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A Guide to Cat Hearing and Ear Care

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 A Guide to Cat and Kitten Hearing and Ear Care

Cats have a keen sense of hearing, which you probably notice when you shake a can of treats. They seem to appear instantly no matter where they were in the house!

Fun Facts About Your Cat's Ears

One of the reasons cats have such a remarkable sense of hearing is because their ears are designed to pull sound down into the ear canal. This enhances their hearing and makes them better hunters. They can hear the rustle of a mouse even if they are far away. Here are some other interesting facts about your cat's ears:

  • Cats and people have around the same range of hearing when it comes to lower-pitched sounds, but cats can hear a greater range of higher pitched sounds.
  • Dogs are known for their ability to hear high pitched sounds like a dog whistle, so it may surprise you that cats can hear even higher pitched sounds than dogs.
  • Cats can swivel their ears around to listen in on something that catches their interest. They can even swivel them independently to try to figure out from where the sound is coming.

Signs of an Ear Issue

If your cat has an ear issue, you may notice that they scratch their ears a lot or rub them against the floor or furniture. This can cause hair loss, sores, and scabbing around the ears. Your cat may also tilt their head or shake it rapidly as a result of an itchy or painful problem. Additional signs can include:

  • Redness and inflammation around or inside the ear
  • Excessive wax buildup or discharge
  • Bad smelling odor from the ear
  • A droopy ear or ear that's resting at an angle rather than straight up when the cat is relaxed, possibly indicating discomfort

Some ear problems can impair balance, so you may see your cat walking unsteadily, tilting their head, or missing typically easy jumps.

cat ears poking out of a basket

Common Cat Ear Problems

Ear mites are one of the top ear problems for cats. Other ear issues include ear infections, polyps, and injuries. Cancerous tumors are less common, but a serious issue that need medical attention.

Cat Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny parasites that love to settle and flourish in the warmth of a cat's ears. As they wriggle around, they can be intensely itchy for your cat. They are highly contagious and often transmitted from cat to cat. Dogs are also susceptible to ear mites, but fortunately, they don't affect people.

If you suspect your cat has ear mites, you should visit the veterinarian. They won't go away on their own, and they are very itchy and irritating for your cat. They can also lead to an ear infection if they're not treated. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to kill the mites and recommend any other needed treatments.

Keep in mind that you'll need to check all of your pets for ear mites if you have more than one furry friend in your home. If you don't diagnose and treat all of the infected pets, they may pass those pesky mites back and forth.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are not as prevalent in cats as they are in dogs, but they do happen. They are often caused by ear mites or an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria in the ear canal. They can also be caused by trauma to the ear, allergies, or autoimmune conditions. Treatment will depend on the cause of the ear infection. For instance, antibiotics will be used to treat bacterial infections, and an anti-fungal medication can help cure a yeast infection.


Cats are prone to polyps, which are small masses that can form in the ear or back of the throat. They are typically benign, meaning they are not cancerous, but they can block the ear canal or airway as they grow. The cause of polyps is not certain, but they may occur in cases of chronic inflammation or infections of the ear or throat.

Cats with polyps may require surgery to remove the mass or as much of the mass as possible. In some cases, anti-inflammatory medications may be used as an alternative to surgery or after surgery to help control swelling and prevent recurrence.

Ear Injuries

Our feline friends should stay inside to help avoid ear injuries, such as bites or scratches from another cat or animal. If you have multiple cats in your house, they can get into an altercation that results in an ear injury. Cats can also harm their ears due to excessive scratching or rubbing.

If your cat has an ear injury, you should contact your veterinarian. The wound will likely need to be carefully cleaned to help prevent infection. Depending on the size of the wound, your cat may also need surgery along with antibiotics and medications to reduce pain and swelling.


While it is uncommon, cats can develop tumors in the ear canal. These tumors are more likely to be cancerous than not and occur more often in middle to older aged cats. It is thought that they may be caused by chronic ear canal irritation that leads to abnormal tissue growth and ultimately a tumor.

The prognosis for any cancer can be improved if it is diagnosed and treated in the early stages. For this reason, it is important you take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible if they are showing signs of ear discomfort.

tabby cat popping head out of a blue blanket

Tips for Healthy Cat Ears

There are some things you can do to help prevent ear problems. For instance:

  • Clean the outer ear – You can use a cotton ball to clean the outer part of your cat's ears. Remember never to put a cotton swab or anything else inside your cat's ear that could cause damage or irritation. Your veterinarian may also recommend a general purpose ear flush to help the ears stay clean.
  • Examine your cat at home – Cats tend to mask their symptoms or hide when they aren't feeling well, so it's a good idea to do a regular home check. Look over their eyes, ears, and fur for signs of problems.
  • Schedule regular exams – Check-ups give your veterinarian the opportunity to keep your cat's health on track and detect issues like ear mites in the early stages before they cause a painful ear infection.

Deafness in Cats

Temporary or permanent deafness can be caused by an untreated ear problem, such as an infection or polyp. It can also be genetic and tends to be seen in cats with white fur and blue eyes. Additionally, deafness can happen as a cat gets older since the eardrum tends to thicken with age. Signs of deafness in cats include:

  • Not responding to their name or other sounds that would normally get their attention, like opening a can of food
  • Not reacting to loud noises like a vacuum cleaner or the clapping of your hands
  • Louder than usual meowing or purring since they can't judge the volume of their voice

If you suspect your cat has a hearing problem, you should bring them to the veterinarian who can perform a physical exam and check for underlying health issues. They may also recommend a specialist who can evaluate your cat's hearing using a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test. This test checks your cat's hearing using electrodes. It is not invasive or painful for your cat.

closeup of a white cat ear

Living with a Deaf Cat

Deaf cats make wonderful, loving companions! You can also train them using hand signals rather than voice commands. For instance, you can teach them that a downward motion with your hand means they need to get off the countertop. Use positive reinforcements such as praise and treats when they follow your hand signals and be patient. Training a cat takes time and effort.

How to Get a Deaf Cat's Attention

If your cat is not paying attention or ignoring you, you can flash the lights of the room to let them know you want to interact with them. You can also use a laser pointer or flashlight to get them to look at you. Place the light on the floor in front of them and move it towards you until they make eye contact. Just be sure not to shine the light in their eyes.

Vibrations are another way to get a deaf cat's attention. They can also be useful to avoid startling a napping cat who isn't aware of your presence. For instance, you can stomp on the floor or clap your hands as you approach them. They won't hear the sound, but they will feel the vibrations through the floor or air.

Tips to Care for a Deaf Cat

Of course, a deaf cat needs basic care, such as a nutritious diet, a clean litterbox, daily exercise, toys for physical and mental stimulation, and regular veterinary visits. In addition, there are some special things you can do to help keep your deaf cat safe and healthy.

  • Keep your cat indoors – All cats should be kept inside, but this is especially important for deaf cats who can't hear dangers like an oncoming car or a territorial animal.
  • Establish routines – Feed your cat at the same time and place, so they know when and where to go for mealtimes. This way, they'll show up ready to eat, and you won't need to look around for them.
  • Label their ID tag – Your cat should wear a collar and a tag with updated contact information. You can also add the word “deaf” to the tag to let people know about your cat's condition. Additionally, you should microchip your cat, which can help someone return them home in case they get out of the house.

Touch is also important for deaf cats. Give them lots of pets and cuddles. They'll likely reward you with some loud purring!

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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