Cats love rubbing their heads against your leg, your hands, and the bodies of other cats. This is a way of marking their territory and showing affection. There are scent glands in the heads that release pheromones when rubbed against a person or surface, so any other cat that walks by knows that the rubbed item has been claimed.
Frequent head rubbing is normal in cats and is usually no reason for concern. However, if your cat seems to be vigorously itching his or her ears against objects, rather than just head-butting and rubbing the sides of the heat, you should pay attention. Ear rubbing, when more than occasional, is often a sign of ear mites.
What are ear mites?
Ear mites are tiny creatures that can only be seen under the microscope. There are several species that may take up residence in your cat's ears, but the most common of these is known as Otodectes cynotis. The mites feed on your cat's earwax and the skin on the inside of the ear. In doing so, they cause intense irritation.
Are there symptoms of ear mites, other than itching the ears?
Frequent itching of the ears is often the first symptom that cat owners notice. However, frequent shaking or the head is also common. If you examine your cat closely, you'll likely notice that he or she has redness and inflammation inside the ears. You might spot scabs inside and around the ears, and in some cats, you'll see a brown discharge accumulating in the inner ears.
How are ear mites treated?
If you suspect your cat has ear mites, it's important to take him or her to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. Cats who rub their ears excessively may rupture their eardrums or become anemic due to blood loss. Your vet can diagnose mites by swabbing the inner ear and examining its contents under a microscope.
If mites are detected, your vet will likely treat your cat by applying a topical insecticide to the inner ears. Many cats with ear mites develop secondary bacterial infections. If your cat has this issue, your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics.
Ear mites are incredibly irritating for a cat, so make sure you seek prompt treatment if you think your kitty might be infected with these pests. If you have more than one cat, your vet will likely recommend treating them all, so the ear mites don't simply migrate to a different cat. Thoroughly cleaning your cat's bedding, food bowls, and toys is also important to prevent re-infestation.