Are Your Cat’s Ears Supposed to Feel Warm? The Surprising Truth

Anatomy of Cat Ears

A cat’s ear is a complex structure made up of three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the part you see on the outside called the pinna as well as the ear canal. The pinna consists of cartilage covered by skin and fur. Its main function is to collect sound waves and direct them down the ear canal. The ear canal is a short tube lined with skin that leads down to the eardrum. It helps amplify incoming sound waves.

The eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane, separates the outer ear from the middle ear. When sound waves reach the eardrum they cause it to vibrate. On the other side of the eardrum is the middle ear chamber. Inside this space are three tiny bones called ossicles – the malleus, incus and stapes. Vibrations from the eardrum are transferred to these ossicles which pass the vibrations on to the inner ear.

diagram of cat ear anatomy and function

The inner ear contains the cochlea for hearing and the vestibular system for balance. It is filled with fluid and contains sensory cells that detect sound and motion. The nerves from the inner ear connect to the brain where signals are interpreted.[1]

A cat’s large, upright and movable outer ears help collect and amplify sounds from their environment. Their ear canal amplifies the sound further before it reaches the eardrum. This allows cats to detect even the slightest noises and pinpoint the source of the sound.[2]

Sources:

[1] https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/ear-disorders-of-cats/ear-structure-and-function-in-cats


[2] https://annarboranimalhospital.com/2017/05/whats-slit-cats-ear-anatomy/

Why Cat Ears Feel Warm

Cat ears may feel warm to the touch due to their high blood flow and lack of sweat glands. Cats only sweat through their paw pads, so they rely on panting and blood flow to help regulate their body temperature. Blood flow to a cat’s ears helps release heat. Since cat ears also have very thin fur, they lose heat quickly when blood circulates near the skin’s surface.1 This is why healthy cats often have ears that feel warm compared to other parts of their body.

Normal Cat Ear Temperature

The normal temperature range for a cat’s ears is 100-102°F (37.8-39.4°C) according to PetPlace.com (https://www.petplace.com/article/cats/keeping-your-cat-healthy/take-cats-temperature). A cat’s body temperature is closely regulated and usually fluctuates by only 1-2°F over the course of a day. Ear temperature is usually 0.5-1°F lower than rectal temperature. As long as your cat’s ear temperature falls within the normal 100-102°F range, there is no cause for concern.

It’s important to know the normal temperature range for cats so you can monitor their health and watch for any significant changes. A temperature over 103°F or under 99°F indicates a medical issue that requires veterinary attention. Checking your cat’s ear temperature periodically can help you establish their normal baseline temperature.

Checking Cat’s Ear Temperature

There are a few ways to check your cat’s ear temperature at home without specialized equipment:

  • Use a digital ear thermometer – This is the most accurate method. Gently insert the thermometer into your cat’s ear canal and wait for it to beep, indicating it has recorded the temperature (Source). Normal temperature range is 100-102.5°F.
  • Feel with your hand – Gently feel your cat’s ears with the back of your hand. Warm ears can indicate fever. However, this method is subjective and less reliable.
  • Look for signs of fever – These include lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, and warm or hot ears. If your cat is exhibiting concerning symptoms along with warm ears, it may have a fever (Source).

It’s ideal to establish your cat’s normal ear temperature when they are healthy. That way you can more easily identify any spikes that could signal illness or fever.

Causes of Warm Ears in Cats

There are several potential causes for warm ears in cats:

causes of warm ears in cats

Fever – One of the most common reasons for warm ears in cats is a fever or elevated body temperature. Fevers can be caused by infections, inflammation, cancer, toxins and other medical issues. According to PetMD, fevers cause vasodilation as the body tries to release heat, resulting in warm ears.

Inflammation – Inflammation in or around the ears can also lead to warmth. Ear infections, allergies, mites, hematomas and other inflammatory conditions affecting the ears or ear canals can cause excess blood flow and warmth.

Exercise – Vigorous exercise or play can also make a cat’s ears feel warm temporarily as blood circulation increases throughout the body and to the skin’s surface. The ears have many blood vessels close to the skin, causing them to feel warmer.

Stress – Stress, fear or anxiety can also induce vasodilation and increased blood flow to the ears in cats. The fight-or-flight response prepares the body for action by increasing circulation.

According to Rover.com, other potential reasons for warm cat ears include obesity, hyperthyroidism, poisoning, seizures, and reactions to medications. So various systemic medical conditions could potentially manifest with warmed ears.

Treating Warm Ears in Cats

If your cat has warm ears due to fever or infection, the first step is to reduce the fever and treat the underlying condition. Here are some tips for treating warm ears in cats:

Reduce Fever – If your cat has a fever, your vet may prescribe medication to help bring the temperature down. This is important to make your cat more comfortable and prevent complications. You can also use cool (not cold) compresses on the ears to provide some relief.

treating warm ears in cats

Treat Infection – Most ear infections in cats are caused by bacteria or yeast. Your vet will determine the cause and prescribe appropriate medication, usually antibiotic or antifungal ear drops.1 Oral antibiotics may also be used for severe infections.

