Symptoms and Treatment of Ear Infections in Cats

A cat's ears are one of its most important features, both as one of the many senses they use to observe the world around them, and also as one of their chief features of cuteness. Their ears are as expressive and adorable as they are vital to your kitty's wellbeing.

a young yellow cat is laying down and looking at the camera
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That's why we need to make sure to look out for our cat's ears, particularly if they develop an infection. Yep, just like humans, cats get ear infections. But since they can't speak our language to tell us what's wrong, it may not be the first problem that comes to mind when your kitty starts acting strangely. But don't worry, we've got your cat covered. We've put together a guide of everything you need to know to recognize and treat a cat ear infection.

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection, officially known by the medical term otitis interna, occurs when your kitty's inner ear becomes inflamed from the presence of bacteria, fungus, a foreign object, or even polyps growing inside the ear canal. This inflammation can cause irritation and pain for your poor feline. Ear infections are actually not that common in cats, so if your cat develops one, it may signal an underlying health imbalance, including an abnormality in the ear anatomy or a problem with your kitty's immune system.

Veterinarian when treating ear mite
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How do you know if your cat has an ear infection?

Ear infections can be sneaking little conditions, and sometimes the symptoms that your kitty is suffering can be very subtle. But if you notice unusual behavior, here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if your kitty might have an ear infection.

  • Is your cat reluctant to chew or showing signs that her mouth hurts? While these signs could be related to the mouth, an ear infection can also manifest to your kitty as pain in its mouth or difficulty chewing.
  • Is your cat shaking her head often? Your feline may be trying to dislodge whatever is causing it pain, not knowing exactly what's going on. You might even notice your kitty swinging its head side-to-side when it is otherwise at rest.
  • Is your cat pawing at his ear? This signal starts to get clearer – your cat is pointing to the source of its discomfort.
  • Is your cat's ear red? The inflammation can sometimes cause redness to spread even to the visible parts of the ear.
  • Is your cat's ear smelling bad? Infections often smell pretty icky. If you're noticing gross-smelling discharge coming from your cat's ear, that's a sign it may be infected.
  • Is your cat having trouble hearing? Often because your kitty's ears are inflamed, they aren't hearing properly.
  • Is your cat leaning to one side or having balance issues? As with humans, a cat's ears help with balance, and an infection can majorly throw that off. And with an ear infection, your cat will often lean in the direction of the problem, so it's is leaning to the right, it's probably the right side that's having trouble.
  • Are you noticing unusual facial symptoms like discharge, unblinking eyes, or even drooping of eyes, nose, or mouth to one side? When an ear infection starts to affect the facial nerve, a cat's entire face can be affected.
  • Does your cat seem nauseous? Is he or she vomiting, or eating significantly less than usual? The disorientation caused by a major ear infection can also make your cat sick to its stomach.

When is it time to call a vet?

If you've noticed some of the symptoms listed above and suspect that your cat has an ear infection, call your vet immediately. If left too long, your cat might feel too nauseous or ill to eat and drink, which can result in dangerous dehydration. And your kitty will definitely need medicine to clear up the problem, so a vet visit is a must.

Veterinarian doctor is making a check up of a cute beautiful cat.
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How are cat ear infections treated?

When you bring your kitty in for treatment, a vet will typically thoroughly clean your cat's ear and determine what is causing the infection. After that, your cat will likely be put on medication to clear the infection. Infections are often treated with topical medications, either an antibiotic or anti-fungal medication.

In some cases, cats that have had a serious infection may require surgery. This may be for those cats that have fluid buildup, infections that have entered into the bone, or any masses that have developed in the ear. Long-term effects of ear infection include a permanently changed sense of balance and hearing loss. Though ear infections are very serious, the prognosis is good and most cats respond very well once they get medical treatment.

How to prevent ear infections in your cat

Ear infections can't be totally prevented in cats, but keeping their ears clean is the most important way you can help to avoid this condition. While you can clean your cat's ears at home, the process requires a gentle touch and it may be better to learn from your vet first, before attempting the process at home.

Along with regular ear cleanings, try your best to check your cat's ears regularly, especially after they've been around anything that could get into their ears. Also, good general grooming can keep your cat's coat free of irritants that could make their way into your cats ears. With any luck, you and your kitty will avoid the trouble of an ear infection. But even if you can't, because life happens, now you know just what to look for.