Cats don't suffer from ear infections very often, however, when they do occur an underlying medical condition could be causing the problem. In this blog, our Jacksonville vets discuss the types of ear infections in cats as well as their symptoms, and the treatment options available.
Do Cats Get Ear Infections Often?
Ear infections aren't very common in cats but when they do arise, a serious underlying condition may be the cause.
Simple outer ear infections can spread quickly to the middle ear and into your cat's inner ear, making it essential to call your vet and seek treatment as soon as your kitty starts developing symptoms of an ear infection. If your cat's ear infection goes untreated it can cause hearing loss.
There are 2 main kinds of ear infections:
- Outer ear infections in cats (typically less serious and easy to treat) are often caused by ear mites.
- Inner ear infections in cats (less common but more serious) are often the result of an underlying condition leading to a bacterial infection.
What Causes Cat Ear Infections?
Except in the case of ear mites, most ear infections in cats are usually a sign of an underlying health condition. If your cat has a weak immune system, diabetes or allergies they face an increased risk of ear infections compared to cats with stronger immune systems.
Cats can develop ear infections when the lining of their ear becomes irritated, causing inflammation. Inflammation within a cat's ear can lead to excess wax production that results in an environment where the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria can grow out of control.
This is when additional inflammation is probably going to develop and cause itchiness, which leads to the most common symptoms of cat ear infections including ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and repeated head shaking.
A few of the most common causes of infections in a cat's outer ear and middle ear include:
- Buildup of wax
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal
- Irritants in the environment
- Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
- Autoimmune diseases
- Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
- Incorrect ear cleaning
- Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
- Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
- Ruptured eardrum
- Diabetes mellitus
- Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
Our vets see outer ear infections a lot less in cats than in dogs, however, when they do arise these infections can spread quickly to the middle ear and inner ear of your cat. The most common cause of outer ear infections in cats is ear mites.
The Signs of Ear Infection in Cats
If your kitty is rubbing their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, your pet may have an ear infection. Other signs of ear infections in cats include:
- Swelling or redness in the ear canal
- Yellowish or black discharge
- Head tilting
- Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
- Hearing loss
- Strong odor from the ear
- Waxy buildup near or on the canal
- Swelling or redness of the ear flap
- Loss of balance
If your cat's ears are healthy they should be 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 and may have an odor.
Diagnosing Cat Ear Infections
Your vet will begin the process by examining the ear canals of your cat, then they will take a sample of ear debris and examine it under a microscope to find out if ear mites, bacteria, or a yeast infection in your cat's ear, is causing the problem.
By taking your feline friend to Pet Doctors of America for a routine wellness exam you are giving your vet the chance to regularly monitor the health of your cat's ears.
Wellness exams are your vet's chance to detect early signs of health problems, including ear infections before they become more serious health concerns that can be harder and more expensive to treat.
Our animal hospital is also equipped with an in-house lab that lets us conduct any tests that may be needed and receive fast results so that your cat's treatment can start as soon as possible.
Treating Cats With Ear Infections
Treating cat 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.
Treatment for ear mites, bacterial ear infections, or yeast infections in cats could include corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in-ear drops prescribed by your vet.
At-home treatment for your cat's ear infection includes monitoring the condition of your kitty's ears to make sure 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.
The Causes of Chronic Ear Infections in Cats
Chronic ear infections in cats can be caused by a number of issues including growths, allergies, or parasites. If you find that your feline friend has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, discuss this problem with your vet. They may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside of your cat's ear canal.
In rare situations, surgery might be needed to correct ear issues and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed your cat's ear canal.
Preventing Cat Ear Infections
While there may be no way to prevent an ear infection you can take the steps needed to spot the signs of one early so that treatment can start before your kitty's 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.