While ear infections are far less common in cats than in dogs, cats can still develop inflamed and infected ears for a variety of reasons.
Ear infections can affect your cat’s middle ear or outer ear canal, and can vary in severity. However, once the cause of the ear infection has been identified, they will normally clear up easily with the right course of treatment.
What causes ear infections in cats?
Ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are the cause of around half of the ear infections seen in cats, and these highly contagious parasites are particularly common in kittens. However, allergies, including environmental allergies (such as mold or dust mites), food allergies or flea allergies, are also a common cause of ear infections, as well as growths, tumors and abscesses.
Foreign bodies, such as seeds or plant material, can also easily become lodged in the ear canal and cause infection, while trauma, and a build-up of yeast and bacteria can also cause your cat’s ears to become infected.
How can I tell if my cat has an ear infection?
If your cat experiences any of the following symptoms, it may indicate they have developed an ear infection:
- Black material which resembles coffee grounds in the outer ear (an indication of ear mites)
- Head shaking, scratching or rubbing ears against carpets or furniture
- Dark colored discharge
- Abnormal odor
- Redness or swelling
- Hair loss or scabs around the outer ear
- Hearing loss
- Loss of balance
The symptoms of an ear infection will be extremely uncomfortable for your cat, so be sure to visit your veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis and seek advice around the best course of treatment for your pet.
For other indications of cat discomfort and pain, review this great resource.
How is an ear infection diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will be able to determine whether your cat is suffering from an ear infection. They will normally take a small sample from the affected ear to find out whether any bacteria, fungi or mites are present, as well as look for out for any lumps or bumps, sores or foreign bodies. Once they have found out what’s causing the infection, they’ll advise you on the best way to treat it.
The dangers of not seeking veterinary advice for your cat's ear infection
As there are many different causes of ear infections in cats, it’s important to always visit your veterinarian and obtain a proper diagnosis. Using the wrong type of treatment may cause the infection to worsen and could even lead to deafness, so even if your cat has suffered from ear infections in the past, always speak to your veterinarian for advice around the best course of treatment for your pet.
How to treat ear infections in cats
Your veterinarian will normally prescribe a course of oral antibiotics or topical drugs and will also clean the affected ear(s) thoroughly. They will normally schedule a check-up a couple of weeks later to see if the infection has cleared fully. If the infection was caused by your pet’s allergies, your veterinarian may advise making changes to your pet’s environment to prevent any future ear infections occurring.
How to prevent ear infections in cats
While there’s nothing you can do to prevent ear infections entirely, cleaning your cat’s ears, as recommended by your veterinarian, will help ensure your cat stays healthy and enable you to examine their ears regularly. Also, keeping an eye on your cat’s behavior and checking for signs of infection will help ensure the ear infection is diagnosed early, and therefore make it much easier to treat.
It’s also important to be aware of ear mites, as these are the most common cause of ear infections in cats. Stay on top of your parasite prevention treatments and be sure to thoroughly clean your home and your cat’s bedding if they have recently recovered from mites.
How to clean your cat’s ears
Keeping your cat’s ears clean helps keep your cat healthy and can help prevent ear infections. However, cat’s ears are sensitive, and cleaning them in the wrong way or cleaning them too frequently can cause serious damage, so it’s important to speak to your veterinarian before adopting an ear-cleaning routine for your cat.
Here’s our guide to cleaning your cat’s ears safely and effectively but always check with your veterinarian first:
- Fill your cat’s ear with a good amount of cleaning solution. Your veterinarian can advise on the best product to use.
- Hold a ball of cotton wool over the opening of your cat’s ear before massaging the base of the ear to loosen any debris.
- Stand back while your cat shakes their head to remove the majority of cleaner from their ear.
- Wipe away any excess dirt or liquid from the outer ear with another clean cotton wool ball or tissue.
- Allow your cat’s ears to dry before administering any drops or ointment which may have been prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Repeat as often as recommended by your veterinarian.