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Ear Infections in Cats: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Ear Infections in Cats: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Ear infections aren't particularly common in cats. But, when they do arise, they can be a sign of underlying health issues that require diligent veterinary attention. Here, our Apple Valley vets explain some of the symptoms, causes and treatments for ear infections in our cat companions.

Ear Infection in Cats

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

Because of this, it's important that you seek treatment for your cat's ear infection as soon as possible if you notice one developing in your feline friend. Easy-to-treat outer ear infections can quickly spread into your cat's middle and inner ear. If they develop into serious issues, ear infections in cats may even result in the loss of their hearing. 

Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

Generally speaking, ear infections in cats are a sign of an underlying health condition (unless they are caused by ear mites). Cats suffering from weakened immune systems, diabetes, or allergies may be more susceptible to ear infections from otherwise health cats. 

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.

By this time, itchiness and discomfort are likely to begin, causing a cycle of irritation which can lead to common symptoms of ear infections like ear rubbing, clawing, scratching and shaking of your cat's head. 

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

  • Wax buildup
  • Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Irritants in the environment
  • Foreign bodies in the ear canal
  • Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
  • Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
  • Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
  • Incorrect ear cleaning
  • 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 develop into inner ear (interna) infections 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 to looking uncomfortable, they may be feeling the effects of an ear infection. Other ear infection symptoms may 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, ear mites or yeast are causing the ear infection.

How to Treat Ear Infection in Cats

Treatment for feline ear infections is generally straightforward. 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 yeast, bacteria or ear mites may include 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 may be caused by growths, allergies, parasites and more. If you find that your cat has a long-lasting ear infection, or one that reoccurs and makes their ears painful and itchy, speak with your vet. They will be able to prescribe medication to help reduce the swelling of your cat's tissues inside their ear 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 stop your cat from developing yeast or bacterial ear infection is the routinely check their ears to make sure they don't have any abnormal coloration, swelling, odor or other common symptoms of ear infections. Have any issues treated before they become worse and ask your vet to show your hot to correctly clear your cat's ears. You can also bring them into your vet for ear 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 showing signs of ear infection, contact Apple Valley Animal Hospital as soon as possible. We will be able to examine your cat's ears for infection and recommend an appropriate course of medications and treatment. 

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