Ear infections in cats
- Ear infections are painful.
- They are caused by germs (bacteria and yeast) growing inside the ear.
- Ear infections often develop because something else is causing problems inside the ear, i.e. ear mites, skin allergies or perhaps a growth.
- Contact your vet for an appointment if there is something wrong with your cat’s ear(s).
When to contact your vet
Ear infections are painful – contact your vet if you notice any of the symptoms listed below. Tell your vet if your cat has had ear problems before.
You know your cat best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your vet.
Symptoms of an ear infection include:
- Scratching the ears (often with back feet)
- Rubbing the ears
- Red, swollen, hot or painful ears
- Waxy ears
- Smelly ears
- Discharge from the ear
- Scabs and crusting on the face and ears
- A swelling in the ear flap (aural haematoma)
- Deafness or reduced hearing
A deeper ear infection can also cause a head tilt to one side, loss of balance and flickering eye movements.
Ear mites are a very common cause of ear infections in cats. They also cause an intense itch.
Allergic skin disease
Bacteria or yeast
Occasionally there isn’t an underlying cause for an infection, it’s simply that germs have overgrown inside the ear.
Dirty, waxy ears are more likely to get infected because they provide a perfect environment for germs to grow.
An injury to the ear may lead to an infection if it isn’t kept clean.
Something in the ear
Objects such as grass seeds occasionally find their way into the ear and cause irritation and infection.
Growths inside the ear (benign or malignant) can lead to ear infections.
Treatment for an ear infection often includes:
Using a veterinary ear cleaner will help to remove any build-up of wax or discharge.
Ear drops contain a variety of drugs to combat bacteria, yeasts and swelling. Always follow the instructions and keep treating for as long as you vet has asked you to, even if your cat’s ear seems better before the end of the course.
Anti-inflammatories and pain relief
These drugs help reduce swelling and control pain.
Occasionally, antibiotic tablets will be used alongside drops to treat severe or deep infections. Antibiotics tablets aren’t always necessary.
Your vet may want to collect a sample of the discharge from your cat’s ear to find out what’s causing the problem. If there is something stuck inside your cat’s ear, they may need an anaesthetic so it can be removed. If your cat has allergic skin disease they may need other drugs or special diets to control it. If your cat has an aural haematoma or there is a tumour growing inside the ear, they might need an operation.
Regularly check your cat’s ears to see if they are dirty or infected. If there’s an infection, you are likely to notice a nasty smell, wax or discharge.
Regularly de-flea your cat using a treatment from your vet – many flea treatments also kill ear mites.
If your cat has a skin allergy make sure it is well controlled.
Ask your vet or vet nurse for advice if you need to clean your cat’s ears.
Treatment for an infection can become very expensive. Consider insuring your cat as soon as you get him/her, before any signs of illness start. This will ensure you have all the support you need to care for them.
It’s also very important to speak openly to your vet about your finances, the cost of treatment, as well as what you think is right for your cat. There are often several treatment options so if one doesn’t work for you and your pet then the vet may be able to offer another.
Published: May 2019
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst