Signs That Your Cat May Have an Ear Infection

Ear infections are relatively uncommon in cats but when they do occur they can be an indication of an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention. Here our Tucson vets explain some of the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats. 

Ear Infection in Cats

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

That's why it is essential to seek treatment for your kitty's ear infection as early as possible. An easy to treat outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle ear and onto your cat's inner ear. Left untreated ear infections in cats can result in hearing loss.

Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

Ear infections in cats are usually a sign of an underlying health condition unless your kitty has contracted ear mites. Cats that suffer from a weak immune system, allergies or diabetes tend to be more susceptible to ear infections than cats without these health issues.

Your cat may develop an ear infection if the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes excess wax production and creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast begin to grow out of control.

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

Some of the most common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats include:

  • 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) are not as common in cats as they are in dogs but when they do occur they can spread quickly to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna) if left untreated. Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of outer ear infections in cats.

Signs of Ear infection in Cats

If your cat is pawing at their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, they may be feeling the effects of 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 vet will start by examining your cat’s ear canal, then take a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope in order to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the issue.

How to Treat Ear Infection in Cats

Treatment for feline ear infections is generally straight forward. To begin your veterinarian may clip the fur around your kitty’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 be given to 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-parasitics in ear drop form.

At home it will be important to monitor 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 into the ear canal.

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

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

If your cat is suffering from chronic ear infections they could be caused by growths, allergies, parasites and more. If you find your cat has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, discuss this with your vet, as they may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

Surgery will be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the canal, but this is rare.

Preventing Your Cat From Getting an Ear Infection

The best way to prevent painful ear infections in cats is to regularly check your kitty's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Have any issues treated early before they worsen, and ask your vet to show you how to correctly 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.

If your cat is displaying signs of an ear infection contact our Tucson specialty vets today to book an examination for your feline friend. 

Signs That Your Cat May Have an Ear Infection

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