Ear Disease in Cats
The outer ear is made up of the pinna (ear flap) and ear canal.
One of the most common ear diseases in cats is ear mites, especially in kittens. Ear mites are tiny parasites which live inside the ear causing inflammation and itching, and they may also make the ear more susceptible to secondary infection with bacteria and yeasts. They are usually picked up from other animals.
There are some other less common ear diseases that may affect your cat, which include:
• Bacterial infection – this may be secondary to other problems.
• Foreign bodies – most often grass seeds, which can create a place for bugs to grow or cause a lot of pain and irritation.
• Tumours in the ear canal.
• Allergic skin disease – the pinna and ear canal are actually a specialised area of the skin and therefore any inflammatory skin disease may include inflammation of the outer ear.
This webpage will mainly cover ear mites as they are more common in cats, but if you are concerned your cat may be suffering any kind of ear disease you should always consult your vet for more advice.
Things that you may notice if your cat has ear mites include:
• Scratching the ears.
• Head shaking.
• Dark brown waxy discharge visible in the ear, or dirty looking ears.
For more severe ear disease you may also notice:
• Holding the head to one side.
• Pain around the ear when touched.
• Red or smelly ears.
• Purulent discharge (pus) visible in the ear.
It is always worth checking your cat’s ears regularly, and you should visit your vet if you are concerned that they may be showing any of these signs.
Diagnosis of ear mites
To diagnose ear mites, your vet may examine the ear with an otoscope in order to see into the ear canal. They will look for discharge and signs of inflammation. They may also look for any other possible ear problems such as foreign bodies or tumours. They may then take a sample of material from the ear to look for mites under the microscope. However, mites are good at hiding meaning they may not always be identified on a sample even if they are there! If your vet thinks there may be secondary infection present they may wish to use cytology or culture and sensitivity to check for bacteria and yeasts.
Treatment of ear mites
Ear mites can be treated with antimicrobial ear drops or a spot-on anti-parasitic treatment. Spot-on treatments are applied to the skin on the back of the neck, and will often treat several parasites including mites and fleas. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best option for your cat. They will also be able to discuss any further treatment if they have identified any other ear disease during their investigation.
Disclaimer: This website has been designed to offer information surrounding the use of antibiotics and infection control for pet owners. It does not replace advice from your veterinary surgeon. If you believe your pet is unwell or you have any questions relating to their treatment, please always contact your veterinary surgeon for advice.