Let Cat Rest – Make sure your cat has a quiet, comfortable place to rest while recovering from an ear infection. Rest is important for the body to heal.

With proper treatment from your veterinarian, most ear infections in cats can be cleared up within 7-10 days. It’s important to give all medication as directed and return for follow up exams as needed.

Warning Signs Related to Warm Ears

Ears that feel abnormally warm in cats are often a sign of underlying issues that warrant caution and monitoring. Some key warning signs to watch out for that may accompany warm ears include:

Fever: If a cat’s ears feel warmer than usual, it likely indicates a fever or elevated body temperature. Take your cat’s temperature rectally to confirm. Fevers in cats are associated with infection, inflammation, cancer and other illnesses. Left untreated, high fevers can become dangerous.

Discharge: Any discharge coming from the ears, whether clear, bloody, pus-filled or waxy, signals an active ear infection or irritation. The infection itself will cause the ears to feel quite warm. Ear discharge often results from bacterial or fungal infections.

Head Shaking: Repeated head shaking, scratching or rubbing of the ears can signify discomfort and pain associated with inflamed ears. The behavior seems to be an attempt to alleviate irritation inside the ear canal.

Scratching: Excessive scratching around the ears or head is another sign of irritation in or around the ears. Cats may scratch their ears or shake their heads in an attempt to relieve painful itchiness and pressure resulting from ear inflammation.

When to See the Vet

You should take your cat to the vet if their ears remain abnormally warm for over 24 hours or if they have a fever over 103°F. A persistent fever along with warm ears can be a sign of infection or other illness that requires medical attention.

According to Warm Ears: A Cat Ear Infection Guide, cats with an ear infection may have ears that feel hotter than usual. If there is pus, blood, or foul-smelling discharge coming from the ears, this indicates an infection that needs veterinary care.

A fever over 103°F along with warm ears is considered an emergency. Bring your cat to the vet right away if their temperature is elevated for more than 24 hours and their ears are hot to the touch. Prompt treatment is necessary to bring the fever under control and address the underlying cause.

Preventing Ear Infections

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent ear infections in their feline companions:

Clean Ears: Regularly cleaning your cat’s ears can help prevent wax and debris buildup that can lead to infection. Gently wipe the outer ear with a cotton ball or soft cloth dampened with an ear cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. Be very gentle and never insert anything into the ear canal.

Treat Parasites: Ear mites are a common cause of ear infections in cats. Treating ear mites as soon as they are detected can help prevent a secondary infection from occurring. Medicated ear drops prescribed by a vet will kill the mites.

Check for Foreign Objects: Cats are curious creatures and may stick their heads into small spaces and get foreign material trapped in their ears like foxtails or grass awns. Check your cat’s ears regularly for any foreign material and remove it gently with tweezers if spotted. Left untreated, these objects can cause significant irritation and infection.

By staying on top of ear cleanliness, monitoring for parasites, and checking for foreign objects, cat owners can reduce the chances of painful ear infections developing in their pets. However, because ear infections can arise suddenly, it’s important to watch for any signs of discomfort, redness, odor, discharge or head shaking so prompt veterinary attention can be sought if an infection does occur.

Sources:
https://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/resources/ear-infections-in-cats/
https://justcatsclinic.com/what-cat-owners-should-know-about-ear-infections/

Providing Ear Relief for Cats

There are several ways to provide soothing relief if your cat is dealing with warm or irritated ears. Some home remedies you can try include:

Cool Compresses

applying cool compress to cat's ears

Gently applying a cool, damp washcloth or paper towel to the outside of your cat’s ears may help reduce inflammation and discomfort. Make sure the compress is not too cold. Apply for a few minutes at a time whenever your cat will allow it. The cool temperature can have a calming effect on irritated ear tissue.

You can also try wrapping an ice pack or frozen gel pack in a towel and holding it a few inches from your cat’s ears for a short time. The cooling sensation can help relieve painful warmth or swelling.

Gentle Massages

Lightly massaging the base of the ears and around the ear flap can improve blood flow and drainage. Use gentle circular motions with your fingertips. Never insert anything into the ear canal. This type of manual stimulation may provide soothing relief from inner ear inflammation.

Medication

Your veterinarian may prescribe medication if your cat has an infection or inflammation causing warm ears. Antibiotic, antifungal, or anti-inflammatory ear drops or oral medication can treat the underlying condition. Follow your vet’s dosage instructions carefully and finish the entire course of treatment. This will help fully resolve the ear problem.

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