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Causes & Treatment for Ear Infections in Cats

While ear infections tend to be relatively uncommon in cats when they do occur they can be an indication of an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention. In today's post, our Mechanicsburg vets explain some of the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats. 


Ear Infection in Cats

Ear infections are a fairly uncommon condition to see in cats but when they do strike the underlying cause can be serious.

It is essential to seek treatment for your feline friend's ear infection as early as possible since a simple outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle and into the cat's inner ear. Left untreated ear infections in cats can result in hearing loss.

Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

Unless your cat has acquired ear mites from another animal, ear infections in cats are typically a sign of an underlying medical condition. Your cat will be more prone to ear infections than cats without these health issues if they have a weakened immune system, allergies, or diabetes.

When the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated and inflames, ear infections can occur. This results in an excessive wax production and produces an environment where yeast and bacteria that are already present grow out of control.

At that point inflammation and itchiness follow, causing an itch-scratch cycle which in turn leads to common ear infection symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing and headshaking.

Below are some of the most common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats:

  • 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

Outer ear infections (otitis externa) - which are not as common in cats as they are in dogs - can spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna). Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of feline otitis externa.

Signs of Ear infection in Cats

If your cat is pawing at their 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
  • Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
  • Hearing loss
  • Swelling or redness in the ear canal
  • Strong odor
  • Waxy buildup near or on the canal
  • Disorientation
  • 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

Your cat's ear canal will first be examined with an otoscope by your veterinarian, who will then take a sample of the ear wax for microscopic examination to ascertain whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are the problem. Your veterinarian might be able to spot early indications of infection if you bring your cat in for regular checkups before they become serious issues. We also have a lab on staff, which enables us to conduct tests and get results efficiently.

How to Treat Ear Infection in Cats

Treatment for cat ear infections, inner or outer, isn’t usually complicated. To start, 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 may clear up the infection.

Treatments for ear infections in cats that are caused by bacterial or yeast infections, or ear mites, may be treated with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitic ear drops.

Monitoring the condition of your cat's ears to make sure the canal is clear and the interior of the ear flap is clean is a key component of at-home ear infection treatment for your cat. If your veterinarian has recommended ear drops, gently lift the ear flap and squeeze the solution into the ear canal while massaging the base of the ear to aid the medication's penetration.

Since ear infections can become chronic, paralysis of the face and hearing loss can result, it is imperative to treat infections as soon as they arise.

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Is your cat suffering from recurring ear infections? Growths, allergies, parasites, and other factors can all contribute to this. If your cat has a long-term or recurring ear infection that is making their ears itchy or painful, consult with your veterinarian. They may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

In some rare cases, surgery will 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 painful ear infections in cats is to check the ear on a regular basis to ensure there is no odor, residue, redness, swelling, or other symptoms. Treat any problems as soon as possible, and ask your veterinarian to show you how to properly 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.

Is your feline friend showing signs of an ear infection? Contact us today if it is severe or chronic to see one of our experienced Mechanicsburg vets.

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At Rossmoyne Animal Emergency Trauma Center you never need an appointment to access our full complement of emergency services. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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