This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.
External ear canal or outer ear infections are more common in dogs than cats, but your feline friends can also get them. These infections, which are also called otitis externa, are usually caused by bacteria and yeast that accumulates in the ear. They can also result from an infestation of ear mites. Ear mites tend to encourage the development of secondary infections due to bacteria or yeast in the ear canal. Those infections tend to linger even after the mites have gone.
Symptoms of ear infections
The first thing to look at is what your cat is doing with its head. Because ear canals are extremely sensitive, ear infections can cause your cat pain and discomfort. As a result, many cats suffering from ear infections will shake their heads or scratch their ears in an attempt to remove debris or fluid from the ear canal. Some cats might also tilt their heads to one side.
If you notice your cat exhibiting any of these behaviors, make sure to take a look at your cat’s ears. An infected ear may become red and inflamed, and emit a strong odor. You may also observe black or yellow discharge. Sometimes the ear may appear dirty, or there may even be no obvious signs.
Infections caused by ear mites generally show similar symptoms, so it is important to note that ear mite infestation is more common in outdoor cats or kittens. If your indoor adult cat develops an ear infection shortly after a new kitten has joined the household, ear mites may be the cause.
Diagnosing ear infections
Always take your cat to the vet when you notice any potential signs of an ear infection before cleaning your cat’s ears on your own. Not only will your vet need to see the debris or discharge in your cat’s ear to determine what’s wrong, but you may accidentally cause more harm than good.
First, the vet will examine your cat’s ear with an otoscope, which is an instrument that magnifies and illuminates the inside of the ear. It lets your vet see into the ear canal and rule out other potential causes like tumors and foreign bodies. It also determines whether the eardrum is still intact. When there is excessive debris, discharge or inflammation in the ear canal, or the ear is very painful to touch, your vet might perform a sedated exam and take a sample of the material from the ear canal. It is then examined under a microscope or by ear cytology.
Treating ear infections
Nearly all ear infections can be treated and cured if properly diagnosed. The specific treatment, however, depends entirely on the infection’s cause. For example, if it is the result of a foreign body in the ear canal, your vet can remove it from your cat under sedation.
If the infection is due to yeast or bacteria, your vet may prescribe medication or drops depending on the results of the exam or diagnostic work up. Once your vet identifies the right medication or treatment plan, he or she can show you how to administer the medication properly to your cat.
In some cases, the infection may be so severe that it has closed the ear canal. Medication may be given to reduce the swelling and open the canal. In the severest of cases, surgery may be required. But those instances are fortunately rare.
For more information please visit our Feline Health Library.