Cat Ear Problems

Cat ear problems, caused by an infection, are a source of great frustration for owners and pain or discomfort for cats.

Is Infection Causing Cat Ear Problems?

This is one of the main reasons for pet owners to visit their veterinarian. Common signs of ear infection include head shaking, frequent scratching, foul odours, abnormal discharge, redness, and pain. Although the ear may seem like a very simple structure, it is actually a complex organ that can become irritated. This is because of a whole host of primary causes and contributing factors.

The Structure of the Ear

cat ear and face diagram
Due to the complex structure of a feline’s ear it is difficult to adequately clean inside, increasing risk of infection.

In cats, the external part of the ear consists of the pinna, the ear canal, and the eardrum. The ear canal consists of a vertical part (the part you can see when you look inside the ear) and a horizontal part, which extends deeper to the eardrum.

Dr. John Angus, a resident in veterinary dermatology at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says, “This abrupt angle in the ear canal is a normal anatomical feature that makes cleaning difficult and can help trap debris and wax inside the ear.”

Factors Leading to Ear Problems

Many factors can make a cat ear problem more likely. Things that increase moisture and decrease ventilation can contribute to infection. Cats that like to swim or that have a naturally narrow ear canal can be at risk. Excessive hair or floppy ears can also trap moisture inside the ear. While these factors may predispose your cat to infection or make a current infection worse. By themselves they do not cause infection.

In addition, owners sometimes make the situation worse by using water or irritating substances such as straight rubbing alcohol or vinegar to clean the ear, or by causing trauma to the ear canal by over-aggressive cleaning. Water increases moisture within the ear and does not evaporate adequately deep in the canal. Irritating substances can damage the fragile lining of the ear canal, making it more susceptible to bacterial infections. Only use gentle cleansers with special designs for the ear canals. You can get prescription ear cleansers available from a veterinarian to treat specific cat ear problems such as disorders or infections. Use of cottonswabs is not recommended because they tend to pack the earwax into the ear canal. This makes it more difficult to remove.

cat ear problems
No matter how tempting, try not to attempt to clean your cats’ ears with water. This can worsen conditions for infection.

Bacterial and Yeast Related Issues

Surprisingly, bacteria and yeast are not considered a cause of cat ear problems. Rather they are considered the result of inflammation of the ear canal.

“An infection of the external ear is almost always a sign of an underlying disease,” says Dr. Angus. “Changes in the ear canal resulting from the underlying cause allow normal bacteria and yeast to overpopulate. Eventually the overgrowth becomes infection and results in ongoing disease even after the initial cause has resolved”. The most common underlying cause of a cat ear problem is allergic reactions. The pollens and molds that cause hay fever symptoms in people are the principal causes of skin and ear disease in cats. Cats can also become allergic to an ingredient in their food, even after they have been eating that food for years. (If you suspect your cat has an allergy, contact your veterinarian for directions on managing these conditions.)

Other causes for a cat ear problem include foreign objects that become lodged in the ear, ear mites, polyps, or tumors within the ear canal.

Management of These Issues

Successful management of cat ear problems requires both identification of the primary causes and management of secondary infections. Addressing just one or the other is a common reason for treatment failure. If the ear canal remains inflamed and infected for a long time, infection may move across the eardrum to the middle ear.

If your cat ear problems have been treated several times with little improvement, it may be time for your veterinarian to dig a little deeper for the root of the issue so it can be resolved. Dr. Angus says, “Unless you stop the cause of the problem, the infection may never go away.”

If you suspect a cat ear problem, get your local veterinarian to check it out. Geez ……. that sounds like a good idea !!

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