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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 Clackamas 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.

It's important to have your kitty's ear infection addressed by a veterinarian as quickly as possible because a simple outer ear infection can quickly become a middle ear infection and then an inner ear infection. If cat ear infections go without treatment, they can eventually lead to hearing loss.

The Causes of Cat Ear Infections

Ear infections in felines typically indicate a latent health condition, unless the feline in question has acquired ear mites from a different animal. Cats with diabetes, allergies, or compromised immune systems have an increased susceptibility to ear infections compared to their healthy 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 (FELV 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

Before taking a sample of ear debris for microscopic analysis to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are the culprits, your veterinarian will examine your cat's ear canal with an otoscope. Routine veterinary examinations for your cat may enable your veterinarian to identify early indications of infection prior to their progression into chronic complications. Additionally, we possess an internal laboratory that enables us to conduct tests and obtain results with efficiency and promptness.

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.

Assist in the at-home treatment of an ear infection in your feline companion by diligently observing the condition of the cat's ears. This entails verifying the cleanliness of the interior of the ear flap and the clarity of the canal. When your veterinarian advises you to use ear drops, proceed as follows: lift the ear flap gently, squeeze the solution into the ear canal, and massage the base of the ear to facilitate the medication's absorption.

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 feline companion have persistent ear infections? Parasites, growths, allergies, and other factors may contribute to this. Explain the situation to your veterinarian if your cat develops a persistent or recurring ear infection that causes itching or pain in their ears. They may be able to prescribe a medication to reduce canal canal tissue swelling.

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

Regularly examining the ear for redness, swelling, odor, residue, or any other indications of infection is the most effective method of averting painful ear infections in cats. Before problems worsen, have them treated, and request that your veterinarian demonstrate the proper way to clean your cat's ears, or bring them in for routine examinations.

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 Clackamas today to schedule an appointment.

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