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Ear Infections in Cats

While relatively rare, when ear infections in cats do happen they can indicate a serious underlying health issue. Here, our Central Illinois vets discuss some potential causes, symptoms and treatments for the condition. 

About Cat Ear Infections

This is a relatively uncommon health issue for cats, but when ear infections do occur the underlying cause may be serious. 

An outer ear infection might be simple but can quickly spread to the middle ear and on to a cat's inner ear. This is why it's critical to seek treatment for your cat's ear infection as soon as symptoms start. Untreated ear infections in cats can lead to hearing loss. 

Common Causes of Ear Infection in Cats

Save for the case of ear mites, most ear infections are usually an indicator of an underlying health condition. If your cat has allergies or a weak immune system, they face an increased risk of ear infections compared to cats without these health issues. 

Irritation in the lining of the ear can lead to inflammation that causes infection. Inflammation within the ear can also lead to excess wax production, creating an environment where naturally occurring bacteria and yeast grow out of control. 

From there, it's likely that the ear will become further inflamed, leading to itchiness, which causes the most common symptoms of ear infections in cats: scratching, repeated headshaking and ear rubbing. 

Common causes of outer ear and middle ear infections in cats include:

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

Cats get outer ear infections much more rarely than dogs do. However, when they do happen these infections can quickly spread to your cat's middle ear or inner Ear. The most common cause of outer ear infections in cats is ear mite infestation.

Signs of Ear Infection in Cats

Is your kitty rubbing their ear, or do they seem otherwise uncomfortable? Your pet may have an ear infection. Other common symptoms of ear infection that your cat may exhibit include:

  • Head tilting
  • Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds 
  • Yellowish or black discharge
  • Disorientation
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of balance
  • Waxy buildup near or on the canal
  • Swelling or redness in the ear canal 
  • 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 or swollen, or will have an odor.

Diagnosing Cat Ear Infection

Your vet will start by examining your cat’s ear canal, then taking a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the problem with your cat's ear.

Bringing your kitty in to see our vets at Pekin Veterinary Clinic for routine exams provides your vet with an opportunity to monitor the health of your kitty's ears on a regular basis.

Routine exams mean that your vet may be able to detect early signs of health issues, including ear infections before they develop into more serious health concerns. Our animal hospital also has an in-house lab that allows us to perform any tests required and receive results quickly so that your feline friend's treatment can begin as quickly as possible. 

Treatment for Ear Infection 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.

If the infection has reached the middle ear but the eardrum has not yet been infected, oral or injectable antibiotics may be used to help clear up the infection.

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.

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. 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.

Early treatment is the key to preventing chronic ear infections that could lead to severe issues such as facial paralysis and hearing loss for your kitty.

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Chronic ear infection 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.

Prevent 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.

Is your cat displaying symptoms of an ear infection? If so, it's time to book an exam with your vet. Contact us today

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