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What You Should Know About Ear Infections in Cats

What You Should Know About Ear Infections in Cats

While cats don't often suffer from ear infections, when they do these infections can point to an underlying health issue. Today, our vets in the Pacific Northwest list some of the causes, symptoms and treatments for yeast infections in cat's ears, inner ear infections, and more.

Do cats often get ear infections?

Ear infections in cats are a relatively uncommon health issue. That said, when they do strike the underlying condition may be serious. 

One simple outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle ear, then to your cat's inner ear, which is why seeking treatment as soon as symptoms arise is critical. Left untreated, ear infections in cats can lead to hear hearing loss. 

There are 2 main types of ear infections:

  • Outer ear infections in cats (usually less serious and easier to treat) often caused by ear mites
  • Inner ear infections in cats (less common but more serious) often due to an underlying condition leading to a bacterial infection

What causes ear infections in cats?

The majority of ear infections in cats (except in the case of ear mites) usually indicate an underlying health condition. If your cat has a weak immune system, allergies or diabetes, they face a higher risk of ear infections compared to cats whose immune systems are stronger. 

When the lining of the ear canal becomes irritated, this can lead to inflammation and ear infection. Inflammation within the ear can cause production of excess wax, which creates an environment in which naturally occurring bacteria and yeast grow out of control. 

At this point, further information is likely to occur, causing itchiness that results in most common apparent symptoms of cat ear infections: scratching, clawing, repeated head shaking and ear rubbing. 

A few of the most common causes of outer and middle ear infections in cats include:

  • Allergies  (food, pollen, etc.)
  • Wax buildup 
  • Environmental irritants 
  • Immune system diseases (FIV or FLV)
  • Auto immune diseases
  • Foreign bodies in the ear canal
  • Incorrect ear cleaning
  • Diabetes mellitus 
  • Excessive growth of yeast, bacteria or both
  • Thick hair or fur in the ear canal
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Tumors or polyps in the ear canal

While our vets see far fewer outer ear infections in cats compared to dogs, when these do happen they can quickly spread your cat's middle ear and inner ear. Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of outer ear infections in our feline friends. 

What are the signs of ear infection in cats?

If your kitty is rubbing their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, your pet may have an ear infection. Other signs of ear infection in cats include:

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

If your cat's ears are healthy they should be pale pink in color and have no visible debris, or odor, and very little wax buildup. When a cat's ear becomes infected they are often red or swollen and may have an odor.

How will the vet diagnose my cat's ear infection?

Your vet will start by examining your cat’s ear canal, then taking a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope to determine whether bacteria, ear mites, or a yeast infection in your cat's ear, is the cause of the problem.

Bringing your kitty in to see our vets at Broadway Animal Hospital for routine wellness exams provides your vet with an opportunity to monitor the health of your cat's ears on a regular basis.

Wellness exams mean that your vet may be able to detect early signs of health issues, including ear infections before they develop into more serious health concerns that can be more difficult and costly to treat.

Our animal hospital also has an in-house lab that allows us to perform any tests required and receive results quickly so that your kitty's treatment can begin as quickly as possible. 

How to treat ear infection in cats?

Treating cat ear infections typically begins with your vet clipping the fur around your cat’s ear canal in order to help keep the area clean and dry.

If the infection has reached the middle ear but the eardrum has not yet been infected, oral or injectable antibiotics may be used to help clear up the infection.

For ear mites, a bacterial ear infection in cats or yeast infection in cats, treatment with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics or anti-parasitics in-ear drops may be prescribed by your vet.

Treatment at home for your cat'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, simply lift the ear flap, then squeeze the solution into the ear canal, gently massaging the base of the ear to help the medicine work its way deeper into the ear.

Early treatment is the key to preventing chronic ear infections that could lead to severe issues such as facial paralysis and hearing loss for your kitty.

What causes chronic ear infection in cats?

Chronic ear infection in cats can be caused by a number of issues including growths, allergies, or parasites. If you find that your feline friend has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, discuss this problem with your vet. They may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside of your cat's ear canal.

Surgery may be required in some rare cases to correct ear issues and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed your kitty's ear canal.

Prevent Your Cat From Getting an Ear Infection

While there may be no way to prevent an ear infection you can take steps to catch the signs of an ear infection early so that treatment can begin before symptoms become more severe. Regularly check your cat's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Be sure to have any issues treated before they worsen, and ask your vet to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears.

Do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal unless your vet has specifically told you to do so, and shown you how to clean your cat's ears safely.

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. 

Is your cat showing signs of an ear infection? Contact Broadway Animal Hospital to schedule an exam for your feline friend. Our vets in the Pacific Northwest can diagnose the underlying cause of your kitty's ear infection and provide effective treatment.

New Patients Always Welcome!

Looking for a vet in the Pacific Northwest? Whether your pet needs routine wellness exams, surgery, geriatric care or emergency care, we look forward to welcoming you to our family at Broadway Animal Hospital located in Everett. 

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