There are a number of things that can cause ear infections in cats, all of which are treated differently, but happily, most ear infections can be treated easily if they are caught early.

Cats only have a few ways of telling us that their ears are bothering them, so being aware of your feline friend’s normal behaviour will help you spot when a problem is developing. The most common signs your cat will display if he has an ear problem are scratching his ears and shaking his head; the scratching itself can then cause wounds which can become infected, so early action is necessary to prevent further damage.

To help you to decide what the best course of action is should your cat develop an ear infection, here are come of the most common causes, and their treatment options.

Ear Infections In Cats Affecting The Pinnae

Mange

Mange is a term used for a proliferation of mites (Notoedres cati) in the skin causing intense irritation and itching starting around the ears and face, but this can spread over the body.

This is a highly contagious condition so you should keep your cat away from other felines until the infection has cleared up. Feline mange mites cannot survive long on humans, but they can cause an unpleasant rash of bumps similar to mosquito bites.

Symptoms

Signs of mange are hair loss around the ears and face, and intense itching causing your cat to scratch himself frantically, often to the point of self-harm. The skin in the affected area can become thickened, scaly and covered in a greyish yellow crust.

Home Remedies

  • Wash your cat’s bedding, collar, toys, bowls, etc.
  • Isolate you cat.
  • Vacuum the carpets, rugs, fabric furniture etc.
  • Bathe your cat in warm water using a gentle soap.
  • Rinse using warm water and apple cider vinegar (1:1 ratio).
  • Towel dry.
  • Gently comb his body with a soft bristled brush/toothbrush.
  • To soothe the itchy spots apply aloe vera, neem oil, castor or olive oil.

Veterinary Treatment Options

  • Your vet will examine skin scrapings under a microscope to identify what type of mite is causing the mange.
  • The medication prescribed may be applied topically, by injection or an antibacterial shampoo. Anti-inflammatories and antibiotics may be required to ease inflammation and prevent infection of open wounds.
  • It is usually necessary to continue the treatment for about a month.

Abscesses

When cats get into fights, their ear always seem to come off worse! Of all the fight wounds, bite wounds are especially prone to causing abscesses because of the number of bacteria in cats’ mouths. An abscess is a painful, fluid-filled lump caused by a wound or bite becoming infected; they are not always seen until they break through the skin and ooze pus.

Symptoms

  1. A painful lump or swelling.
  2. Unusual lethargy.
  3. Signs of a fever.
  4. Loss of appetite.
  5. An oozing sore.

Home Remedies

  • Confine your cat in one room.
  • Keep wound clean using warm salt water or water/povidone-iodine solution.
  • If a scab forms before all pus has gone, place a wet, warm cloth over scab to soften it.
  • Check wound at least three times daily – there should be less pus every day.
  • Prevent your cat from scratching the wound – a veterinary collar.

Veterinary Treatment Options

  • If the abscess is open, then your vet may be able to clean it without sedation.
  • If the abscess is closed, then sedation may be needed to lance and clean it.
  • Antibiotics will be prescribed.
  • Give antibiotics as prescribed, using the whole course.
  • A drain may be required to help drain the abscess.

Ear Infections In Cats Affecting The Ear Canal: Otitis Externa

Ear Mites

Ear mites (Otodectes Cynotis) are tiny parasites; they are mostly found in the ear canal and cause severe itching, irritation and discomfort. Your cat will shake his head and scratch at his ears, and this can lead to scratch wounds that could become infected. This condition is highly contagious and can be passed on to other pets.

Symptoms

  1. Head shaking.
  2. Frequent scratching of his ears.
  3. Dark crusty or waxy discharge from his ears that looks like coffee grounds.
  4. Scratching and irritation of other areas of his body.

Home Remedies

  • Gently clean your cat’s ears with cotton swabs to remove waxy debris.
  • Spray apple cider vinegar/water mix (1:1 ratio) into ears.
  • Or massage aloe vera onto the ears.
  • Or massage vaseline onto the ears.
  • Over-the-counter ear drops are available.

Veterinary Treatment Options

  • Your vet will examine a scraping of the ear debris under a microscope to identify the mites.
  • Then she/he will thoroughly clean the ears.
  • Ear drops will be prescribed and advice on application given.
  • Your vet will advise you on cleaning the cat’s ears.
  • Preventative on-going topically administered anti-flea /mites medication advice.

Bacterial or Fungal (Yeast) Infections

Cats with ear infections display similar reactions as a mite infestation, scratching of ears and head shaking, but there will be other signs such as an unpleasant smelling discharge, and heat, swelling and redness of the ear. Quite often an infection is a secondary reaction to another, underlying problem.

Symptoms

  1. Redness and swelling and heat in the ear.
  2. Discomfort when the base of the ears are massaged.
  3. A wet sound when the ears are gently massaged.
  4. Black or yellowish and foul smelling discharge.
  5. Head tilt and imbalance.

Home Remedies

  • Cleaning your cat’s ears with warm water and apple cider vinegar mix (1:1).
  • Apply ear drops of 100% pure Tea Tree oil and water (1:2 ratio).
  • When applying drops to your cat’s ears, allow time for the liquid to travel down the ear canal, then massage gently.
  • Your cat will shake his head, which will remove debris.
  • Always dry the ear and surrounding area – wet ears can cause infection!

