Ear Infection in Cats
Cats don’t often experience ear infections, but when they do the culprit can be complex, from a foreign object in the ear canal to allergies, mass or secondary conditions.
Because outer ear infections can easily and quickly spread to the middle and inner ear, it’s imperative to have them treated early. Symptoms of advanced ear infections can include discolored discharge, odor and even hearing loss.
Today, our vets share which signs you should beware of, when to see your vet, and more.
What causes ear infection in cats?
Typically, ear infections are a secondary condition resulting from an underlying health issue - unless your kitty contracts ear mites from another animal. Cats with diabetes, allergies or a weak immune system will be more vulnerable to ear infections.
Irritation in the skin lining of the ear canal may cause inflammation, leading to excess wax production. In this environment, yeast and bacteria (which are normally present in the ear canal) can reproduce and quickly grow out of control.
An ugly cycle ensues as more itchiness and inflammation, causing your cat to itch and scratch. He or she may also display symptoms of clawing, head shaking and ear rubbing.
Here are some contributors that can cause infections of the external ear and middle ear (otitis media):
- Irritants in the environment
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal
- Immune-suppressing diseases (FIV or Feline Leukemia Virus)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Buildup of wax in the ear canal
- Allergic reactions to food, pollen, etc.
- Improper ear cleaning
- Diabetes mellitus
- Thick hair or fur in the ear canal
- Ruptured eardrum
- Excessive yeast, bacteria or both
- Tumors or polyps in the ear canal
Statistically, cats do not experience as many outer ear canal infections (otitis externa) as dogs do. However, when these happen they may spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna). Feline otitis externa is most often caused by ear mite infestation.
What are signs of ear infection in cats?
Does your cat have waxy buildup on or near the ear canal, or has he or she been pawing at an ear? They may have an ear infection. Other symptoms of ear infection our vets commonly see in cats include:
- Strong odor
- Redness or swelling on the ear flap or in the ear canal
- Loss of balance or disorientation
- Waxy buildup on or near the ear canal
- Hearing loss
- Yellowish or black discharge
- Head tilting towards the painful ear
- Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds (sign of ear mites)
Healthy ears will be pale pink in color and display no visible signs of odor debris, and minimal to no wax will be present. In contrast, infected ears will often appear swollen or red, or will have an odor.
How are ear infections in cats diagnosed?
At Providence Animal Hospital in Charlotte, our qualified veterinarians can effectively treat your cat’s ear infection. To begin, your veterinarian will use an otoscope to peer into your cat’s ear canal, then take a sample of ear debris, which he or she will examine under a microscope to find out whether ear mites, yeast or bacteria are the culprit.
Your vet may catch early signs of infection during a routine exam, before they develop into larger problems. Our animal hospital also has an in-house laboratory, where we can perform tests and get results quickly.
How should I treat my cat’s ear infection?
Fortunately, treating your kitty’s ear infection shouldn’t typically be complicated. The fur surrounding your cat’s ear may need to be clipped so it can be kept clean and dry. Your veterinarian can do this when administering treatment.
If the middle ear has become infected but the eardrum is not affected, your vet may prescribe injectable or oral antibiotics to help clear the infection.
If ear mites, bacteria or yeast have caused the infection, corticosteroids, antibiotics, antifungals or anti-parasitics in ear drop form may be your best bet.
When it comes to treating feline ear infections at home, check your cat’s ear to make sure the inside of the ear flap is clean and that there aren’t any foreign objects or wax blocking the canal. If ear drops have been prescribed, lift the ear flap gently, squeeze the solution into the ear canal and massage the ear’s base so the medicine can work its way into the ear canal.
It’s imperative that these infections are detected and treated early - as soon as your pet seems uncomfortable or you notice any of the symptoms listed above - as ear infections can quickly turn chronic and lead to hearing loss and even facial paralysis.
What if my cat suffers chronic ear infections?
Have you discovered your cat’s ears always seem to be infected? Parasites, growths, allergies and other factors can cause chronic ear infections. If your cat’s ear infection keeps returning or you find it’s lasting longer each time, this can result in painful, itchy ears.
Talk to your vet - he or she may be able to prescribe medication to reduce swelling of the tissue in the canal. Rarely, surgery will be required to resolve the problem and remove swollen tissue that’s resulting in a narrow or blocked ear canal.
How can I prevent my cat from getting ear infections?
The best way to prevent your furry friend from getting painful ear infections is to regularly check his or her ears to ensure there’s no swelling, residue, redness, odor or other symptoms. Ensure any issues are treated early, and ask your vet to show you how to properly clean your cat’s ears, or bring them in for regularly scheduled cleanings.
Do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal itself, unless your vet instructs you to do so, as this can cause damage to the ear.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.