Ear problems in cats

Ear problems in cats

Ear problems in cats can be painful. There are multiple reasons that cats develop ear problems. Prevention of underlying diseases, such as excess wax or parasites in the ear canal is strongly recommended since treatment can be stressful for both you and your cat. One of the FirstVet vets or your own vet can advise you on how best to do this.


Symptoms of an ear problem in cats

  • Excessive head shaking
  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Holding the head on one side
  • Scratching their ears
  • Rubbing their ears or face on furniture or the floor
  • Painful, hot, red or swollen ears
  • Waxy discharge from their ears
  • Smelly ears
  • Scabs and crusting on the face and ears
  • A swelling in the ear flap (aural haematoma)
  • Deafness or reduced hearing


Causes of ear disease in cats

  • Trauma to the ears: this can be self inflicted or due to fighting with other cats
  • Sunburn (Solar Dermatitis): this is common in cats with pale or pink ears that like to go outside
  • Parasites: ear mites (Otodectes cynotis), Sarcoptic or Notoedric mange (Sarcoptes or Notoedres mites), Autumn harvest mites (Trombicula autumnalis)
  • Allergic skin disease: cats with skin problems often also have ear disease
  • Wax: a build up of wax can create the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to thrive in. They cause inflammation, which may lead to an infection.
  • Growths (polyps) within the ear canal: occasionally non-cancerous lumps grow in the ear canal. Rarely, these lumps are cancerous.
  • Foreign bodies: grass seeds or a piece of grass may get stuck in the ear canal. However, this is more common in dogs than in cats.
  • Aural haematoma: a blood filled swelling within the ear flap, which occurs if the small blood vessels under the skin burst. It is usually caused by trauma to the ear, which can be self inflicted by the cat shaking or scratching the ear violently. Again, this more common in dogs than in cats.


How can you help your cat?

  • Regularly check your cat’s ears; get them used to a weekly examination, which is described in the linked article by one of our vets.
  • Keep your cats ears clean. If they tend to get a build-up of wax, your vet can suggest suitable ear cleaners. Or, you can make an appointment to discuss this with a FirstVet vet. To prevent cross-contamination, use clean hands and a fresh pieces of cotton wool for each ear.
  • Use regular anti-parasitic treatment to try to avoid an issue with mites. Please note that not all treatments will kill mites so please speak to one of the FirstVet vets or make an appointment with your vet to discuss which is the correct treatment to use.
  • Neutered cats are less likely to fight and therefore less likely to suffer ear injuries.
  • If the weather is hot, keep your cat in the shade during the hottest part of the day (10:00-16:00) and use a cat-safe specially formulated sun-block on their ears and nose.
  • If your cat suffers from allergic skin disease, talk to your vet or make an appointment with one of our FirstVet vets to find out how to investigate and treat this.


Treatment of ear disease in cats

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the disease. A non-medicated ear cleaner is a great way to remove wax gently from the ear canal. Wipe away wax from the ear flap. Do not use cotton buds inside the ear canal: it should not be necessary and can damage the ear canal and eardrum. Prescription ear drops may be required if there is evidence of an infection, to kill mites, or to reduce pain and inflammation.

If parasites are the main cause, your vet will prescribe an anti-parasitic treatment. They will also take a swab of any discharge from the ear canal to look for evidence of an infection. The swab will be sent to a laboratory where they will grow and identify the bacteria involved. The lab will also determine the correct antibiotic for the bacteria. This is important to try and prevent antibiotic resistance, which can be common in bacterial ear disease. If your cat will not tolerate their ears being examined, or there is a lot of wax present, a short anaesthetic may be recommended to fully examine and clean the ears. This also enables foreign bodies to be removed safely. If a lump is found in the ear canal, biopsies will be taken under anaesthetic to determine the cause and the most appropriate treatment. In some cases a further surgical procedure may be needed.

If your cat suffers from allergic skin disease, further investigation will be required to identify the underlying cause(s). Treatment choices will be directed by the results of the tests carried out. Allergic skin disease often requires long term management, and this will help to reduce the risk of skin flare-ups and associated ear infections in the future.


When to see your physical veterinarian

  • Seek help at your registered veterinary clinic if your cat is showing any of the signs listed above.
  • If you have any questions about your cats ears, wish to discuss cleaning them or which parasite treatments are best for your cat, then please make an appointment with one of the FirstVet vets.

Further information is available from the PDSA and International Cat Care.


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