Well-being

The Ins and Outs of Cat Ear Care

Trent Webb

Our busy lives mean we often overlook these until there’s an obvious problem, but it pays to stay on top of your cat’s ear health: it all starts with a quick visual check.

Sneak a peek inside their ear next time they’re taking a nap on your lap to see how clean they are and check for any ear infection symptoms. Your cat’s ears should be clean, odour-free, pale pink in colour and have a minimal accumulation of ear wax. If they are mucky you may need to give them a clean, to help prevent infections – which are usually caused by the accumulation of wax or debris.

Common cat ear problems

Most feline ear disease occurs when a combination of factors conspire to create conditions favourable to the growth of yeasts and bacteria. These include anything which impedes natural removal of cat ear wax or reduces air circulation both of which result in the ear canal staying warm and humid, which encourages growth of harmful organisms.

In vet-speak ‘otitis externa’ infection is of the external ear canal, while ‘otitis media’ is the infection of the middle ear. Both are usually caused by cat ear mites, bacteria build up or yeast growth. It can also be caused by injury or debris becoming lodged in the ear canal. If you think your cat has an ear infection – do not hesitate and seek a vet’s advice. Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics, while antifungals are administered to tackle yeast based problems.

‘Irritation in cat’s ears can also be caused by allergies which can lead to infections, so it’s very important to get a proper diagnosis from your vet. A cat with an ear infection, or symptoms of one, may be in considerable discomfort so take it to the vet promptly.

Cat ear mites

Ear mites in cats are surprisingly common parasites. They are highly contagious, and can easily be passed from pet to pet, so multi-cat households need to be particularly careful. Scratching of the ears is the most common sign, as there is a constant itch. As mites do their dirty work cat ear mites they leave dark, crumbly debris (think used coffee grinds) in their wake. Treatment involves medicated ear drops, or more simply some spot on flea treatments will also kill ear mites.

Ear mites can spread quickly through a multi pet household. Start treatment as soon as the vet has confirmed the diagnosis
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Cat ear care

If the cat’s ear flap looks swollen they could have a haematoma. Simply put this means blood has accumulated in the pinna (ear flap). This can be caused by trauma (a bang to the head, bite or scratch) or infection (from cat ear mites or fleas). Either way the result is damage to the blood vessels start to leak into the ear flap itself.

The symptom of deafness may also be hereditary or congenital (but you’ll normally be aware of that) or may be the result of old age. But if they suddenly become deaf it is a key sign of ear infection. Rattle the biscuits or crinkle the treats packet and see if they respond!

Treatment of cat ear infections

Ear disease can be treated in a number of ways and your vet will advise you on the best course of action in their consultation. This will usually include using an ear cleaner to support topical medication (cat ear drops) which you will need to apply on a daily basis.

Ear cleaners help to remove the cat ear wax and debris, so disrupting the elements that create the breeding ground for any infection. Any prescription ear drops containing antifungals or antibiotics will then be able tackle the infection. They may also contain an anti-inflammatory, just to make your cat feel more comfortable and stop scratching – which is visually distressing and continually agitates the ear.

Ear infections that have been allowed to become deeply established may also require injections, tablets or even surgery. Nobody wants that, especially your cat, so keep an eye on their ears, and if possible keep them clean.

How to give ear drops to cats

Warm it. Hold the bottle in your hand to warm the liquid, cold drops can come as a shock.

Dress for it. Be aware this can be messy. Wear your gardening trousers and have kitchen roll handy to mop up missed drops or shaken out solution.

Read it. Read the label instructions carefully for the correct dosage. Practice taking the lid off one-handed, as you’ll be wanting to do this without drama, so as not to tip-off your cat!

Hold it. Gently restrain your cat, but don’t act suddenly or hold them too tight.

Apply it. Apply the required number of drops/a liberal amount of ear cleaner into the ear itself.

Massage it. Gently massage the ear canal. Gentle being the operative word. Do this for about 15 seconds to work the treatment deep inside.

Wipe it. Wipe off any excess fluid and discharge from the entrance to the ear using something soft and dry the inside of the ear flap.

Don’t do it. Do NOT use cotton buds or push anything down the ear. This WILL cause damage. So no matter how tempting, don’t do it!

Repeat it. If you’re cleaning, repeat the process in the other ear, if you’re applying drops be sure to check with your vet if only one or both ears need treatment.

Once your cat has had an episode of ear disease, regular cleaning is advised to help prevent any re-occurrence. There are also some non-prescription ear cleaners like Sancerum, Otoclean and Epiotic which have antimicrobial properties help keep the ear clear of bacteria and yeasts to help you keep their ears clean and healthy. Keep on top of this and help your cat manage their now vulnerable ear(s).

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

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