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Signs & Treatment of Ear Infection in Cats

Does your cat have a strong odor emanating from their ears? Perhaps their ears are red and irritated. In this post, our Seattle vets discuss the signs, causes and treatment options for ear infections in cats. 

Ear Infection in Cats

While ear infections in cats are fairly uncommon, when they do occur there is often a more serious underlying cause. 

If you suspect that your kitty has an ear infection, it's important to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible to identify the cause of your cat's sore ear. A veterinarian can treat the ear infection, which will prevent the infection from spreading and becoming more severe. Left untreated, ear infections in cats can lead to hearing loss and ongoing discomfort for your cat. 

What causes ear infection in cats?

Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of outer cat ear infections. Ear mites are easily spread between cats and dogs and should be treated quickly to help prevent the condition from worsening, and to stop the spread of this problematic parasite. 

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

That said, if your feline friend suffers from a weak immune system, diabetes, allergies, or other health problems, they will be more prone to ear infections than cats with better general health. 

Here is. a list of some of the most common causes of outer and middle ear infections inc ats:

  • Irritants in the environment 
  • Wax buildup in the ear 
  • A foreign body lodged in the ear canal 
  • Allergies (food, pollen, etc.)
  • Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV) 
  • Autoimmune diseases 
  • Diabetes mellitus 
  • Thick fur or hair in the ear canal 
  • Excessive growth of yeast, bacteria, or both 
  • Tumors or polyps in the ear canal 
  • Ruptured eardum 
  • Incorrect ear cleaning 

Inner ear infections in cats can occur due to severe infections of the outer ear that have not received effective treatment.

What are the signs of ear infections in cats?

Your cat may paw at their ear, repeatedly shake their head, or look generally uncomfortable if they have an ear infection. Other signs that your cat may have an ear infection include:

  • Redness or swelling in the ear canal 
  • Redness or swelling in the ear flap 
  • Yellow or back discharge 
  • Ear discharge that looks like coffee grounds
  • Waxy buildup near or on the ear canal 
  • Head tilting 
  • Disorientation
  • Hearing loss
  • Strong odor 
  • Loss of balance

A healthy cat's ears will typically be pale pink in color inside, and have no visible signs of wax or debris. There should also be no odor associated with your kitt's ears. Infected cat's ears are often red or swollen inside and may smell. 

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 infection in your cat's ear. If you bring your kitty in for regular checkups, 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. 

How are cat ear infections treated?

The question of how to treat ear infections in cats typically has a straightforward answer. 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.

Yeast or bacterial ear infections in cats 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.

Otitis interna (inner ear infection) in cats is very serious. If your cat is unable to ear or drink normally due to disorientation or nausea, they will likely need to be hospitalized and have intravenous fluid therapy. The veterinarian may need to sedate or anesthetize your cat to examine the ear tissues adequately, take samples for bacterial culture, and properly clean the ear. 

It is essential to treat the underlying infection, and your veterinarian will prescribe appropriate medications. These medications may be administered directly in the ear, orally, or both. 

Early treatment of infections is essential to avoid increasing severity of the infection that could lead to recurring, chronic ear infections in cats or even facial paralysis and hearing loss.

Are chronic ear infections in cats possible?

Is your kitty suffering from chronic ear infections? Chronic ear issues 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 ear canal.

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

The best way to prevent your kitty from developing a painful ear infection is to regularly check your feline friend's ears 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.

Are you concerned about the health of your cat's ears? Contact our vets in Seattle right away to book an examination for your feline family member.

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