Inner Ear Infection in Cats

Ear infections in cats are uncommon, but when they do occur, they can be an indication of a more serious problem that necessitates veterinary care. Our Los Angeles veterinarians explain some of the causes, symptoms, and treatments for ear infections in cats in this article.

Ear Infection in Cats

Ear infections are uncommon in cats but when they do strike the underlying cause can be serious.

As a result, it is critical to seek treatment for your kitty's ear infection as soon as possible. An easy-to-treat outer ear infection can quickly spread to your cat's middle ear and inner ear. Ear infections in cats can cause hearing loss if left untreated.

Causes of Bacterial Ear Infection in Cats

Unless your cat has ear mites, ear infections in cats are usually a sign of an underlying health problem. Cats with a weakened immune system, allergies, or diabetes are more prone to ear infections than cats without these health issues.

If the skin lining in the ear canal becomes irritated and inflamed, your cat may develop an ear infection. This causes an increase in wax production and creates an environment in which naturally occurring bacteria and yeast begin to proliferate uncontrollably.

Itching and discomfort are likely to occur at that point, resulting in an itch-scratch cycle, which leads to common ear infection symptoms such as ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and headshaking.

Some of the most common causes of external (outer) and middle ear (otitis media) infections in cats include:

  • Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
  • Irritants in the environment
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
  • Wax buildup
  • Foreign bodies 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

Outer ear infections (otitis externa) are less common in cats than in dogs, but if left untreated, they can quickly spread to the middle ear (media) or inner ear (interna). The most common cause of outer ear infections in cats is ear mite infestation.

Signs of Ear infection in Cats

If your cat is pawing at their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, they may be feeling the effects of an ear infection. Other symptoms of ear infection your cat may display 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

While healthy ears are pale pink and have no visible debris or odor, and minimal or no wax, infected ears are often red or swollen, or will have an odor.

How Ear Infections in Cats Are Diagnosed

Your veterinarian will examine your cat's ear canal first, then collect a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope to determine whether bacteria, yeast, or ear mites are causing the problem.

Treatment for Inner Ear Infection in Cats

Treatment for feline ear infections is generally straightforward. To begin your veterinarian may clip the fur around your kitty’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 be given to clear up the infection.

Treatments for ear infections in cats that are caused by bacterial or yeast infections, or ear mites, may be treated with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in ear-drop form.

At home, you should keep an eye on your cat's ears to ensure that the interior of the ear flap is clean and the canal is clear. If your veterinarian has prescribed ear drops, gently lift the ear flap and squeeze the solution into the ear canal, massaging the base of the ear to help the medicine work its way in.

Early treatment of infections is essential since ear infections can turn chronic and lead to facial paralysis and hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infection in Cats

Chronic ear infections in your cat could be caused by growths, allergies, parasites, and other factors. If your cat has a long-term or recurring ear infection that is making their ears itchy or painful, talk to your vet about it. They may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside the canal.

Surgery will be necessary to correct the problem and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed the canal, but this is rare.

Preventing Ear Yeast Infection in Cats

The best way to avoid painful ear infections in cats is to check your kitty's ears regularly to ensure there is no odor, residue, redness, swelling, or other symptoms. Treat any problems as soon as possible, and ask your vet to show you how to properly clean your cat's ears, or bring them in for regular cleanings.

Unless your vet instructs you to do so, do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal.

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.

If your cat is displaying signs of an ear infection contact our Los Angeles vets today to book an examination for your feline friend.