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The Signs and Causes of Ear Infections in Cats

The Signs and Causes of Ear Infections in Cats

Ear infections aren't that common in cats, but when cats do develop them it could be caused by an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian. Here, our Thousand Oaks vets share the possible causes of your cat's ear infection as well as the symptoms and how they can be treated. 

Ear Infection in Cats

It's uncommon for cats to develop ear infections, however when they do arise it could be caused by a serious health problem.

As soon as possible, take your cat to the vet for an ear infection; a straightforward outer ear infection can escalate into a middle ear infection and ultimately an inner ear infection. Treatment for cat ear infections is essential because ear infections may eventually cause hearing loss if left untreated.

The Causes of Cat Ear Infections

Cat ear infections, unless your pet has contracted ear mites from another animal, usually indicate an underlying health issue. Cats who have diabetes, allergies, or compromised immune systems are more susceptible to ear infections than their non-afflicted counterparts.

Ear infections can develop when the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated, leading to inflammation. This causes excess wax production and creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast grow out of control.

This is when cats start experiencing itchiness and inflammation, leading to an itch-scratch cycle which in turn leads to common ear infection symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and headshaking.

Here is a handful of the most common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats:

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

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 & Symptoms of Ear infections in Cats

If your cat is pawing at their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, they may have an ear infection. Below are some additional ear infection symptoms your cat may develop:

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

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.

Diagnosing Ear Infections in Cats

To find out if ear mites, yeast, or bacteria are the cause of the problem, your veterinarian will first examine your cat's ear canal with an otoscope and then take a sample of ear debris to look at under a microscope. If you take your cat in for regular checkups, your veterinarian might be able to identify infection symptoms early on before they become chronic issues. Additionally, we have a laboratory on-site that enables us to conduct tests and get results fast and efficiently.

How to Treat Ear Infections in Cats

It's usually not complicated to treat ear infections in felines. Your vet will start your cat's treatment by clipping the fur around their ear canal (if needed) to help keep the area dry and clean.

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 caused by yeast, bacterial infections, or ear mites, might consist of corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in-ear drop form.

You must keep an eye on your cat's ears to ensure that the canal is clear and the inside of the ear flap is clean in order to assist in treating your furry friend's ear infection at home. If your veterinarian has prescribed ear drops, gently lift the ear flap and squeeze the solution into the ear canal. You can also massage the base of the ear to facilitate the medication's entry into the ear canal.

It's imperative to treat feline ear infections early because they can become chronic and cause hearing loss and facial paralysis.

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Does your cat have recurrent ear infections? Parasites, growths, allergies, and other conditions could be the cause of this. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal if you discover that your cat has a chronic or recurrent ear infection that is causing itching or pain in their ears.

Sometimes in very rare situations, surgery will be required to treat the issue and remove swollen tissue that has narrowed or blocked the canal.

Preventing Cat Ear Infections

The best defense against excruciating cat ear infections is to check the ear frequently to make sure there are no symptoms, such as redness, swelling, residue, smell, or other issues. See your veterinarian for advice on how to properly clean your cat's ears and schedule routine cleanings to prevent any problems from getting worse.

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.

Do you think your kitty might have an ear infection? Contact our vets in Thousand Oaks today to schedule an appointment.

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VSEC Thousand Oaks is accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions.

Contact (805) 492-2436