Cat Ear Problems

Common Ear Problems in Cats

Ear problems in cats are a common cause of scratching and head shaking. Causes can include bacterial or fungal infection, foreign material (grass seeds), and parasites (ear mites).Continue reading to learn about the common symptoms, treatments, and prevention of ear problems in your cat.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Symptoms of Ear Problems in Cats

  • Shaking their head
  • Scratching their ears
  • Rubbing their ears or face on furniture, the floor, etc.
  • Painful, hot, red, or swollen ears
  • Increased production of wax in the ear canals
  • Smelly ears
  • Discharge from the ear canal that is typically dark brown or rust-colored
  • Scabs and crusting on the ears or the face
  • A fluid-filled swelling within the ear flap (aural hematoma)
  • Deafness or hearing loss

Causes of Ear Problems 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 spend lots of time outside
  • Parasites: ear mites (Otodectes cynotis), Sarcoptic or Notoedric mange (Sarcoptes or Notoedres mites)
  • Allergic skin disease: cats with skin problems often have secondary ear infections
  • Wax: a buildup of wax can create the perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to grow.
  • Growths (polyps) within the ear canal: occasionally, non-cancerous lumps grow in the ear canal. These are rarely cancerous but can cause pain and infection.
  • 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 hematoma: a blood-filled swelling within the ear flap, which occurs if the small blood vessels under the skin are damaged. This is usually caused by trauma to the ear, which can be self-inflicted by the cat shaking or scratching the ear violently. This is also more common in dogs than in cats.

How can you help your cat?

  • Regularly check your cat’s ears. Get them used to a daily check-up by following our simple guide.
  • Keep your cat’s ears clean. Your vet can suggest suitable ear cleaners for your cat.
  • If you live in an area where ear mites are common, use appropriate parasite preventatives for your cat. Not all treatments are effective against mites, so please speak to one of the FirstVet vets or make an appointment with your vet to discuss the best treatment choice for your cat.
  • If your cat suffers from allergic skin disease, talk to your vet, or make an appointment with one of our FirstVet vets, to see if there’s anything else that you can do to help your cat at home.
  • 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. You can also use a cat-safe sunblock on their ears and nose.

Treatment of Ear Problems in Cats

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. An ear cleaner is often recommended as the mainstay of treatment if the ears have an obvious build-up of wax. Medicated ear drops may be prescribed to reduce inflammation, treat an infection, or kill certain mites. Ear infections are usually painful so your vet will also make sure that the appropriate pain relief is provided. If your cat doesn’t tolerate their ears being examined or if extensive cleaning is needed, your vet might recommend giving your cat a mild sedative to help keep him comfortable.

  • If parasites are the main cause, your vet will prescribe antiparasitic medications. A swab may be taken to sample any discharge from the ear canal and identify the parasite.
  • A swab may be sent to a lab for bacterial and fungal culture if infection is suspected. If an organism is identified, the lab will be able to identify the correct antibiotic to use. Treating with the correct antibiotics is important to avoid antibiotic resistance, which can be common in bacterial ear disease.
  • If your cat has a foreign body in the ear, light sedation may be recommended to assess the ear canal and safely remove the material without causing damage to the eardrum.
  • Biopsies, performed under general anesthesia, may be recommended if your cat has a mass or polyp in the ear. This will help to determine the cause and the most appropriate treatment. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the mass.
  • Cats who suffer from allergic skin disease require treatments that control allergic flare-ups and secondary bacterial and fungal infections.

When to Visit Your Veterinarian

  • If your cat is showing any of the signs listed above.
  • To discuss ear cleaners or parasite treatment for your cat please make an appointment with your regular vet or one of the FirstVet vets.
  • If your cat has a head tilt or is off-balance, make an appointment with your vet right away.

For more information, check out these great resources:

Cornell Feline Health Center

Merck Veterinary Manual

Still worried?

Schedule a video appointment to speak with one of our vets.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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