Cat scratching behind ears.

Ear scratching is one of the more common reasons cats see veterinarians. When the head starts shaking and claws start digging, it’s a safe bet that a cat has itchy ears. But the cause is not always clear.

Is it mites? Fleas? Something scarier and more insidious? Maybe, maybe, and maybe. Here are the most common possibilities.

1. Allergic skin disease. It’s the most common cause of itchy ears in pets. Allergies can result from foods, seasonal responses, fleas, and sometimes direct contact with an allergen.

2. Yeast infections. Yeast infections are typically secondary to allergies. They add extra itch (and smelly brown debris) to the mix.

3. Ear mites. These spidery microscopic parasites go by the scientific name Otodectes cynotis. They are wickedly itchy, but they are not as common as people think. Fortunately, ear mites are very treatable once a diagnosis can be confirmed.

4. Fleas. Though fleas usually cause an all-over itch, cats that are allergic to fleas may be itchier around the neck and rump.

5. Foreign bodies. Sometimes things end up in ears, which can cause pain, pawing, and sometimes itchy infections.

6. Ear masses. Masses in the ear canal — as with foreign bodies — can cause pain, pawing, and itchy infections.

7. Bacterial infections. As with yeast, most bacterial infections of ear canals are secondary to other processes. But they can itch.

8. Mange mites. Notoedric mange is caused by a parasite that can infest cats. It appears as a crusty scaling of the face, ear tips, and feet before progressing to a whole-body infestation. Cats with mange are miserably itchy. Luckily, the condition is treatable.

The best thing to do in the case of itchy ears is see a veterinarian.

This article has been written by a Veterinarian.