Cats can develop infections in all parts of their body, including their ears. If left untreated, these can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and complications. Here, our vets in Lakewood share the causes of ear infections in cats, symptoms to watch for, and treatment options. 

Cat Ear Infections

At Red Rocks Animal Center, our team sees very few cats suffering from ear infections, but when they do, there is often a more serious underlying cause. 

If you think your cat has an ear infection, it is important to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible to pinpoint the cause of your cat's sore ear and prevent the infection from becoming more severe. Left untreated, ear infections in cats can result in hearing loss and ongoing discomfort for your cat.

What causes ear infections in cats?

Ear mite infestation is cats' most common cause of outer ear infections. Ear mites are easily spread between pets and should be treated quickly to help prevent the condition from worsening and halt the spread of this problematic parasite.

In some cases, cat ear infections develop when the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated, leading to inflammation. That said, if your feline family member suffers from a weak immune system, allergies, diabetes, or other health problems, they will be more susceptible to ear infections than cats with more robust overall health.

Below is a list of some of the most common causes of outer and middle ear infections in cats:

  • Immune system diseases (FeLV or FIV)
  • Irritants in the environment
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
  • Wax buildup within the ear
  • A foreign body lodged in the ear canal
  • Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
  • Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast, or both
  • Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
  • Incorrect ear cleaning
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Diabetes mellitus

Inner ear infections in cats occur from the lack of treatment for severe outer ear infections. 

What are the signs of ear infections in cats?

If your cat is pawing at their ear or repeatedly shaking their head and looking uncomfortable, they may have an ear infection. Other signs that your cat might have an ear infection include:

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

The insides of healthy cat ears are typically pale pink and have no visible signs of debris or wax. There should also be no odor associated with your kitty's ears. Infected cat ears often appear red or swollen and may be smelly.

How do vets diagnose ear infections in cats?

Your vet will use an otoscope to examine your cat’s ear canal. They will then take a sample of ear debris and examine it under a microscope to determine whether there are pests or bacterial or yeast infections in your cat's ears. If you bring your kitty in for regular checkups, your vet may be able to detect early signs of infection before they develop into long-term problems. We also have an in-house laboratory that allows us to perform tests and receive results quickly and effectively. 

How are ear infections in cats treated?

The question of how to treat ear infections in cats typically has a straightforward answer. Your vet may need to clip the fur around the cat’s ear canal to help keep it clean and dry.

If the infection has reached the middle ear but the eardrum is untouched, oral or injectable antibiotics may clear up the infection.

Ear mites and bacterial or yeast infections in cats may be treated with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in ear drops.

At-home treatment for your cat's ear infection involves monitoring the condition of their 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, gently lift the ear flap, then squeeze the solution into the ear canal, massaging the base of the ear to help the medicine work its way into the ear canal.

Can cats get chronic ear infections?

Yes! Without early treatment, infections could become more severe, leading to recurring, chronic ear infections in cats or even facial paralysis and hearing loss.

If you find your cat has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, discuss this with your vet, as they may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

In some rare cases, surgery will be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the ear canal.

How to Prevent Ear Infections in Cats

The best way to prevent your kitty from developing a painful ear infection is to regularly check your feline friend's ears to ensure no odor, residue, redness, swelling or other symptoms. Early treatment can prevent serious complications and potential pain for your kitty. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears or bring them in for regular cleanings.

How long do ear infections in cats last?

With early diagnosis and proper care, your cat's ear infection should clear in one to two weeks. Be sure to follow your vet's instructions for the best possible outcome.

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's ear red, swollen or painful? Please contact Red Rocks Animal Center right away to book an exam.