I had a little ginger kitten sitting in front of me. He was a stray and tiny. He could not sit still. He tried to play with me but every few minutes he had to stop and scratch his ears. A quick look in his ears showed me the distinctive coffee like discharge in his ear that told me that he probably had ear mites. A check under the microscope showed small white tick like creatures confirming that he did indeed have ear mites.
Ear mites are quite common in cats but can also infect dogs and other species. The mites are quite contagious so if one animal in a household has them then they probably all do. The mites usually live in the ear canal itself but can also live anywhere on the animal. The damage the mites do generally causes a secondary ear infection to develop.
In most cats with ear mites if you quickly rub the base of the ear the cat will respond by automatic scratching movements of the back leg. This seldom occurs in cats that do not have ear mites or ear infections.
Ear mites are very itchy so infected animals constantly shake their head and scratch their ears. Low levels of ear mites may cause no visible signs but they can serve as a source of reinfection so it is important to treat all animals that are in contact. Ear mites are also persistent so it is usually necessary to treat the animal more than once to make sure they are all gone.
Sore ears are very common in the tropics and it is not always caused by ear mites. Ear infections particularly if left untreated can become a severe, difficult and ongoing problem. If your cat or dog has persistently bad ears then you should take them to your vet and get them to check the cause of the problem.