Your cat may also experience itchy ears with an allergic reaction. This will be due, in part, to the heat emanating from these body parts. Scratching the ears will then aggravate this higher temperature.

If your cat is acting strangely and has warm ears, look for potential allergy triggers. This could be related to food or something in the cat’s environment. Dust, smoke, air fresheners, and fabrics are all common allergens for cats.

7/ Stress

Stress can increase the temperature of a cat’s ears. Stress causes spontaneous hypertension in cats. As the cat’s heart starts pumping harder, blood will rush to the head. This will lead to warmer ears.

There are other side effects to hypertension, most notably strain on the heart. The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine explains, stress can lead to hyperthyroidism and renal failure.

Cats are easily stressed. You may be upsetting your cat without even realizing it. Common symptoms of stress in cats include:

  • Hiding
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Clinginess
  • Excessive verbalization
  • Scratching
  • Grooming to excess

It is critical that a stressed cat is calmed down. A cat living with anxiety is in physical danger, especially older cats. Eventually, the stress will take its toll on a cat’s heart. Be mindful of hot ears in conjunction with these symptoms.

Your cat’s ears will vary in temperature constantly. As long as the ears cool off and as well as heat up, it is perfectly normal. Constantly hot ears in cats may point to a medical problem that needs to be identified and resolved.