Ear Infections In Cats: Causes & Treatment

Ear infections are relatively uncommon in cats, but when they do occur they can cause your kitty some serious pain and can lead to further issues if left untreated. Today, our South Wilton vets explain some of the causes, symptoms, and treatments for ear infections in cats.

Some Common Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

The main culprit for ear infections in cats are mites and this will typically be the first thing your vet checks for. If mites are not the culprit they will then look to see if other issues, such as yeast or bacteria are causing the infection in your cat's ear. 

Unfortunately, ear infections in cats can often be a sign of an underlying health condition. If your cat has a weak immune system, diabetes or allergies they face an increased risk of ear infections compared to cats without these health issues.

Cat ear infections can develop when the lining of the ear canal becomes irritated, leading to inflammation. Inflammation within the ear can lead to excess wax production which in turn creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast in their ears grow out of control.

From there further inflammation is likely to occur and itchiness begins, resulting in the most common symptoms of ear infections in cats: ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and repeated head shaking. 

Common causes of ear 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).
  • Buildup of wax
  • 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 are much less common in cats than they are in dogs, but when they do occur these infections can quickly spread to your cat's middle ear or inner ear. Apart from pain, inner ear infections in cats can affect their balance and make them feel nauseous. 

Signs 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, swollen, or will have an odor.

Diagnosing Cat Ear Infection

When you bring your cat in with a suspected ear infection, your vet will examine your cat's ear and make note of their overall physical condition. This is because in many cases, ear infections are a sign that there is an underlying health issue. 

Your vet will use an otoscope to perform an examination of your cat's ears, looking inside the ear canal for signs of inflammation, discharge, foreign objects, masses or polyps, or any other abnormalities. 

They may take a swab of any discharge or debris to examine under a microscope to get a better idea of what is causing the infection. 

If there is too much discharge in your cat's ear and your vet cannot get a clear view, they may have to clean and flush the ear canal before an examination can take place. 

How to Treat Ear Infections in Cats

Treatment for feline ear infections typically starts with your vet clipping the fur around your cat’s ear canal in order to help keep the area clean and dry.

For ear mites, a bacterial ear infection in cats or yeast infection in cats, treatment with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in-ear drops may be prescribed by your vet.

Your vet may also prescribe oral antibiotics for you to give to your cat at home. 

Treatment at home for your kitty'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 and administering any medication your vet has prescribed. If your vet has prescribed ear drops, simply lift the ear flap, then squeeze the solution into the ear canal, gently massaging the base of the ear to help the medicine work its way deeper into the ear.

For inner ear infections in cats, the treatment may involve hospitalization if they are experiencing severe nausea and vomiting that leaves them at risk of becoming dehydrated. 

It is important that your cat finish all the prescribed medication, even if their ear seems to be feeling better. Early and complete treatment is key to your kitty avoiding chronic ear infections that could lead to more serious health issues. 

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Chronic ear infections in cats can be caused by a number of issues including growths, allergies, or parasites. If you find that your cat 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.

Surgery may be required in some rare cases to correct ear issues and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed your cat's ear canal.

Preventing 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.

Do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal unless your vet has specifically told you to do so, and shown you how to clean your cat's ears safely.

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.

If your cat is suffering from the symptoms of an ear infection contact our South Wilton vets right away so our vets can begin treatment right away. 

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