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Ear Infection in Cats: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

While cats are unlikely to develop ear infections, they can be caused by some serious underlying health conditions and having them treated as soon as possible is important. Today, our Stockton vets explain the causes, symptoms and treatments for ear infections in cats.

Ear Infection in Cats

Cats do not often experience ear infections, but when they begin to show signs of infection you should have them looked at immediately as they could be caused by various serious health conditions. This is why it's important to seek treatment for your cat's ear infection as early as possible. An uncomplicated outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle ear and beyond, leading to more serious and painful inner ear infections in cats.

Possible Causes of Cat Ear Infections

One of the most common causes of ear infections that our Stockton vets see is ear mites. If your feline friend has a weak immune system, allergies or diabetes they are likely to be more susceptible to ear infections than cats in good health.

If the skin inside your cat's ear becomes irritated or inflamed it could cause an ear infection to develop. This causes excess wax production and creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast begin to grow out of control making your cat's ears itchy and uncomfortable. At that point symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing and headshaking are likely to occur.

Outer and middle ear infections in cats are most commonly caused by:

  • Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
  • Irritants in the environment
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
  • Wax buildup
  • Foreign bodies 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

Common Signs of Cat Ear Infections

If your cat begins to develop an ear infection they will often show signs such as general discomfort and possibly pawing at their ears trying to find relief. Healthy ears are pale pink in color with no signs of waxy buildup or odor. Infected ears are often red or swollen, or will have a musty odor. Other symptoms your cat may display if they have an ear infection include:

  • Yellowish or black discharge
  • Head tilting
  • Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
  • Hearing loss
  • Redness or swelling in the ear canal
  • Strong odor
  • Waxy buildup near or on the canal
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of balance
  • Redness or swelling of the ear flap

How Are Cat Ear Infections Diagnosed?

Your vet will always complete a physical ear examination but may also take a sample of debris from your cat's ear and view it under a microscope in order to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the issue.

How Are Cat Ear Infections Treated?

If your vet determines that your cat is suffering from an ear infection they will most likely remove and fur near the ear in order to help keep the area clean.

If the infection has reached the middle ear but the eardrum is not affected, oral or injectable antibiotics may be given to clear up the infection.

If there is an ear mite, bacterial, or yeast ear infection in your cat's ear treatment may include corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in the form of eardrops.

It will be important to monitor the condition of your cat's ears regularly to check that the interior of the ear flap is clean and that the canal is clear. If your vet has prescribed eardrops, 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 infections can turn chronic and may even lead to facial paralysis or hearing loss.

What Are Chronic Cat Ear Infections?

Cats with chronic ear infections could be suffering from growths, allergies, parasites and more. If you find your kitty has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful speak to your veterinarian. Your vet may be able to prescribe medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

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

How To Prevent Cat Ear Infections

The best way to prevent your feline friend from developing a painful ear infection is to regularly check your kitty's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Be sure to have any issues treated early before they worsen, and ask your vet to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears - or bring your feline friend to the vet for regular cleanings.

Do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal unless your vet instructs you to do so.

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 you notice that your cat is showing signs of an ear infection bring them to our experienced Stockton vets.

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American Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Stockton companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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