Whispers of Concern: Does My Cat Have an Ear Infection?

cat ear infection - image of a veterinarian examining the ears of a silver tabby cat

By Dr. Georgina Ushi, DVM

Ever wondered if your cat might have a cat ear infection? As cat owners, we often need to figure out if our furry friends are feeling well or not.

While cats are pretty good at keeping themselves clean, ear infections can still happen, causing discomfort if left untreated. In this blog post, we’ll talk about how to tell if your cat has a cat ear infection, why it happens, and how it is important to get help from the vet.

So, if you’ve asked yourself, “Does my cat have an ear infection?” – keep reading because we’re going to find out together.

What is a Cat Ear Infection?

Ear infections in cats typically occur when bacteria, yeast, or other microorganisms multiply within the ear canal, leading to pain and inflammation.

As a veterinarian, many of the cats I see experience acute ear infections that only last a week or so. Others may suffer from chronic infections, requiring ongoing management and care.

cat ear infection  - fluffy grey tabby cat getting its ears cleaned by a veterinarian

What are Common Causes of Ear Infections in Cats?

Here are the most common causes of ear infections in cats:

  • Bacterial Infections: Certain bacteria can grow rapidly within the ear canal, especially in warm and moist environments favorable to bacterial growth. 
  • Yeast Overgrowth: Yeast, particularly Malassezia species, is another frequent cause of ear infections in cats. Yeast naturally live in the ears in small numbers, but under certain conditions, such as excessive moisture, weak immune system, or allergies, yeast can multiply rapidly, leading to inflammation and infection.
  • Allergies: Cats, like humans, can develop allergies to certain environmental allergens, including pollen, dust mites, and certain food ingredients. Allergic reactions can trigger inflammation within the ears, predisposing them to infections by disrupting the normal balance of microbial flora.
  • Anatomical Abnormalities: Cats with specific physical traits, like narrow ear canals or too much hair inside their ears, might get ear infections more easily. This happens because their ears don’t get enough air, and moisture stays trapped, making it perfect for germs to grow.
  • Foreign Objects: In rare cases, a foreign object, such as grass awns, foxtails, or debris, can become lodged within a cat’s ear canal, leading to irritation and infection if left untreated.
  • Ear Mites: External parasites known as ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) can infest the ear canals of cats, causing intense itching, inflammation, and secondary bacterial or yeast infections. Ear mites are highly contagious and are often transmitted through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated bedding. An ear mite infestation is very common in outdoor cats.

What are the Signs of a Cat Ear Infection?

Figuring out if your cat has an ear infection can be tricky because the signs can change based on how severe it is and the underlying cause. However, common signs to watch out for include:

  • Ear rubbing, scratching or head shaking
  • Brown or black ear discharge
  • Redness or swelling of the ear canal
  • Strong dor
  • Hearing loss
  • Loss of balance
  • Swelling or redness of the ear flap
  • Behavioral changes like increased irritability, lethargy, or reluctance to be touched around the head and ears.
cat ear infection - street kitten scratching its ear

How is an Ear Infection Diagnosed?

A veterinarian will diagnose your cat’s ear infection by examining the ears with an otoscope. A sample of ear debris will be used to check for bacteria, yeast, ear mites or foreign material. The veterinarian will also examine the eardrum to check for any abnormal changes.

What is the Treatment for a Cat Ear Infection?

In my experience, most ear infections in cats are caused by bacteria, yeast, or ear mites.

An ear cleaner is first used to wipe away the ear discharge gently.  I then typically treat my feline patients with corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in ear drop form, depending on the cause of the infection.

At home, it will be important to monitor the condition of your cat’s ears to check that the interior of the ear flap is clean and that the canal remains clear. 

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

How to Apply Ear Drops

Administering ear drops to a cat can be a daunting task, especially if you have never done it before. Here is guide to applying ear drops to your cat at home and making sure the medication is effectively and safely delivered:

  • Hold your cat securely but gently to prevent struggling or scratching.
  • Gently lift the ear flap and hold it up.
  • Squeeze the bottle to carefully administer the prescribed number of drops into the ear canal.
  • Massage the base of the ear for a few seconds to help the drops spread.
  • Allow the cat to shake its head, which helps distribute the medication.
  • Repeat the process for the other ear if necessary.
  • Reward your furry friend with a treat and praise for cooperation.
cat ear infection - a brown tabby kitten being treated with ear drops

How Can I Prevent My Cat From Getting an Ear Infection?

While you might not stop ear infections completely, you can keep an eye out for early signs to start treatment before things get worse.

Regularly check your cat’s ears for strong odors, discharge, redness, and swelling. Make sure to deal with any problems early and ask your vet to teach you the right way to clean your cat’s ears.

Only clean your cat’s ears with special tools if your vet tells you how and shows you it’s safe.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s ears and act quickly if you notice any problems. Regular ear cleanings and following your vet’s advice will help keep your feline friend healthy.

Remember, spotting issues early and taking action can make a big difference in your cat’s well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can Cat Ear Infections Spread to Other Pets or Humans?

Cat ear infections typically don’t spread to other pets or humans. They’re usually caused by bacteria or yeast that are already present in the cat’s environment. However, if the infection is from something contagious like ear mites, it could potentially affect other pets in the house. The bacteria or yeast responsible for ear infections in cats generally are not harmful to humans. 

What Causes Chronic Ear Infections in Cats?

Chronic ear infections can be caused by growths, allergies, and parasites. 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.

Are Certain Cat Breeds More Prone to Ear Infections?

Some cat breeds with folded or hairy ears, like Scottish Folds or Persians, are more susceptible to ear infections. However, any cat can develop an ear infection. Regular ear cleaning and routine veterinary check-ups can help prevent infections.

What Are the Potential Complications of Untreated Cat Ear Infections?

If left untreated, ear infections in cats can lead to chronic pain, or damage to the eardrum. In severe cases, untreated infections can spread to other parts of the ear such as the middle and inner ear, leading to loss of hearing Therefore, it’s important to address ear infections promptly with appropriate veterinary care.

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.

Dr. Georgina Ushi has over 15 years of experience in the pet industry. Her journey began at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, where she earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2009.

Based in the vibrant Tampa Bay area, Dr. Ushi expertly delivers compassionate care to pets, emphasizing their well-being above all else. Beyond her clinical responsibilities, she extends her knowledge through consulting endeavors and freelance writing.

Dr. Ushi’s commitment to pet welfare extends online, where she established a pet health blog. Through this platform, she generously shares her insights and knowledge, offering guidance and support to pet owners about wellness care, illness or injury in their beloved companions.

Image credits: All images are used under license or with permission