What Does it Mean When a Cat's Ears Smell?


Ear infections and ear mites are a common cause of unpleasant odors emanating from feline ears. Since cats generally take grooming seriously, smells coming from their bodies are frequently associated with ear infections, which are relatively common in felines.

Ear Infections and Odors

Yeast and bacteria can lead to a feline ear infection. Malassezia pachydermatis is the name of the yeast that brings on ear infections in cats. If your cat's ears are healthy, he should have ample protection from these organisms. Several factors can weaken this defense, including irregularities with hormones, allergies and moisture.

If your cat has an ear infection, his ears may give off a strong unpleasant scent or it may be subtle.

Apart from odor, other common signs of ear infection in felines are:

  • Discharge
  • Redness
  • Scratching of the ears
  • Shaking of the ears
  • Massaging the ears against hard surfaces such as the floor 
  • The presence of what looks like "coffee grounds" inside the ears

Ear Mites and Odors

Parasites such as ear mites can contribute to foul-smelling feline ears. Otodectes cynotis is an ear mite that often appears in cats, particularly kittens. If your cat's ears are infested with mites, his ears likely will be covered with a brown dry, crumbly discharge, sometimes punctuated with a pungent smell.

Aside from discharge and odor, other common indications of ear mites in cats include:

  • Excessive ear scratching, which sometimes can lead to scabs
  • Intense head shaking
  • Hair loss by the ears
  • Crying when others touch their ears 

It isn't uncommon for cats who have ear mites to scratch them so excessively that it causes serious harm, including bleeding. Obsessive scratching can lead to an ear infections. Since ear mites are extremely contagious, it's important to seek veterinary treatment for all pets in the household.

Other Signs of Ear Problems

If your cat's ears are healthy, they shouldn't contain a significant amount of wax inside. If your cat has a lot of wax in his ears, contact your veterinarian for information regarding cleaning them properly. Always be on the lookout for potential clues of ear issues in cats.

Other common signs that something may be amiss with a cat's ears are:

  • Loss of hearing
  • Bleeding
  • Ear canal or flap swelling
  • Touch sensitivity
  • Behavioral shifts including irritability and depression 


  • If you detect any unusual odor coming from your cat's ears, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian without delay. Healthy cat ears usually have sweet scents. Since ear infections can be uncomfortable to cats, prompt treatment is necessary. Note that ear infections in cats can signify a hereditary disease, hormonal problems and allergies.

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