Ear Infection in Cats
While ear infections are not common in cats, when they do occur there may be one or more serious underlying causes triggering the condition.
That's why it's essential to bring your cat to the vet to have the ear infection treated as soon as possible. An outer ear infection may be easy to treat, but it can quickly advance to the middle ear before affecting your cat's inner ear. Untreated ear infections in cats can cause hearing loss.
Causes of Ear Infection in Cats
Typically, ear infections in cats point to an underlying health condition - unless your furry family member has contracted ear mites. If your cat has diabetes, allergies or a weak immune system, they will likely be more vulnerable to ear infections than cats that don't experience these health issues.
Too much yeast can also lead to infection in your cat's ear. If the skin lining the interior of the ear canal becomes inflamed and irritated, excess wax is produced, leaving the opportunity for naturally occurring yeast and bacteria to grow out of control. This can lead to an ear infection for many cats.
By this point, your cat is likely feeling uncomfortable and itchy, causing an itch-scratch cycle which will lead to common, noticeable ear infection symptoms including headshaking, ear rubbing, clawing and scratching.
Some common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats are:
- Wax buildup
- Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Autoimmune diseases
- Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
- Incorrect ear cleaning
- Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal
- Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
- Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
- Ruptured eardrum
- Irritants in the environment
While cats do not get outer ear infections (otitis externa) as often as dogs do, when they do happen they can quickly spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna) if not treated. The most common cause of outer ear infection in cats is ear mite infestation.
Signs of Ear infection in Cats
If your cat is pawing at their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, they may be feeling the effects of 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 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.
How Ear Infections in Cats Are Diagnosed
When it comes to inner or outer cat ear infections, early diagnosis and treatment are key, since inner ear infections in cats can have serious consequences for long-term health. Untreated ear infections can lead to chronic infections, permanent damage, hearing loss and facial paralysis. 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 to Treat Ear Infection in Cats
Treatment for feline 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 untouched, oral or injectable antibiotics may be given to clear up the infection. For kitties with ear infections caused by bacterial or yeast infections, or ear mites, they may be treated with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in ear drop form.
Once at home, you'll need to monitor 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.
Chronic Ear Infection in Cats
If your cat is suffering from chronic ear infections they could be caused by 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, discuss this with your vet, as they may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.
Surgery will be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the canal, but this is rare.
Preventing Your Cat From Getting an Ear Infection
The best way to prevent painful ear infections in cats is to regularly check your kitty's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. 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 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.