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Signs of Ear Infection in Cats & What to Do

Cat ear infections are rare but can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs veterinary attention. Today, our Berkeley vets explain some of the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats. 

Ear Infection in Cats

At Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital our team sees very few cats suffering from ear infections, but when they do there is often a more serious underlying cause. 

If you suspect that your feline family member has an ear infection it is important to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible in order to pinpoint the cause of your cat's sore ear and to prevent the infection from becoming more severe. Left untreated ear infections in cats can result in hearing loss and ongoing discomfort for your cat.

What causes ear infections in cats?

Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of outer ear infections in cats. Ear mites are easily passed along between pets and should be treated quickly in order to prevent the condition from becoming worse and to prevent the further spread of this problematic parasite.

In some cases, cat ear infections develop when the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated, leading to inflammation. 

That said, if your feline family member suffers from a weak immune system, allergies, diabetes, or other health problems they will be more susceptible to ear infections than cats with more robust overall health.

Below is a list of some of the most common causes of outer and middle ear infections in cats:

  • Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
  • Irritants in the environment
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
  • Wax buildup within the ear
  • Foreign body lodged 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 in cats (otitis externa) - which are not as common in cats as they are in dogs - can become more severe if left untreated, potentially leading to middle ear infections or even inner ear infections.

How can I tell if my cat has an ear infection?

If your cat is pawing at their ear or repeatedly shaking their head and looking uncomfortable they may have an ear infection. Other signs that your cat might have an ear infection 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

The insides of healthy cat ears are typically pale pink in color and have no visible signs of debris or wax, there should also be no odor associated with your kitty's ears. Infected cat ears often appear red or swollen, and may be smelly.

How will my vet diagnose my cat's ear issue?

Your vet will start by using an otoscope to look into your cat’s ear canal, then take a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the issue. If you bring your cat in for routine exams, your vet may be able to detect early signs of infection before they develop into long-term problems. We also have an in-house laboratory that allows us to perform tests and receive results quickly and effectively. 

What is the treatment for ear infection in cats?

Treatment for feline ear infections isn’t usually complicated. To start, your vet may need to clip the fur around the cat’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 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 treatment 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, 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.

Are chronic ear infection in cats possible?

Is your kitty suffering from chronic ear infections? This can 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.

In some rare cases, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the canal.

How can I prevent my cat from getting an ear infection?

The best way to prevent painful ear infections in cats is to regularly check the ear to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Have any issues treated before they worsen, and ask your veterinarian 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 feline family member is showing signs of an ear infection, contact Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital to book an urgent appointment. Our vets are here to provide your cat with the quality care they deserve.

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