Ear Problems In Cats
The feline ear canal is narrower and much shorter than ear canals of most breeds of dogs. A thorough ear canal exam is necessary in order to be sure that the ear canal is clear of discharge or wax and that the tympanum (ear drum) is healthy.
Signs that your cat may be at risk for severe ear disease include:
- Ears routinely have a lot of discharge in them, whether pus, wax, or “dirt”*
- Ears are often painful
- Often hisses or runs when ears are touched or avoids contact
- Ears are often red
- Ears often have an odor
- Often shakes head
- Often scratches at the ear(s) or side(s) of head below ear opening(s)
- May seek to have her/his ears rubbed (if ears are itchy)
- Appears to enjoy when ears are rubbed
- Ear infections never seem to go away or come right back as soon as ear medicine stopped
* Dr. Byrne has noticed that some people state that the dark brown material in their cat’s ears is “dirt” or that it is from ear mites. Although ear mite infestation is a common cause of ear disease in kittens, shelter cats, or stray cats, it is an uncommon cause of ear disease in adult house cats not exposed to other infested cats.
Similar to dogs, ear problems in cats are most commonly otitis externa, followed by otitis media. Otitis interna is rare and usually also presents with signs of nervous system disorder. Otitis due to bacterial or yeast infection can occur in cats. Cats can also develop disease of the middle ear (otitis media) from certain types of viral infections.
If otitis is present for too long, the ear canal can close permanently making medical therapy unlikely to help. At this point surgery is needed: either a bulla osteotomy (surgically opening and draining the middle ear) or total ear canal ablation with bulla osteotomy (the ear canal is removed too). These are technically demanding surgeries and usually require a surgery specialist. It is important to control and stop the progression of ear disease early if you wish to avoid the need for surgery of your pet.
These are benign growths that can arise in the external ear canal, middle ear, and also in the nasopharynx (the area behind the nasal passages and the mouth). They can cause ear discomfort and make the ear susceptible to infection. They can also cause difficulty breathing through the nose if present behind the nasal passages. Surgical removal is the most effective therapy.
Disorders of the ear flap (“pinna”):
Similar to the outer and middle ears, the pinna can be affected by a number of disorders including allergic skin disease, autoimmune disease, inflammatory skin disease, inherited skin disorders, etc… Of course it is easier to see the pinna than the ear canal and so problems of the pinna usually do not go unnoticed.
Aural hematoma: a large swelling occurs when blood forms a pocket between the skin of the pinna and the ear cartilage. Although not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable and it can result in contracture (crumpled/folded appearance) of the pinna leading to a less-attractive pinna. The cause is thought to be due to excessive shaking of the head and/or scratching of the ears. However, there must be another cause involved because most cats who shake their head or scratch their ears do not develop an aural hematoma. After drainage of blood, various surgical methods can be used to try to prevent blood from accumulating again.
In some pets, itchiness and scaliness of the ears are the only signs they have allergic skin disease. Parasitic disorders: Notoedres mite parasites (scabies), Demodex mites (demodicosis), chiggers, poultry/bird mites can sometimes parasitize the ears and cause discomfort.
Dr. Byrne is experienced in diagnosing and managing these and numerous other disorders, both common and rare, of the ear canal and pinna of cats.
(Summary) Ear Problems in Cats
Feline ear problems include:
- Ear Infections
- Debris in ears
- Hormone Disorders
- Other Causes
- Heavy wax build up in the ears
- Dirty looking ears
- Bad smell or odor from the ears
- Ear scratching
- Excessive head shaking or tilting the head from side to side
- Rubbing ears against other surfaces