Ear Infections in Cats
Ear infections in cats, although common, can sometimes be complicated to treat. They can sometimes be a sign of an underlying health issue too, so it’s important to be able to recognize the signs and know when your cat needs treatment. Read on to understand what to look out for and what you can do to treat your cat.
So what are ear infections?
Without getting too scientific on you, ear infections are essentially any inflammation of the inner or outer ear canal. Cats are mostly affected by inflammations of the outer ear canal. Much like in humans, this inflammation can vary from mild discomfort to being very painful.
What are the signs of ear infection in your cat?
Cats tend to try and hide their discomfort, a behavior that stems from their time in the wild when showing pain could be seen as a sign of weakness by predators.
This means you’ll need to keep a close eye on your cat to be able to notice any symptoms or out-of-the-ordinary behaviors. Some common symptoms to look out for include:
- Frequent pawing at the ears and/or shaking of the head
- You might notice a bad smell coming from your cat’s ears
- A discharge from the ears that is usually a black or yellowish color. Discharge caused by mites will resemble the color and consistency of coffee grounds
- Excessive scratching around the ears that can lead to hair loss
- Hearing loss
- Redness in the ear flap or in the ear canal itself
- Some severe infections may also cause disorientation. Your cat may experience loss of balance or exhibit strange behaviors like hiding away for long periods of time.
What causes ear infections in cats?
The most common culprit, that’s responsible for more than half of all cases of feline ear infection, is mites. Other causes, however, include allergies, a large waxy build up and debris lodged in the ear canal itself. Outdoor cats in particular can be susceptible to irritants they’ve picked up whilst outside patrolling the territory near the house.
Signs your cat has ear mites
Being the most common cause of ear infections in cats, mites will be the first thing your vet checks for.
Mites will usually cause a black or brown discharge from the ear. As we mentioned in the symptoms list above, the discharge caused by mites will be the same color and consistency as coffee grounds.
Your vet may perform scrapings of the discharge to confirm the presence of mites, but more often than not, they’ll prescribe a course of mite treatment once the discharge is present.
If mite treatment fails to clear up the ear infection, your vet will move onto other diagnostic procedures.
Diagnosing other types of ear infections in cats
A typical diagnosis will always start with an examination of the ear canal. Once mites have been ruled out, your vet will perform a series of other tests to determine the cause of the infection.
These can include x-rays, examinations of ear debris under a microscope to check for bacteria, and a deeper examination of the ear canal using an otoscope.
An otoscope allows your vet to get an up-close look at the deep end of the ear canal. They’ll be looking for some of the other symptoms of ear infection such as redness and inflammation, foreign objects, and polyps and masses, potentially.
Depending on the severity of the waxy build-up, your vet may also need to flush the ear canal before a proper examination. If the inflammation is quite bad, this can be painful for your cat and he’ll have to be sedated for the procedure.
Some of the symptoms of a common ear infection could actually be signs of something more serious too. This is one of the many reasons why you should also have comprehensive cat health insurance, as it always pays to be prepared for any scenario.
If your cat isn’t responding to traditional treatments for ear infections there’s a chance of some other underlying condition. Your vet will test for other conditions like:
- Neurological issues - These may be causing your cat’s frequent head tilting
- Tests for feline leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Ear infections are common in cats with these conditions and your vet will perform blood tests to confirm
- Parasites other than mites - Your vet will take a skin scraping to test for fleas and other parasites
- Allergies - Your cat’s ear infections may be caused by allergies to something in your shared environment. The vet will ask about the food they’re eating and the environment they wander off into
How to treat and prevent ear infections
In the vast majority of feline ear infection cases it’s not going to be anything too serious. Cat ear infection treatment is quite straightforward in a lot of these cases too.
Unfortunately, though, it’s going to be quite difficult to prevent ear infections springing up from time to time given they’re quite common. Unless you keep a 24/7 watch on your feline friend, they’ll probably have an ear infection at some point, especially if you own an outdoor cat.
You can, however, take some preventative steps. Regularly keeping your cat’s ears clean is a great place to start. Always ask your vet to show you how to do it properly first, as you could injure your cat if you get the cleaning process even slightly wrong.
Keep an eye on your cat and regularly inspect their ears for signs of infection. Remember, cats try to hide their pain so regular checking could catch an infection early. A healthy ear should be a nice shade of pink, have no waxy build-up, and emit no odor.
Where treatment is necessary, your vet will prescribe different medicines depending on the type of infection. These can be antiparasitic pills, antibiotics, fungal treatments, and cat ear infection home remedies like ear drops. In rare cases, your cat may need surgery, especially if they suffer from recurring ear infections.