Ear Infections in Cats: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Prevention
Ear infections in cats are not as common as they are in dogs. Having said that, should your cat develop an ear infection, it’s essential to detect it as early as possible and treat it. When cat ear infections go undetected and untreated, they can easily spread to the inner ear and cause additional health issues such as deafness and even facial paralysis.
What Causes Ear Infections in Cats?
The culprit behind half of all cat ear infections is usually an ear mite infestation. Ear infections not caused by ear mites are generally secondary infections, meaning they are a result of some other condition or underlying medical problem.
The following are some of the most common causes of outer ear infections, called otitis externa, and middle ear infections, called otitis media:
- An overgrowth of yeast or bacteria (often both)
- Wax buildup in the ear canal
- Allergies to food or pollen
- Autoimmune diseases
- Tumors or polyps in the ear canal
- Ruptured eardrum
- Foreign bodies
- Environmental irritants
- Diabetes mellitus
- Immune suppressing diseases like FIV or feline leukemia virus
Inner ear infections are typically the result of an infection that has been allowed to spread from the outer ear canal.
Signs of Ear Infections in Cats
Feline ear infections are very noticeable. The cat will constantly scratch or paw at their ear or shake and title their head in the direction of the painful ear. Other signs to look for are:
- Black or yellowish discharge
- Redness or swelling of the ear flap or ear canal
- Waxy buildup in or near the ear canal
- Discharge from the cat’s ear canal that resembles coffee grounds (a symptom of ear mites)
- A strong and foul odor
- Hearing loss
- Loss of balance (they can’t make jumps or are not even trying)
If your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is very important that you get them in to see your vet right away.
How Are Ear Infections in Cats Treated?
Your vet will thoroughly inspect your cat’s painful ear to determine what is causing the problem. Once they have determined an ear infection is present, they will treat is with the type of medicine that will address the cause. Should your cat’s ear infection be caused by mites, your vet will use an anti-parasitic. Should the cause be an overgrowth of yeast, they will use an antifungal, and a bacterial infection will require an antibiotic. All of these come in ointment or ear drop form.
If the infection has reached the inner ear, your vet may decide to administer an injectable form of antibiotic that will last for two weeks. An anti-inflammatory drug may also be prescribed for pain.
If you are sent home with ointment or ear drops, you’ll want to follow your vet’s instructions on how to administer the medicine.
Ear infection treatments usually last anywhere between one to six weeks, depending on the cause, location and severity of the infection. It is important to never miss a dose and continue to administer the medicine for as long as your vet has prescribed. Even if your cat is acting better, finish the treatment until the end to ensure the infection has been cleared.
If your cat doesn’t show signs of improvement, or if they battle chronic ear infections, a surgery may be necessary. Often when ear issues aren’t resolved with topical or injectable medications, it is because there is swollen ear tissue that needs to be surgically removed. There may also be a buildup of fluid or a tumor or polyp that may need to be removed. Surgery is also often required to remove a foreign body lodged in the ear canal.
Preventing Ear Infections in Cats
Unfortunately, there is no way to 100% prevent an ear infection from developing in your cat, though there are steps you can take to decrease their risk of getting an ear infection.
For starters, it’s important to routinely check your cat’s ears. Healthy ears should be a light pink color with no waxy building or debris. There should also be no foul smell or discharge.
Next, it’s important to keep your home clean from dust, mites, and other allergens that can irritate your cat’s skin and ears.
And finally, have your vet show you the proper way to clean your cat’s ears. So you can do so on a regular basis.
While rare, cat ear infections can lead to other health conditions if left undiagnosed and treated. Check your cat’s ears regularly to ensure they are clean and healthy!
Keeping Your Cat – and Your Wallet – Healthy
As cat owners, we do everything we can to keep our precious fur babies healthy. But even with the best efforts, our cats can become ill and require medical treatment.
There is no worse feeling than not being able to afford the very best care for our pets. And this is exactly why Pet Insurance Review was started. We are pet owners ourselves and we wanted to help other pet owners who are struggling to pay high vet bills. We find the most comprehensive pet health insurance plans on the market today so you never have to worry. Did you know some plans can actually reimburse you for up to 90% of the vet bill?
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- Ward, E. DVM. Ear Infections in Cats (Otitis Externa). Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ear-infections-in-cats-otitis-externa
- Wooten, S. DVM. Cat Ear Infections: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/healthcare/cat-ear-infections
- Ear Infections in Cats: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention Retrieved from: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/ear-infections-in-cats-causes-treatment-and-prevention
- Kearley, M. DVM. 8 Steps for Treating Cat Ear Infections. Retrieved from: https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/ears/8-steps-treating-cat-ear-infections