Cat Ear Infections

Cat Ear Infections

Is your cat scratching and pawing at their ears every chance they get? If so, they may have fallen victim to a feline ear infection! Ear infections are fairly common among our furry friends, and can lead to serious discomfort if they are left untreated.

So what is an ear infection exactly, and why do our cats get them? Follow along as we discuss everything you need to know about this diagnosis.

What Causes Ear Infections In Cats

While cat ear infections are not as common as ear infections in dogs, there are a few factors that are known to trigger a painful infection in our feline friends. To help you better understand the potential cause behind your cat’s diagnosis, let’s discuss some of the most common causes below.

Yeast or Bacteria

A cat’s ears contain a delicate balance of bacteria and yeast that can be disturbed by outside factors. If anything causes a slight overgrowth in this yeast or bacteria, it can easily turn into a full blown ear infection. This overgrowth can lead to a slew of irritating symptoms for your feline companion.


Allergies are one of the most common causes of ear infections in cats and dogs. Since allergies often result in skin irritation, this causes a cat to scratch and bite at their skin. When they are constantly pawing at their ears, this leaves them open to the possibility of ear injury or irritation. This increases the likelihood of bacterial overgrowth, often leading to an ear infection.

Ear Mites

Ear mites are a common struggle in young kittens and outdoor cats. They burrow deep into a cat’s ear canal, causing severe itching and secondary infection. Not only are the ear mites extremely irritating to the cat they infect, but they leave behind a thick black debris that can cause additional complications.

Ear Injuries

Ear injuries are another common culprit behind ear infections in cats. Any type of ear injury can cause a cat to paw at the area, leading to additional irritation and inflammation. Not only can pawing at the area cause inflammation, but it can introduce bacteria to the injury site itself. If the injury itself is infected, this can cause a complicated infection to the entire region.

Foreign Bodies

If you have a cat that spends any time outdoors, a foreign body in the ear is always a possibility. Grass and other plants can become lodged in their ear canal, leading to inflammation and secondary infections if they are not removed.

Debris & Wax Build-up

An ear canal that is filled with excess wax and debris is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeast overgrowth. Whether the build up is due to parasitic critters or a dirty ear in general, it can lead to an irritating infection in our feline friends.

Cat Ear Infections Vs. Ear Mites

Ear infections in cats and ear mites are often lumped together as if it is one diagnosis. It is important to understand that these are two separate conditions that often coincide with one another, but will need to be treated individually.

Ear mites are the parasite that invades the feline ear canal, while an ear infection is an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast within the ear. Since ear mites can lead to inflammation and debris within the ear canal, this often leads to a secondary ear infection as a result.

If your cat is diagnosed with ear mites, they will need to receive anti-parasitic medication for the ear mites themselves, and separate antibiotics to clear up any current infection they may have caused.

Signs & Symptoms Of Ear Infections In Cats

While not every ear infection in cats will have obvious symptoms, there are a few signs to look for. An ear infection can cause serious discomfort for our pets, leading to a few obvious signs of irritation. Some of the most common symptoms of an ear infection in cats include:

  • Ear scratching
  • Shaking their head
  • Tilting their head in the direction of the infected ear
  • Foul odor coming from the ear
  • Sensitivity around the ears
  • Redness or swelling around or in the ear
  • Ear discharge
  • Wax that looks like coffee-grounds
  • Hearing loss
  • Change in balance
  • Wounds around the ear

If your cat is displaying any of the above symptoms, it is time to take them into your vet to be examined. Ear infections can be extremely painful for our furry friends, and often require medical intervention.

How Do I Know If My Cat Has An Ear Infection

So how do you know if your cat has an ear infection? While they may be displaying common signs of ear irritation, the only way to accurately diagnose the condition is by visiting your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can perform a few tests to easily diagnose the right condition, and prescribe a treatment that will work best.

When you bring your cat to the vet, you can generally expect two things. Your veterinarian will first examine their ears with an otoscope, and then perform an ear swab that they will apply to a microscopic slide. Checking the ear swab under a microscope can not only diagnose any potential ear mites, but also multiple forms of bacteria that can hide within the ear canal. 

How Are Ear Infections Treated In Cats

Ear infections in cats are treated based on what is seen on their ear cytology. Since an ear swab can reveal everything from crawling critter to yeast, it is important to understand the main culprit behind the infection.

Ear mites in cats can be treated with an anti-parasitic that you administer in their ear, while ear infections can be treated with antibiotic ear drops and the addition of oral antibiotics as well in severe cases. Some vets may even send you home with ear cleaner if the cat’s ear is filled with a lot of debris. In most cases, either of these conditions can be cured within 14 days.

Your cat’s prognosis is much better when visiting your vet at the first sign of an ear infection. While there are some store-bought products that claim to cure ear infections, they will not rid your cat’s ears of harmful bacteria. Avoiding veterinary care can prolong your cat’s discomfort. It is always best to seek a vet’s advice in these situations.

Can Ear Infections Be Prevented In Cats

While some ear infections seem to pop up without cause, there are some effective ways to help prevent ear infections in our feline companions. If you have a cat that is prone to pesky ear trouble, some of these tips may help!

  • Keep your cat up to date on flea protection, as these often repel ear mites as well.
  • Routinely check your cat’s ears for any redness or dirt buildup.
  • Check your cat’s ears regularly for any foreign bodies.
  • If your cat’s ears are prone to wax build up and dirt, clean their ears with a cotton swab. Also use a veterinary approved cleaner once a month. Never use a Q-tip, as this can damage their ear drum.
  • If you think your cat is suffering from allergies, it is best to speak with your vet about long term management.
  • If you see any wounds on your cat’s ears, have them treated immediately before they become infected.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, ear infections can cause a slew of complications for our beloved cats. Be sure to review the tips we discussed above, and you can combat any future ear infections with ease!

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