a tabby cat with ear hematoma

Cat Ears Drooping: Signs, Causes & Treatments (Vet Answer)

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Most people will recognize a cat by their perked-up ears, watching them twitch and move ever so slightly if they hear or sense something nearby. Cats’ ears are important in their ability to hear and sense another animal that’s close, an animal that they may be hunting. So why may your cats’ ears be drooping? You may notice one or both of your cats’ ears hanging lower than normal or even folded over. In this article we’ll discuss why you may see this and what to do if it occurs.

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What Does It Mean When Your Cat’s Ears Droop?

The ears of a cat are made of a layer of cartilage surrounded by skin and fur. The cartilage assists the ears to naturally stand up. Some cats may be born with an injury or abnormality to their ear(s) so that they are unable to stand up and/or have a deformity. However, for the purpose of this article we will assume your cats’ ears were previously normal.

A droopy ear typically means that there has been some type of injury or irritation to the ear(s). Your cat may be unable to hold their ear upright if there has been an injury to the cartilage. Or, your cat may physically hold their ear lower and droop it themselves if there is some sort of irritation to the ear.

Rarely a droopy ear may mean your cat has some type of neurologic disorder. There are some neurological diseases where not only the ear, but an entire side of a face may become droopy. The ear may be the most noticeable thing to droop.

a tabby cat infected with ear hematoma
Image Credit: BabyMosquito, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Droopy Ears in a Cat?

A droopy ear is fairly self-explanatory. It’s an ear that is either folded down or held down against the head, or an ear that hangs lower than usual. As mentioned above, if there is an injury, the ear itself may be swollen and folded over. There may also be swelling around the ear base and infection can be present in either of these areas.

If your cat has an ear infection, they may be constantly shaking their head back and forth and/or scratching at the ear(s). If only one ear is infected, or one is worse than the other, this may be the ear that your cat keeps going after and may be the only ear that droops. An ear infection will often have discharge associated with it, in the ear canal itself. This may look like purulent discharge (otherwise known as pus), dark brown or even gray colored, chunky discharge. There may also be an odor to the droopy ear.

The affected ear(s) may be very painful to touch, and your cat may vocalize when they itch or rub at it as well. Your cat may also tilt their head towards the affected ear or be hesitant to walk and/or eat. Whether there is an ear infection, an injury, or a neurologic condition will determine if your cat also has a fever, is lethargic, or has other abnormal signs with the droopy ear.

Funny big cat with drooping ear and green eyes
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog,Shutterstock

What Are the Causes of a Cat with Drooping Ear(s)?

One of the most common reasons we will see a cat have one or both ears droop is because of an ear infection. Ear infections can be caused by bacteria and/or yeast. Your veterinarian will want to look at a sample from your cat’s ears under the microscope to determine the cause of the infection. An ear infection will have a lot of discharge, itching, and irritation to the affected ear(s).

Another cause of ear drooping and/or irritation is ear mites. Ear mites are parasites that live within the ear itself. Ear mites are most common in young kittens, cats, or outdoor cats. Similar to an ear infection, the cat will have discharge, which is commonly very thick and dark with ear mites.

Outdoor cats, or cats that live with other animals, can be susceptible to sustaining injuries to their ears. They may get bit on the ear by another animal, or get cuts and/or lacerations to their ears. Sometimes just the pain, inflammation, and secondary infection will cause the ear to droop down. Other times, injury to the cartilage itself within the ear will cause the ear to droop down. If there is no injury to the cartilage, your cat may just droop the ear because of the pain.

There are some neurologic causes to a drooping ear. This can be anything from inflammation, a stroke, cancer, and/or infection. The infection can be caused by bacteria or even a virus. These may cause not only the ear to droop on the affected side, but may also cause the same side of the face to droop as well.

grey cat scottishfold drooping ears
Image Credit: vika_piarluchina,Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Cat With a Drooping Ear?

If you notice that your cat has one or both ears drooping, you should call and make an appointment with your veterinarian. Oftentimes if there is an ear infection in one or both ears, your veterinarian will need to determine what type of infection is present so that they can prescribe appropriate medications. Over-the-counter medications and/or flushes should never be used in your cat! There are many types of eye and ear medications that are safe for dogs but can be toxic to cats. In addition, if your cat has a ruptured eardrum, putting anything into the ear may make the ear worse and even cause neurological damage.

If your cat is scratching at the ear(s), and/or causing self-trauma to the ear(s), you can purchase an e-collar from the store and put it on your cat until you can get them to a veterinarian. Open wounds should not have any ointments, salves, or sprays applied and only medications prescribed by your veterinarian should be used. As with the ear medications, there are many topical products that may be toxic to your cat if they ingest them. You can gently wash the open wounds with a washcloth and diluted unscented soap or chlorhexidine solution, making sure to keep anything from running into the eyes.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Will My Cat’s Droopy Ear Stand Back Up?

Oftentimes yes. If there is an underlying infection and/or trauma to the ear, once the condition heals, the ear will go back to normal. Unfortunately, if there is a neurologic issue, or there is damage to the underlying cartilage of the ear, the ear may not go back to standing up normally.

Does a Droopy Ear Affect My Cats’ Hearing?

It depends. An ear infection may be severe enough that it can rupture the eardrum and affect the hearing. Trauma to the ear pinna, or flap, won’t affect the hearing unless there has been some sort of damage to the inner nerve and/or ear drum. Same goes for any neurologic condition – if the nerve supply and ear drum are unaltered, then your cats’ hearing will likely be unaffected.

Cute kitten drooping ear with gray fur walking
Image Credit: Broken White,Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Cats’ ears can droop most commonly from infections, ear mites, and/or trauma to the ears. Sometimes just the swelling and infection will cause the ears to droop down. Other times, your cat may physically hold their ear against their head because the ear is uncomfortable. Rarely, we can see neurologic conditions cause your cat’s ear(s) to droop. If you notice that one or both of your cat’s ears are drooping, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Over-the-counter flushes, ointments, and medications should never be used in cats as toxicity and further damage is possible.


Featured Image Credit: BabyMosquito, Shutterstock

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