Just as in humans, ear infections can be incredibly painful and uncomfortable for cats. The ear canal is very sensitive, and an infection or condition of any kind can cause great discomfort. It’s important to take your cat to the vet if you suspect they have an ear infection, to make sure it can be treated straight away and doesn’t get any worse.
What causes ear infections in cats?
An infection in your cat’s ear can be caused by germs (bacteria and yeasts) growing inside. There is usually an underlying reason for an infection to develop. Common causes of ear infections include:
- Parasites such as ear mites
- Allergies to something in your cat’s food or environment (e.g. grasses, pollen, dust)
- Injuries or foreign objects such as grass seeds becoming lodged in the ear
- A growth in the ear canal
The ear canal is a very delicate structure that normally keeps itself clean. Any irritation or swelling in a cat’s ear can lead to an abnormally warm or wet environment where germs can grow.
Most ear infections affect the outer part of the ear canal and are referred to as ‘otitis externa’. If the infection travels deeper into the ear it can lead to middle or inner ear infections, known as ‘otitis media’ and ‘otitis interna’ respectively. These can be much more serious conditions.
Ear infections are painful, so if you suspect your cat has one, they should always be examined and treated by a veterinary surgeon to avoid unnecessary suffering and to reduce the potential for more serious complications.
What are the common ear infection symptoms in cats?
Signs to look out for that might indicate an ear infection include:
- Shaking of the head
- Scratching or rubbing at ears
- Having red, hot, or swollen ears
- Waxy ears
- Having discharge or smell from the ears
- Aural haematoma (swelling of the ear flap)
A middle or inner ear infection can lead to:
- A head tilt to one side
- Loss of balance
- Flicking of the eyes from side to side
If you recognise any of these common signs in your cat, it is important not to try to treat the infection yourself at home. Book a free consultation at your local Animal Trust surgery so your pet can be examined by a vet, who will discuss the best course of treatment.
How are ear infections in cats diagnosed?
Your veterinary surgeon will examine your cat’s outer ear for signs of injury, infection, or growths.
An otoscope (a handheld light source with a funnel) is then used to examine the outer part of the ear canal. This will reveal any swelling, discharge, growth, foreign objects, or parasites in the ear canal and check whether the eardrum is intact.
If your cat has a severe or recurring ear infection, swabs may be taken to check which germs are present so that specific treatments can be used.
Some cats may require sedation to be examined and have their ear canal cleaned, especially if they are in pain. If this is required, your Animal Trust veterinary surgeon will talk you through this process and explain exactly what is involved.
How to treat ear infections in cats
Your cat’s ears will need to be kept clean, using a veterinary strength ear cleaner to remove any build-up of wax/discharge and to prevent more bacteria and yeasts from growing.
Where needed, topical ear drops may be prescribed. These contain drugs that treat bacteria, yeasts, and inflammation. Ear infection drops may be required once or twice daily after cleaning the ear. Some infections may require a long-acting ear gel to be applied. Ensure you use the drops as directed and continue for the full course, even if your cat’s ear seems better.
For some deep or severe ear infections, cats may also require antibiotic tablets. If your cat is prescribed tablets, it’s important that they complete the course to prevent the germs from becoming resistant to the antibiotic.
Sometimes, pain relief may be prescribed in addition to topical anti-inflammatory medicines for severe infections. Follow up checks are recommended to ensure a full recovery before your vet can advise the stopping of treatment.
In cases where an aural haematoma is diagnosed, an operation may be required to drain it and avoid further complications in the future. Surgery will also be required if the cat has a tumour in the ear canal. In some severe cases, the whole ear canal will need to be removed.
How to prevent ear infections in cats
To help prevent your cat from getting ear infections, regular use of parasite control is recommended. Make sure you’re using one that protects against fleas and ear mites. Ask the team at your Animal Trust surgery if you’re unsure which cat ear infection products are best.
A cat’s ears should be checked on a regular basis to ensure there is no sign of any discharge, dirt, or wax. You can do these simple checks at home, and your vet will be happy to show you how during your next consultation.
Using ear cleaners as directed by your vet/vet nurse will also help to keep control of any ongoing health concerns. It is important not to insert anything into your cat’s ear canal, as this can cause infection and other damage. If your cat has an allergy, make sure it is well controlled by diet or medication as prescribed by your vet to keep other complications at bay.