Though not as common as dog ear infections, our Seattle vets do treat ear infections in cats too. In many cases, cat ear infections are a sign of an underlying health condition that requires treatment. In today's post, we share more about the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats.
When Your Cat's Ears Become Infected
Ear infections in cats are relatively uncommon, however, when they do occur the underlying cause can be serious. If your cat begins showing signs of ear infection it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible in order to prevent symptoms from becoming more severe, and more difficult to treat. 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.
Causes of Ear Infection in Cats
Ear mites are the most common cause of ear infections in our feline friends. If your cat has a weakened immune system, allergies or diabetes they are likely to be more susceptible to ear infections than cats in good health.
Your cat 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.
There are a number of causes of outer and middle ear infections in cats such as:
- 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
How To Tell If Your Cat May Have an Ear Infection
If your kitty is pawing at their ear or generally looking uncomfortable, they could be developing an ear infection. Healthy cat ears are light pink inside with no signs of waxy buildup or odor. Infected ears can be red or swollen, or will have a musty odor. Other signs of ear infection in cats include:
- Discharge (yellow or black)
- Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
- Head tilting
- Hearing loss
- Redness or swelling in the ear canal
- Strong odor
- Waxy buildup near or on the canal
- Loss of balance
- Redness or swelling of the ear flap
Treatment for Ear Infection in Cats
Treating cat ear infections is typically pretty straightforward. Your vet 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 not the eardrum, oral or injectable antibiotics may be given to clear up the infection. Middle ear infections in cats can be challenging to treat due to the complex nature of the ear's anatomy.
If there is an ear mite, bacterial, or yeast ear infection in your cat's ear the vet may prescribe corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in the form of eardrops. To administer the 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. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully and keep your cat's ear clean.
The early treatment of infections is essential since infections can turn chronic and could even lead to facial paralysis or hearing loss.
If Your Cat's Ear Infection is Recurring or Chronic
Chronic ear infections in cats can be a sign of growths, allergies, parasites and more. If you find your kitty has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful speak to your vet. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal. In some rare cases, surgery may 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 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.