Are you noticing an increase in head shaking or ear scratching in your cat? These are common signs of an ear infection, which can be challenging to detect in cats as our feline friends are experts at hiding their discomfort. Read on to learn more about the warning signs of ear infections in cats and why prompt treatment is essential.  

Key Takeaways: 

  • Ear infections in cats are less common than in dogs, but they can still occur.
  • Bacteria and yeast are the most common causes of external ear canal or outer ear infections in cats. 
  • Ear infection treatment may include cleaning the ear, instilling medication, sedation, or removal of foreign objects or tumors. Medication can consist of oral or injected antibiotics, prescription ear drops, or other medicines.

Causes of Cat Ear Infections 

Ear infections in cats are relatively uncommon, but they can quickly progress and cause severe complications for your kitty.  

While ear mites can cause ear infections in cats, they are usually a symptom of an underlying health problem. Cats with allergies, weak immune systems, or diabetes are more susceptible to ear infections. If the skin lining inside the ear canal gets irritated, it can cause inflammation, excess wax, and bacteria or yeast overgrowth. This can create more inflammation and itchiness, which leads to symptoms like ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and head shaking.

Common causes of external and middle ear infections in cats include: 

  • Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast, or both in the ear canal
  • A weak immune system due to diseases like Feline Leukemia Virus or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), allergies to substances like pollen or food, diabetes mellitus
  • Irritants in the environment, such as dust or smoke, and foreign bodies in the ear canal, such as debris or grass
  • Polyps or tumors, thick fur or hair in the ear canal
  • Trauma to the ear canal caused by excessive grooming practices
  • Injury or infection that results in a hole or tear in the eardrum

Ear infections in cats can cause serious complications if left untreated, such as chronic pain, balance problems, and even hearing loss. While less common in cats than dogs, outer ear infections (otitis externa) can quickly spread to the middle or inner ear. The most common cause of feline otitis externa is ear mite infestation.

Cat Ear Infection Symptoms

If your furry friend is frequently pawing at their ear or displaying unusual behavior, it could be a sign of a feline ear infection. Other symptoms to look out for include: 

  • Dark brown or black discharge
  • Head tilting
  • Hearing loss
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of balance
  • Redness or swelling of the ear flap
  • Strong odor coming from the affected ear
  • Redness or swelling in the ear canal
  • Wax buildup near or on the canal

Keep in mind that healthy ears should be pale pink with minimal to no wax, odor, or visible debris. If you suspect your furry companion may be suffering from an ear infection, don't delay - book a vet appointment today! 

Cat Ear Infection Treatment

If your cat has an ear infection, your vet may prescribe anti-parasitics, antifungals, or antibiotics. At home, you may need to clean your kitty’s ears and administer prescribed ear drops. If the infection is chronic, medication to reduce swelling or surgery to remove swollen tissue may be necessary (although this is extremely uncommon in cats).

Diagnosing Ear Infections in Cats

Your veterinarian will examine your cat's ear canal using an otoscope to find out if there is anything unusual, like foreign objects or tumors, that could be causing your cat's symptoms. They may also take a sample of any debris found in the ear to determine the cause of the infection. This helps your vet decide on the best treatment plan. In some cases, additional diagnostic testing may be recommended.

When your cat has an ear infection, the vet will give a treatment plan to help them feel better. This may involve cleaning the ears, putting medication in the ears, or removing foreign objects or tumors. The medication could be oral, injected, or ear drops, and will depend on what caused the infection.

Preventing Cat Ear Infections

Regularly checking your cat's ears is essential to preventing ear infections. Watch out for signs of discomfort in your cat's ears, like scratching or pawing, head shaking, or an unusual odor. If you notice these symptoms, it's essential to take your cat to the vet right away to prevent the problem from worsening.

Never try to clean your cat's ears with a cotton swab or other object unless your vet has shown you how to do so safely. With proper care and attention, you can help keep your feline companion's ears healthy and free from infection.

Early Detection Is Key: When to Contact Your Vet 

Cat's ears are an important part of their overall health and well-being. If you notice any signs of an ear infection, such as excessive scratching or shaking of the head, don't delay in seeking veterinary care. Our team at BetterVet is here to help diagnose and treat any ear issues your feline friend may be experiencing. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are ear infections serious?

Yes, ear infections can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Chronic ear infections can result in permanent deafness and facial paralysis and require extensive surgeries. Therefore, it is crucial to take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice any symptoms of an ear infection. Do not attempt to clean the ears because your vet may need to collect a sample in order to fully assess the cause of the symptoms.

How do cats get ear infections?

Cats can develop ear infections due to various underlying medical conditions, including allergies, autoimmune diseases, tumors/polyps within the ear canal, and ruptured eardrums. Other causes include improper ear cleaning, moisture entering the ears, environmental irritants, diabetes mellitus, and immune-suppressing diseases like FIV or feline leukemia virus. Healthy cats can also get yeast or bacterial overgrowth in their ear canals occasionally for no particular reason. 

In some cases, ear mites can also cause ear infections in cats. Ear mites are extremely contagious parasites that are passed easily between cats and dogs. They cause copious thick black discharge to build up in the ear canals.

Is a cat ear infection an emergency?

No, a cat ear infection is not always an emergency. However, if the infection is severe or if it's accompanied by additional symptoms such as fever, lethargy, and loss of balance, you should take your cat to the vet immediately. In cases of chronic ear infections, and if there's an excessive waxy buildup in the ear canal, it's also best to see a vet.

How to treat inner ear infections in cats?

Inner ear infections in cats are typically treated with systemic antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required for supportive care such as intravenous fluids and pain management. It is crucial to work with a veterinarian to properly diagnose and treat inner ear infections, as they can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

Can ear infections in cats be prevented?

Yes, ear infections in cats can be prevented by regularly checking your cat's ears for signs of discharge, dirt, or wax buildup and using ear cleaners as directed by your veterinarian. 

Additionally, flea and ear mite control products can help prevent ear infections. If your cat spends time outdoors, they will be more prone to ear infections due to exposure to moisture and dirt. It's important not to insert anything into your cat's ear canal as this can cause damage and infection. If your cat has allergies, make sure they are well-controlled to prevent further complications.