Inflammation of the Ear in Cats (Otitis Externa)

You walk to the front door to let your cat in from their nightly walk. But what is it? Scratch marks on the neck and your darling is tilting his head. Your first guess: a fight! But find out here why it could also be an ear infection in the cat.

Symptoms: what are the signs of an ear infection in the cat?

Depending on the extent and cause of the inflammation, you can recognize an ear infection in cats by the following symptoms:

  • Your cat may increase its head shaking or tilting.
  • You will find altered ear secretions (e.g. pus, black crumbs, bad-smelling odor).
  • She scratches her neck or ear (on one or both sides).

If your cat’s ear infection spreads to nearby structures such as the middle ear or inner ear, further symptoms threaten. In this case, your cat will appear increasingly weak and eat less. Fever and severe pain can also occur.

Ear infections in cats can also lead to what is known as a vestibular syndrome. The inflammation thus damages the equilibrium organ in the inner ear, which normally signals the current position of the head to the brain.

Affected animals are accordingly impaired in coordination (balance disorders) and show a tilted head position. In addition, their eyes shake uncontrollably, which veterinarians refer to as nystagmus.

Diagnosis: How is an ear infection in cats recognized?

If your cat scratches its ear more often or if it tilts its head, you should have it examined by your veterinarian. This can take a closer look at the ear of your cuddler and rule out common diseases.

To do this, he takes a look at the general condition of your cat at the beginning of the examination and then assesses the outer ear. In order to be able to examine the inner ear (including the eardrum), he then uses an otoscope (ear mirror) equipped with a lamp.

If there is a suspicion that the cause could be infectious, he now takes a swab using an ear swab. By streaking it on a slide and looking at it under a microscope, the vet can detect bacteria or mites. In order to be able to rule out allergic reasons, however, an allergy test is required.

Therapy: How is an ear infection in cats treated?

An ear infection can be very annoying and even painful for your cat, so treating it early is very important. So that your cat is soon relieved of the strain, the veterinarian first cleans your cat’s ear.

However, since the skin of pets is easily irritated, he uses an ear cleaner (ear drops) specially made for cats. The vet carefully massages this into the ear after the initial rough cleaning. This loosens the ear wax, which your vet then removes from the ear with the help of cloths.

If necessary, he will also give your four-legged friend medication such as anti-inflammatory drugs or pain relievers. If he has detected a bacterial infection, he also uses antibiotics (as a result of a resistance test). However, if your cat has a fungal attack, it will need antifungal drugs, and if it has parasites, it will need antiparasitic drugs.

To help the healing process, you should also groom your cat’s ears at home. To do this, let your vet show you how to do this. But remember one important rule: never use ear swabs, as they can injure your cat’s sensitive ear!

Causes: what are the triggers of an ear infection in cats?

Many cats will develop an ear infection (otitis) at some point in their life. This is mainly because there are many different reasons that can lead to it:

1. Allergies
Ear infections that keep flaring up can be a sign of an allergy in cats. Whether atopy (environmental allergy) or food allergy, some allergens come into question here.

2. Foreign body
If your cat is outdoors, he will explore your neighborhood daily (and nightly). He’s bound to do laps through tall grass and undergrowth. Stubborn awns or splinters can find their way into your cat’s ear and lead to nasty ear infections.

3. Parasite infestation
Young cats in particular tend to develop ear infections as a result of ear mites (Otodectes cynotis).

4. Fungal attack
In general, immunosuppressed cats suffer less often than dogs from so-called Malassezia – yeast fungi that settle in the ear canal. However, if the temperatures rise in summer, they grow particularly quickly and can lead to inflammatory reactions in the ear.

5. Tumors
Chronic and purulent ear infections in cats are often due to polyps. These are mostly unilateral growths of the mucous membrane – often a consequence of the cat flu complex.

Prognosis: What are the chances of recovery?

Fortunately, most cat owners quickly notice when their pets have a problem with their eavesdroppers. Treatment carried out early as a result usually quickly leads to an improvement in the symptoms.

Serious and painful inner ear (otitis interna) or middle ear infections (otitis media) are therefore less common. If so, this can sometimes significantly worsen your cat’s prognosis.

Prevention: can I prevent ear infections in cats?

If your cat is prone to ear infections, you should check their ears regularly and clean them if necessary. Use special ear cleaners for animals and avoid irritating disinfectants and soaps. In order to avoid parasite infestation in your cat, you should also rely on effective mite protection. Whether spot-on or collar – you have a large selection here!

Home remedies such as tea tree oil or chamomile tea should only be used with caution. Because the sensitive mucous membrane of cats, dogs and the like does not always react well to such irritating substances.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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