My Cat’s Ears Are Raw And Bleeding. Help!

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

The hair has come off both of my cat’s ears and he is scratching them with his hind feet until they start to bleed. What’s going on?

~ Marilyn

Siouxsie: It could be one of several things, Marilyn, so we’d definitely recommend you get your kitty to a vet for an examination.

Thomas: The two most common causes of cat ear problems are ear mites and sunburn. If your cat has pale ears and spends a lot of time outdoors, he could have gotten overexposed to the sun.

Ear mites in a cat

A cat with ear mites has black or brown gunk in its ears. Photo (CC-BY-SA) by Uwe Gille

Kissy: Sunburns feel the same way for cats as they do for humans. They hurt! And I should know — I’ve gotten sunburned ears before.

Siouxsie: Ear mites are usually pretty obvious. When you look in your cat’s ears, you’ll see black gunk if he has a mite infestation.

Thomas: Ear mites require immediate treatment. First of all, they’re really uncomfortable! The itch they produce is just about unbearable, which is why cats with mites scratch so much.

Kissy: And then you add in that constant “skritchy, skritch, skritch” sound as they crawl around, and I swear it’s about enough to drive any cat insane!

Siouxsie: Not only that, but the ear mite infestation can lead to secondary bacterial or yeast infections because of the buildup of matter in the ear canal and the constant scratching.

Thomas: The scratching and constant head-shaking from the mites can also lead to a hematoma, or blood clot, which can deform your cat’s ear.

Kissy: The other thing about mites is they don’t go away just because you clean your cat’s ears. Because your cat spends so much time scratching, the nasty little things get on his claws and paws, too, so if you don’t take care of that he could reinfect himself.

Silver Bengal kitten. Photo by JaneA Kelley

Cats’ ears are a crucial part of their sensory system and ear care is very important to your cat’s health and well-being. Photo: Silver Bengal kitten by JaneA Kelley

Siouxsie: There’s a lot of information about home “cures” for ear mites, and most of those don’t work. Seriously.

Thomas: And if your cat doesn’t have ear mites and you treat for ear mites, you’re not only not solving the problem — you could create new problems!

Kissy: Our ears are very important to us. We have incredible hearing, and we’d like to keep that hearing.

Siouxsie: So, Marilyn, our advice to you is to take your cat to the vet as soon as you can. Once you find out why your cat’s ears are driving him crazy, you can treat the problem before it becomes even worse.

  • Rebecca

    I would like to add a couple of possibilities from personal experience. However, none of this advice should be considered a substitute for taking a cat who has scratched his/her ears bloody to the vet! It’s important to do that asap.

    I have seen cats’ ears become infested with chiggers, which I learned (to my great dismay!) actually live in more places than just the south. I actually encountered them in northern California, and was told that they had just arrived a couple of years ago. Apparently the warming climate has allowed them to expand their range. They like to live in ivy.

    Chiggers are nearly invisible. On humans, they cause red sores, welts or blisters that can be as large as a quarter and itch unbearably. Of course they also cause itching in cats too. They can be killed with over-the-counter ear mite medication.

    I have also seen something resembling tiny, minuscule ticks congregate along the edges of cats’ ears. Those are tricky to deal with but I found that squeezing them dead with a pair of needle-nose pliers seemed to work well enough.

    Cats’ ears are a sensitive and vulnerable spot because they have so little fur covering and make a great target for hurtful critters. Leaving those critters to do their dirty work can result in permanent damage, as mentioned by the wise kitties above. I have seen the results in neglected cats, and it’s not pretty!

  • Christina

    My cat was doing the same thing and I took her to the vet. He did a swab of her ears and found that she has a staff infection in her ears. Very easy to treat though…. we have ear ointment going in twice a day to take care of the problem. After the first treatment, Misty stopped scratching her ears so hard.

  • Holly

    Definitely see the vet. Mites would have been my first guess, but could be a fungal infection, or maybe even fleas. And a food allergy is another idea.

  • Kieran

    My cat is constantly scratching her ears. If I take her to the vet, they says she has ear mites, I pay $60 for treatment, and they just come back two weeks later!

    • The Paws and Effect Gang

      Hi, Kieran. Like we mentioned, sometimes the ear mites spread to the outsides of the ears and even to the paws the cats use to scratch the ear mites. That said, it’s possible that Revolution, as Anita recommended, would be a good way to treat the mites that are living outside your cat’s ears. The other thing is that you really need to give the medication for the ear mites for as long as the vet says you should. We know this is easier said than done because cats really hate having their ears medicated. :-(

      However, there might be something else going on like a secondary bacterial or fungal infection as well. Hopefully between a second culture to ensure there are no other nasties present, treatment for the mites inside your ears, and treatment for the mites living outside her ears, you can get rid of the nasty things altogether.

      Oh, and don’t forget to wash all her bedding and anything else she sleeps on — in hot water.

      • Kieran

        Thanks for the advice.

        Well, considering that this has been going on for about two years total and hasn’t spread to my other cat, I’m guessing it’s not ear mites. I’ll try going to the vet and checking for a fungal infection.

  • Anita Biers

    Kieran, you can get ear mite medication over the counter for a lot cheaper than a vet visit. Revolution for fleas also helps take care of ear mites. It could be something more than that. Either see another vet or try to lubricate the itchy part of the ear. If she’s constantly rubbing against something that she’s allergic to it might be causing a problem.

  • Connie of TFKblog

    If it is none of that, it could be food or contact allergies.

  • Anne from

    There should be a confirmed diagnosis for earmites, especially if this keeps repeating. A vet can, and should, confirm earmites by taking a sample and checking under the microscope. In case of such a long term recurrent problem, it’s really important to get a proper diagnosis, and as was said here, it could involve a secondary infection as well.

  • Arunincy

    My pet also faced same problem,I took it to veterinary doctor,Now its better.

  • Pat

    My Alfie used to scratch his ears until they were raw and scabby, until the vet said he was allergic to the chicken in his food. She put him on Natural Balance L.I.D. food with green pea & salmon in it, his ears got better in a few days.