Ear Infections in Cats

Ear infections are among the most common health problems in cats, affecting all ages. They usually involve the outer part of the ear (otitis externa) and cause extreme discomfort, itching, pain and constant irritation. If left untreated, they tend to progress deeper (otitis media and interna), causing complications like hearing loss, Horner's syndrome and equilibrium alteration (vestibular disease). 

Parasites are very common causes of ear infections. They include ear and mange mites and are readily transmitted among cats. Stray cats and kittens are highly susceptible to ear mites. Intense itch, head shaking and dark discharge in the ear canal are typical signs. Mites can also cause secondary allergic inflammation and long term ear problems. Fortunately we have effective medications to treat and prevent the parasitic mites.

Various allergic conditions are responsible for inflammation of the ears and often the rest of the body. The inflammation is characterized by redness, thickening of the skin and flakiness. The irritated and inflamed ear undergoes opportunistic bacterial and/or yeast invasion and becomes infected. These infections worsen if not treated promptly and cause pussy and bloody discharge. Affected cats scratch constantly and further injure themselves.  These injuries and the vigorous head shaking sometimes result in broken blood vessels that bleed under the skin and form a pocket of blood (ear hematoma). The ear swells like a balloon and requires surgical intervention. Allergies and secondary infections tend to be recurrent or chronic and often need long term attention. Medical treatment includes antibiotics, anti-fungals and anti-inflammatories. The medications may be administered locally to the ear or systemically. In some severe cases, ear infections need to be treated surgically as well.

Other systemic diseases and tumors of the ear may be underlying conditions that produce similar signs or become complicated by secondary infections. Accurate diagnosis is essential to successful treatment of ear infections and diseases.

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Yuval Nir
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Veterinarians, Animal hospital