Ear infections aren't that common in cats, but when cats do develop them it could be caused by an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian. Here, our Delaware County vets share the possible causes of your cat's ear infection as well as the symptoms and how they can be treated.
Ear Infection in Cats
It's uncommon for cats to develop ear infections, however when they do arise it could be caused by a serious health problem.
It's important to have your kitty's ear infection addressed by a veterinarian as quickly as possible because a simple outer ear infection can quickly become a middle ear infection and then an inner ear infection. If cat ear infections go without treatment, they can eventually lead to hearing loss.
The Causes of Cat Ear Infections
Ear infections in cats generally signal an underlying health problem unless your feline friend has gotten ear mites from another animal. If your kitty suffers from diabetes, allergies, or a weak immune system they are at a higher risk of developing ear infections than cats that don't have these issues.
Ear infections can develop when the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated, leading to inflammation. This causes excess wax production and creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast grow out of control.
This is when cats start experiencing itchiness and inflammation, leading to an itch-scratch cycle which in turn leads to common ear infection symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and headshaking.
Here is a handful of the most common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats:
- Wax buildup
- Irritants in the environment
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal
- Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
- Autoimmune diseases
- Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
- Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
- Incorrect ear cleaning
- Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
- Diabetes mellitus
- Ruptured eardrum
- Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
Outer ear infections (otitis externa) - which are not as common in cats as they are in dogs - can spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna). Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of feline otitis externa.
Signs & Symptoms of Ear infections in Cats
If your cat is pawing at their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, they may have an ear infection. Below are some additional ear infection symptoms your cat may develop:
- Swelling or redness in the ear canal
- Head tilting
- Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
- Yellowish or black discharge
- Hearing loss
- Waxy buildup near or on the canal
- Strong odor
- Loss of balance
- Swelling or redness of the ear flap
While healthy ears are pale pink in color and have no visible debris or odor, and minimal or no wax, infected ears are often red or swollen, or will have an odor.
Diagnosing Ear Infections in Cats
Your vet will start by using an otoscope to look into your cat’s ear canal, then take a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the issue. If you bring your cat in for routine exams, your vet may be able to detect early signs of infection before they develop into long-term problems. We also have an in-house laboratory that allows us to perform tests and receive results quickly and effectively.
Treating Cats With Ear Infections
It's usually not complicated to treat ear infections in felines. Your vet will start your cat's treatment by clipping the fur around their ear canal (if needed) to help keep the area dry and clean.
If the infection has reached the middle ear but the eardrum is untouched, oral or injectable antibiotics may clear up the infection.
Treatments for ear infections in cats caused by yeast, bacterial infections, or ear mites, might consist of corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in-ear drop form.
To help treat your feline friend's ear infection at home you will need to monitor the condition of your cat's ears to make sure the interior of the ear flap is clean and that the canal is clear. If your vet has prescribed ear drops, gently lift the ear flap, then squeeze the solution into the ear canal, massaging the base of the ear to help the medicine work its way into the ear canal.
It's imperative to treat feline ear infections early because they can become chronic and cause hearing loss and facial paralysis.
Chronic Ear Infection in Cats
Is your cat suffering from chronic ear infections? This could be a result of parasites, growths, allergies, and more. If you find your cat has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, contact your veterinarian and explain the situation, because they might be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.
Sometimes in very rare situations, surgery will be required to treat the issue and remove swollen tissue that has narrowed or blocked the canal.
Preventing Cat Ear Infections
The best way to prevent painful ear infections in cats is to regularly check the ear to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling, or other symptoms. Have any issues treated before they worsen, and ask your veterinarian to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears, or bring them in for regular cleanings.
Unless your vet instructs you to do so, do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal.
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.