Ear Infection in Cats

Though ear infections are uncommon in cats when they do occur they are often a secondary condition that can lead to serious consequences if not treated for too long. In this post, our Flat rock vets share causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats. 


Ear Infection in Cats

While cats do not usually get ear infections, when they do show up the cause can be complex — from a foreign object in the ear canal, a mass or a secondary condition to an allergy.

Outer ear infections may quickly spread to the middle and inner ear, and eventually cause symptoms ranging from odor to discolored discharge and even loss of hearing. A qualified veterinarian can effectively diagnose and treat the condition.

Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

Generally, ear infections are a secondary condition caused by an underlying health issue, unless your feline friend contracts ear mites from another animal. Cats with a weak immune system, diabetes or allergies are more prone to ear infections.

The skin lining in the ear canal can become inflamed as a result of irritation. This causes an itch-scratch cycle and pet parents often notice symptoms of headshaking, clawing, ear rubbing and scratching.

Here are some factors known to cause potential ear infections of the external ear and middle ear (otitis media):

  • Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Excessive bacteria, yeast or both
  • Tumors or polyps in the ear canal
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Incorrect ear cleaning
  • Irritants in the environment
  • Diseases that suppress the immune system (FIV or Feline Leukemia Virus)
  • Foreign bodies on the ear canal
  • Wax buildup on the ear canal
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergic reactions to food, pollen, etc.

Infections of the outer ear (otitis externa) are not as common in cats as they are in dogs, and can spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna). The most common cause of feline otitis externa is ear mite infestation.

Signs of Ear infection in Cats

Is your cat pawing at his or her ear, or looking otherwise uncomfortable? They may have an ear infection. Other symptoms of ear infection your cat may display include:

  • Yellowish or black discharge
  • Head tilting in the direction of the painful ear
  • Ear discharge that resembles coffee grounds (sign of ear mites)
  • Hearing loss
  • Strong odor
  • Waxy buildup near or on the canal
  • Disorientation or loss of balance
  • Swelling or redness in the ear canal or on 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

Your vet will start by using an otoscope to look into your cat’s ear canal, then taking 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 typically complicated. To begin, 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 prescribed by your vet may help clear up the infection.

If the cause is determined to be a bacterial or yeast infection, or ear mites, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids, anti-fungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in ear drop form.

As for at-home treatments, continue checking your cat’s ear 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.

It is imperative to have these infections treated early - as soon as you notice your pet is uncomfortable - since ear infections can turn chronic and lead to facial paralysis and hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Do you find your cat is getting 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 their ears itchy or painful, discuss this with your vet, as he or she may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

Occasionally, surgery will be needed 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 itself.

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.

Do you suspect your cat may have an ear infection? Our vets have experience in diagnosing and treating many illnesses and conditions. in pets. Contact our Flat Rock vets at Western Carolina Regional Animal Hospital & Veterinary Emergency Hospital today to book an appointment.

Ear Infection in Cats, Flat Rock Vet

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