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Ear Infection in Cats - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Although ear infections are uncommon in cats when they do occur they can be an indication of an underlying issue that requires medical attention. Today our Mooresville vets explain some of the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats. 

Cat Ear Infections

Ear infections are a relatively uncommon health issue in cats but when they do strike the underlying cause can be serious.

A simple outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle ear and onto your kitty's inner ear, which is why it is essential to seek treatment for your cat's ear infection as soon as symptoms arise. If left untreated ear infections in cats can result in hearing loss.

Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

Unless your cat has contracted ear mites from another animal, ear infections in cats are usually a sign of an underlying health condition. If your kitty suffers from a weak immune system, allergies or diabetes they 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. Inflammation can lead to excess wax production which in turn creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast grow out of control.

At that point further inflammation is likely to occur and itchiness begins, causing an itch-scratch cycle resulting in the most common symptoms of ear infections in cats: ear rubbing, scratching, clawing and headshaking.

Common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats include:

  • Irritants in the environment
  • Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
  • Foreign bodies in the ear canal
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
  • Wax buildup
  • Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
  • Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
  • Incorrect ear cleaning
  • Ruptured eardrum

Outer ear infections (otitis externa) are less common in cats than they are in dogs, but when they do occur outer ear infections in cats can quickly spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna). Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of feline otitis externa (outer ear infections in cats).

Symptoms of Ear infection in Cats

If your feline friend is rubbing their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, your pet may have an ear infection. Other common symptoms of ear infection that your cat might display include:

  • Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
  • Yellowish or black discharge
  • Head tilting
  • Swelling or redness in the ear canal
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of balance
  • Waxy buildup near or on the canal
  • Disorientation
  • Swelling or redness of the ear flap
  • Strong odor from the ear

Healthy cat ears are pale pink in color and have no visible debris, or odor, and very little wax buildup. When a cat's ear becomes infected they are often red or swollen, or will have an odor.

How Ear Infections in Cats Are Diagnosed

Your veterinarian will begin 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 problem with your kitty's ear.

Bringing your feline friend in to see our vets at Lake Norman Animal Hospital for routine wellness exams provides your vet with an opportunity to monitor the overall health of your cat and your kitty's ears.

Wellness exams mean that your vet may be able to detect early signs of an ear infection (or other health issues) before it develops into a long-term problem. We also have an in-house laboratory that allows us to perform any tests required and receive results quickly so that your cat's treatment can begin as soon as possible. 

Treating Ear Infection in Cats

Treatment for feline ear infections isn’t usually 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 has not yet been infected, oral or injectable antibiotics can often help to clear up the infection.

For ear mites, bacterial ear infections in cats or yeast infections in cats, treatment with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in-ear drops may be prescribed.

Treatment at home for your cat'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 deeper into the ear.

Early treatment of infections is essential since ear infections can turn chronic and possibly even lead to facial paralysis and hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Chronic ear infections in cats can be caused by growths, allergies, parasites, and more. If you find that your feline friend has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, discuss this problem with your veterinarian, as they may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

In some rare cases, surgery will be required to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed your cat's ear canal.

How to Prevent Your Cat From Getting an Ear Infection

While there may be no way to prevent an ear infection you can take steps to catch the signs of an ear infection early so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe. Regularly check your cat's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Be sure to have any issues treated before they worsen, and ask your vet to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears.

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.

Is your cat suffering from an ear infection? Contact our office today to schedule an appointment. Our vets have experience in diagnosing and treating the full range of conditions that can affect your kitty's ears including inner ear infections in cats. 

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Lake Norman at Mooresville Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our veterinarians are passionate about improving the health of cats, dogs and exotic pets. Book your pet's first appointment today.

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