Why Are There Slits in the Tops of Cats' Ears?

Your cat's outer ear receives vibrations that her inner ears translate to sounds.
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At a casual glance, a cat's ear looks like a perfect triangle. Upon closer inspection, you may have noticed some slits on your cat's ear and wonder if they are cause for concern. Some slits observed on a cat’s ear are her normal anatomical design, while others have been inflicted.

Anatomy of the Feline Outer Ear

Your cat’s ear is made up of three sections referred to as the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear includes the ear flap, called the pinna, which stands straight up on most cats. The pinna surrounds the ear canal, through which sounds enter the ear as vibrations. Along the outermost side of each pinna, two slits form a vertical open pocket called the tragus. This structure widens and narrows, depending on how the cat has her ear positioned at any given moment, to enhance the detection of vibrations that will travel into the middle and inner ears for conversion into distinct sounds.

An Identification of Spaying or Neutering

If you adopted your kitty from a rescue group or shelter or as a stray adult, you may have observed a notchlike slit on one of the ears and dismissed it as a battle scar from her former days on the mean streets. It is more likely that the ear was cut this way when your cat was altered. When feral cats are trapped for spay and neuter procedures, clinics often make this cut as a permanent marker if the cats are to be released back into a colony. This enables quick identification in future to prevent a repeat of trapping and anesthetizing a cat who has already been altered. Once released, some of these cats end up adopted as strays or trapped once again by good-hearted individuals and taken to shelters to be put up for adoption.

Slits that Require Medical Attention

The pinna is thin and the edges of the tragus are even more so, making the outer ear vulnerable to tears, lacerations and trauma. One common cause of such injury to the outer ear is self-inflicted through incessant and vigorous scratching at the head, neck or ears. Such intense scratching may be an indication that your kitty is suffering from fleas, ear mites or skin allergies. While trying to relieve her itch, she can easily rip into her outer ear, resulting in slits from torn tissue or abrasions that can become infected and ultimately lead to abscesses. Other causes of trauma can arise from scratches and bite wounds incurred while fighting with other cats or getting the ear caught while scooting under a chain-link fence or through sharp wooded brush.

Know When to Visit the Veterinarian

As a caring and proactive owner, look your cat over on a regular basis, taking note of anything unusual. If you notice slits, punctures, lacerations or abrasions on your cat’s ear that were not there before, take her to the veterinarian. In the case of your kitty scratching herself, the vet will trim her nails to prevent further trauma, treat the wounds if necessary, determine the cause of her itchiness and treat her discomforting condition. Bite wounds will require treatment to prevent abscesses and antibiotics to prevent infection, and larger lacerations may need surgical repair to preserve the appearance of her ear.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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