Although ear infections are fairly uncommon in cats when they do occur they can be an indication of an underlying health condition that requires veterinary care. Today our Ambler vets explain some of the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats.
What should I do if my cat has an ear infection?
Ear infections are fairly uncommon in cats but when they do occur the underlying cause can be serious. Which is why it's important to seek treatment for your cat's ear infection as early as possible. An uncomplicated outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle ear and beyond, leading to more serious and painful inner ear infections in cats.
What causes ear infections in cats?
Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of outer ear infections in cats. Cats that suffer from a weak immune system, allergies or diabetes tend to be more susceptible to ear infections than cats in good health.
Your feline friend could develop an ear infection if the skin lining the ear canal becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes excess wax production and creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast begin to grow out of control making your cat's ears itchy and uncomfortable. At that point symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing and headshaking are likely to occur.
Some of the most common causes of outer and middle ear infections in cats include:
- 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
What are the signs of cat ear infections?
If your cat is pawing at their ear or generally looking uncomfortable, they may be developing an ear infection. Healthy ears are pale pink in color with no signs of waxy buildup or odor. Infected ears are often red or swollen, or will have a musty odor. Other symptoms your cat may display if they have an ear infection 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
How do vets diagnose ear infections in cats?
Your vet will start by examining your cat’s ear canal, then take a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope in order to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the issue.
How are cat ear infections treated?
The treatment for cat ear infections is generally straightforward. To begin your veterinarian may clip the fur around your kitty’s ear canal to help keep it clean and dry.
If the infection has reached the middle ear but the eardrum is not affected, oral or injectable antibiotics may be given to clear up the infection.
If your kitty's ear infection is caused by bacteria, yeast overgrowth, or ear mites they may be treated with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in the form of eardrops.
It will be important to monitor the condition of your cat's ears regularly to check that the interior of the ear flap is clean and that the canal is clear. If your vet has prescribed eardrops, 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 infections can turn chronic and may even lead to facial paralysis or hearing loss.
What are the treatments for chronic ear infections in cats?
Cats with chronic ear infections could be suffering from growths, allergies, parasites and more. If you find your cat has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful speak to your veterinarian. Your vet may be able to prescribe medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.
Although rare, in some cases surgery may be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the canal.
Can I prevent my cat from getting an ear infection?
The best way to prevent your cat from developing a painful ear infection is to regularly check your kitty's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Be sure to have any issues treated early before they worsen, and ask your vet to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears - or bring your feline friend to the vet for regular cleanings.
Do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal unless your vet instructs you to do so.
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.