Veterinary Treatment Options

  • The vet will examine a sample from your cat’s ear to discover whether it is a yeast or bacterial infection.
  • A thorough examination of your cat will be required to make sure there are no underlying health problems.
  • Your cat’s ears will be thoroughly cleaned and examined to find out if any damage has been caused.
  • Depending on diagnosis treatments prescribed may be:
    • antibacterial ear drops
    • topical medications
    • oral antibiotics
    • pain relief and anti-inflammatories.

Polyps & Tumours

Although polyps and tumours are not a common problem, they can cause long-term damage to the eardrum if not treated. They seem to occur after long-term inflammation causing an overgrowth of tissue, and can themselves cause secondary infections, which may be how this problem becomes apparent.

Symptoms

  1. Scratching of his ears.
  2. Signs of infection.
  3. Tilting his head to one side.
  4. Possible deafness.
  5. Imbalance problems.

Home Remedies

Apart from treating any secondary infections, home remedies are not available for polyps and tumours.

Veterinary Treatment Options
  • Your vet will need to examine your cat’s ear(s) with a scope.
  • This will require sedation.
  • A biopsy will be required to check if this is a benign polyp or a tumour.
  • CT scan may be required to find out the origin and extent of the growth.
  • The growth will need to be surgically removed.
  • If all of the polyps are removed, they shouldn’t recur, but if this isn’t possible – then recurrence is possible.
  • Post surgery antibiotics will be prescribed.
  • Follow-up appointments will be required.

Ear Infections In Cats Affecting The Middle and Inner Ear

Infection of the Middle / Inner Ear

If your cat develops an infection of the middle or inner ear, he will show the same symptoms of discomfort as described before, but as these parts of the ear coordinate his hearing and balance, he will also display loss of hearing and imbalance issues and even facial paralysis. The eardrum is between the ear canal and the middle and inner ear, so a middle ear infection could cause damage to the eardrum.

Symptoms

  1. Signs of infection (as before).
  2. Loss of hearing.
  3. Fatigue / drowsiness.
  4. Loss of appetite.
  5. Facial paralysis.
  6. Heavy breathing.
  7. Nasal discharge.

Home Remedies

Many ear infections have an underlying cause, such as allergies. Have you changed anything in his diet? Changing your cat’s diet, removing possible allergenic foods, and introducing antifungal foods. Adding apple cider vinegar to his meals.

Veterinary Treatment Options

Your vet will diagnose a middle or inner ear infection from the symptoms your car is displaying, and further investigations involving x-rays, CT scans or MRI’s.

Depending on the diagnosis, treatment will include long-term antibiotics, possibly with topical medications, and surgery – if required.

Allergies

Cats with allergies, particularly food allergies, often develop itchiness and irritation around the ears and face and small, fluid-filled lumps on the skin. If your cat is displaying these symptoms but has no obvious cause, then it could well be an allergic reaction to something he is eating.

Common Allergens:

  1. Corn products or grains.
  2. Artificial colourants.
  3. Dairy products.
  4. Meat by-products.

Symptoms

  1. Itchy ears.
  2. Fluid-filled lumps on the skin.
  3. Ear infections.

Home Remedies

  • Feed limited ingredient cat food.
  • Soothe any inflammation with aloe vera gel, or other natural creams.
  • Only supply water to drink, not milk.
  • Provide home cooked meals (consult your vet to ensure you supply correct food balance).

Veterinary Treatment Options

  • Your vet will advise and recommend feeding your cat with a ‘novel’ diet
  • Only serve water to drink.
  • Feed your cat food with ingredients he has not been exposed to before.
  • This diet will be maintained for ten weeks.
  • Slow reintroduction of ingredients will define which is the allergen.
  • Anti-inflammatory topical medications to soothe the skin condition.

Foreign Bodies

Cats who spend a lot of time outdoors can sometimes get grass awns or other foreign bodies stuck in their ear canal. This will cause sudden pain, and continued irritation, causing him to shake his head, trying to remove the object and scratching at his ear. If not removed, this will cause inflammation and infection.

Symptoms

  1. Shaking his head.
  2. Rubbing and scratching his ear.
  3. Tilting head.
  4. Inflammation and possible infection.

Home Remedies

If you can see the offending object, carefully try to remove it with tweezers.

If there is any resistance, or your cat shows signs of distress, do not continue or you could cause damage to the eardrum.

Veterinary Treatment Options

  1. The vet will sedate your cat so a proper examination can take place.
  2. The object will be removed if possible without surgery.
  3. Anti-inflammatory / antibiotic medication prescribed.
  4. If surgery is required, your cat will be prescribed antibiotics as required.

Final Thoughts

The best way to make sure you catch any potential ear problems early is to regularly check and clean your cat’s ears. Your vet will be happy to show you how to effectively and safely clean your furry pals ears. Knowing your cat’s regular behaviour will enable you to detect any changes which could indicate there is a problem.