While ear infections tend to be relatively uncommon in cats when they do occur they can be an indication of an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention. In today's post, our Benicia vets explain some of the causes, symptoms, and treatments for ear infections in cats.
Ear Infection in Cats
Ear infections are a fairly uncommon condition to see in cats but when they do strike the underlying cause can be serious.
It is essential to seek treatment for your feline friend's ear infection as early as possible since a simple outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle and onto the cat's inner ear. Left untreated ear infections in cats can result in hearing loss.
Causes of Ear Infection in Cats
Ear infections in cats are typically a sign of an underlying health condition unless your kitty has contracted ear mites from another animal. If your cat suffers from a weak immune system, allergies, or diabetes it will be more susceptible to ear infections than cats without these health 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.
At that point inflammation and itchiness follow, causing an itch-scratch cycle which in turn leads to common ear infection symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and head shaking.
Below are some of the most common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats:
- Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
- Irritants in the environment
- Autoimmune diseases
- Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
- Wax buildup
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal
- Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
- Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
- Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
- Incorrect ear cleaning
- Ruptured eardrum
- Diabetes mellitus
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 (internal). Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of feline otitis externa.
Signs of Ear infection in Cats
If your cat is pawing at their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, it may have an ear infection. Other symptoms of ear infection your cat may display include:
- Yellowish or black discharge
- Head tilting
- Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
- Hearing loss
- Swelling or redness in the ear canal
- Strong odor
- Waxy buildup near or on the canal
- Loss of balance
- Swelling or redness of the ear flap
While healthy ears are pale pink and have no visible debris or odor, and minimal or no wax, infected ears are often red or swollen, or will have an odor.
How Ear Infections in Cats Are Diagnosed
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.
How to Treat Ear Infection in Cats
Treatment for feline ear infections isn’t usually complicated. To start, your vet may need to clip the fur around the cat’s ear canal to help keep it clean and dry.
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 that are caused by bacterial or yeast infections, or ear mites, may be treated with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in ear drop form.
At-home treatment for your kitty's ear infection involves monitoring the condition of your cat's ears to check that 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.
Early treatment of infections is essential since ear infections can turn chronic and lead to facial paralysis and hearing loss.
Chronic Ear Infection in Cats
Is your kitty suffering from chronic ear infections? This can be caused by growths, allergies, parasites, and more. If you find your cat has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making its ears itchy or painful, discuss this with your vet, as they may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.
In some rare cases, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the canal.
Preventing Your Cat From Getting an Ear Infection
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. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.