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Cats have a very developed sense of hearing. They are able to hear higher pitched sounds than dogs, let alone humans. Therefore, it is very important to take a good care of your cat's ears. Any ear problems that haven't been handled properly and in time can result into more serious health issues.

To prevent possible ear problems in your cat, remember the following. Giving your cat a bath, make sure no water gets into the ears. This can be achieved by inserting cotton wads inside the ears before bathing. To clean your cat's ears, you can use cotton balls or Q-tips. NEVER stick Q-tips into the ear any further than you can see as it can damage the ear drum. If you need to apply anything, use mineral or olive oil. Do not use irritating solvents such as alcohol. Also, do not clean your cat's ears too often because it can cause trauma to the delicate ear skin. Besides, few cats enjoy this procedure.

Generally, it's not difficult to spot it when your cat has an ear problem. Most cats will change their behaviour and shake their head more often, scratch at the ears, flap one or both the ears, and so on. If you've noticed such behaviour changes, it would be wise to check the cat's ears for possible reasons of the problem and take your companion to a vet if necessary.
Common cat ear problems and their signs are listed below.

Ear mites

Ear mites are tiny parasites that live on the skin of the ear canal. They feed by piercing the skin. It is one of the most common health problems found in cats. Usually, both ears are affected. The most frequent behaviour of a cat with ear mites is violent head-shaking and intense itching. Another symptom of ear mites is a crusty looking dark brown to black substance in the ear. Ear mites can be identified by removing some ear wax and placing it on a dark background. They will appear as white small specks (no larger than the head of a pin) that move.
Ear mites are very contagious among animals, but humans don't typically get them. Indoor cats usually never get ear mites unless they are exposed to another animal that goes outdoors.

Bites and lacerations

Cats, especially outdoor ones, may get into fights and receive painful bites and scratches. The ear flap is damaged like this most often. Such wounds should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned because they may get infected. If the blood is not fresh, the wound can be bathed with hydrogen peroxide solution (1 to 2 parts water). This will remove dried blood and foreign particles. After that, apply an antibiotic ointment like Bacitracin. If the wound is severe, it is wise to see a veterinarian.

Bacterial infections

Bacterial infections are usually a result of infected scratches and ear mites described above. Some of these infections begin in the ear canal that contains an excessive amount of wax or foreign material. The most common sign of an infected ear canal is head-shaking and scratching at an itching ear (typical for outer ear infections). If left untreated, it could turn into a middle ear infection or even an inner ear infection, which much more serious. If a cat tilts its head down on the affected side and shows pain when the ear is touched, it usually indicates a problem in the inner ear. Other symptoms include a smelly, often yeasty, odour from the cat's ears, dark discharge, reddened ear canals. A veterinary check up is highly recommended.

Flea infestation

Fleas usually feed on the skin of the ear flap. You may see both the actual flea and just dried blood. The latter may appear as black, crumbly crusts.

Ringworm

This is a fungus infection that affects the ear flap and other parts of the body. The symptoms include dry, scaly, hairless patches of skin, broken or brittle hair, extreme dandruff, excessive shedding, pruritus and self-mutilation. Ringworm is not a death sentence, but it can become a chronic problem and make the quality of your cat's life worse. Treatment include shaving the hair from the affected areas and applying an antifungal cream such as Miconazole.

This is not an exhaustive list of cat ear problems. A cat can also suffer from sunburned ears, frostbitten ears, ear hematomas, and a number of other issues. If you notice anything that looks suspicious, get in touch with your vet right away.