Why Is My Cat Scratching Its Ears and Shaking Its Head?

Updated on May 23, 2019
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I am an avid animal lover and love to write about cats in particular.

When a cat is scratching its ear and shaking its head, it can be a sign of many different issues, including mites.
When a cat is scratching its ear and shaking its head, it can be a sign of many different issues, including mites. | Source

Why Are My Cat's Ears Itchy?

If your cat seems to be scratching its ears and shaking its head, it could be due to several different conditions or parasites. They can all be incredibly annoying to your pet cat, so you should take him or her to a veterinarian to be checked out, diagnosed, and properly treated.

However, there are some things that you can do as the owner to attempt to help. First, you should begin by inspecting your cat's ears. If irritation, inflammation, or bleeding is occurring, it could be due to many different problems.

Any amount of scratching can cause abrasions, irritation, and breaks in the skin to occur. It is wise to give your cat an antibiotic (as prescribed by a vet), and to apply topical antibacterial ointments and creams to avoid further infection and discomfort. Cats carry lots of bacteria and germs under their claws, and this is made worse with the use of a litter box. This makes them highly susceptible to infection, especially when the claws introduce viruses, parasites, and bacteria into open wounds. When you cat begins scratching its ears and shaking its head, it is time to take a look!

1. Allergies Sometimes Make Cats Itchy

One of these issues could simply be an allergy. Allergies in cats are common, and they can have a wide variety of triggers. For example, they could be allergic to a certain brand of cat food, a certain species of plant, pesticides that you may use to avoid fleas and ticks, and they can even be allergic to the saliva of those particular parasites. A veterinarian can help to diagnose allergies in cats. Once the allergen trigger is identified, you should do your best to adjust you and your cat's lifestyle to eliminate the allergen. This way, your kitty can live much more comfortably.

2. Parasites Might Cause a Cat to Scratch

If this is not the issue, then it may be related to parasites alone. Check your cat's ears for signs of ticks, fleas, and mites. These parasites can cause obsessive scratching, as the cat makes a desperate effort to relieve pain and discomfort. If your cat is not allergic, try using natural tick or flea repellents (or mite repellent) if that seems to be the issue.

The cat will begin to shakes its head after scratching to get rid of the pest or irritant, and is usually successful when it comes to dirt or larger pests. For mites and other small creatures, shaking the head will not get rid of them. There are many different prescriptions and over the counter treatments available to help get rid of parasites. The best solution is to visit a vet so that he or she can give your pet a whole check up to identify the source of the issue.

3. Dirt Can Make a Cat's Ears Itch

Your cat can also accumulate dirt in his or her ears, causing discomfort and itching. To relieve this, have your cat's ears cleaned by a veterinarian. We pet lovers have this issue too, and we need regular ear cleanings as well. When an animal's ear has gone too long without being clean, they can develop infections and blockages. This could ultimately result in loss of hearing- whether it be temporary or permanent. Infections can destroy the inner ear, making the cat go deaf.

If your cat scratches its ears and shakes its head too much, it could wind up temporarily losing sanity and screaming its head off like this!
If your cat scratches its ears and shakes its head too much, it could wind up temporarily losing sanity and screaming its head off like this! | Source

What to Do If Your Cat Scratches Its Ear and Shakes Its Head Excessively

With any amount of scratching, abrasions, irritation, and breaks in the skin may occur. It is wise to give your cat an antibiotic (as assigned by a vet), and to apply topical antibacterial ointments and creams to avoid further infection and discomfort. Cats carry lots of bacteria and germs under their claws, and this is made worse by usage of a litter box. This makes them highly susceptible to infection, especially when the claws introduce viruses, parasites, and bacteria into open wounds via claws. When you cat begins scratching ears and shaking its head, it is time to take a look!

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Are a Cat's Itchy Ears Always a Problem?

When itching and scratching can be signs of issues that can pose serious health consequences, it may raise the question "Should a cat ever scratch its ears?" Just like us, kittens and cats get itchy too. Therefore the answer is yes. However, how much scratching is too much? Personally, I would say that itching 3 times per hour is a good indicator that something is aggravating your kitty's ear. It never hurts to occasionally check your cat's ear for signs of irritation, dirt, or infection every few days when paying them attention. It is quick and easy to do. By doing this, you will develop a hieghtened awareness for your animal's everyday health, which is a very important trait of a responsible pet owner.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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    • profile image

      Bgefcdha 

      4 weeks ago

      I think it might be stress. I just received s used cat she five or six weeks old. She’s health except for she scratches the back sides of her ears. Both ears seem heathy. They are straight up and swivel for sound. Besides a whole new world and other animals in a large house. She seems happy. Eats purrs and behaves fine. When I received her she was kinda thin. She was fed nothing but wet cat food. I feed her dry stuff. Some cats do have thin a hair on the back side top of their ears. But once in a while I will see a scratch that has broken skin. She has gained a little weight still not as much as I would like but her weight is healthy. I think it’s nerves/stress.

    • profile image

      Holly Harrod 

      3 months ago

      I noticed a change in my cats behavior, as well as scratching at the ear and shaking his head. Thinking on it if its not mites, which remain in the ear, then it could be a pest that feeds then leaves. After doing some research, I have found that fleas, ticks, bed bugs, lice, and scabies can affect both pets and owners. I also have noted the times and what household area causes my cat to scratch his ear the most. I could be wrong but if you have ever had an itch or pain in your ear then you should know exactly what their going through and how bad they want it to stop. Just a thought

    • profile image

      Jessica 

      5 months ago

      Did anyone ever figure out what to do? My vet has ruled out mites and infection, but my cat continues to list to one side and scratch his ear. I do not know what it is.

    • profile image

      Tee 

      13 months ago

      My 4 month old kittens right ear is back, she shakes her head but I don't see anything in her ear. I can't afford to take her to the vet. I just got her shots 2 weeks ago. And ideas?

    • profile image

      Yes 

      16 months ago

      My cat doesn't have any parasites, mites etc... She twitches from the itch and scratches around the ears a lot, dozens of times an hour. Going to the vet didn't help.

    • profile image

      Khaleesi 

      23 months ago

      Why is my cat scratching and shaking her head more after the first round of Hartz ear mite treatment than before I even started her on it?

    • Nadia Repich profile image

      Nadia Repich 

      3 years ago

      Yes! I don't get it either--Peachpurple & Marie. My kitty is doing the same lately--an indoor cat. No ear mites for sure. I am going to find out Friday the next step, but there doesn't appear to be anything for the moment. She got a culture taken but doesn't appear to have anything that I can remember the Doctor indicating because he wants to wait for one week to pass before medicating--I don't recall the Vet's take on the culture--phone message I got. My kitty even got an ear spa (her ears irrigated) & still the same thing. I am worried & a bit frightened. But there is some scratching, albeit not excessive, which could indicate only an irritant of some sort. Too bad you can't ask the cat directly!

    • profile image

      Marie 

      3 years ago

      Same as F3 weeks ago. My vet ruled out mites and infection as well. Please help

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      My cats shake their heads aand scratch their eara but the veterinarian ruled out mites and infection. What else could it be since my vet couldnt find the cause?

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      my cat scratches her ears almost everyday. That means she has parasites????

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      Some good points with the vet being your best resource.

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