Diagnosing Chronic Ear Infections in Cats

Chronic ear infections in cats may be caused by an underlying health problem that will require separate attention and treatment. Recognizing the symptoms of a chronic ear infection, addressing the issue early, and applying the right treatment will help prevent further ear problems in your cat while also avoiding what could be serious consequences from an untreated ear infection.

Symptoms of Ear Infections

Ear infections in cats can cause a range of symptoms including:

  • Itchy ears
  • Pawing at or rubbing face and ears
  • Redness of inner ear flap (normally a healthy pink color)
  • Odor from the ear
  • Discharge
  • Head shaking or tilting
  • Wax buildup in the ear and ear canal

Diagnosing Chronic Ear Infections

Recurring ear infections may be a sign of an underlying health problem such as

  • Allergies: Chronic ear infections due to allergies will continue to bother your cat until the allergens have been removed from his environment. Food allergies are a common cause of chronic ear infections and will require a change in diet and often food trials to determine what ingredient is causing the allergic reaction. Environmental allergens, like pollen, can also cause chronic ear infections.
  • Hormones: A change in hormones, such as those caused by thyroid problems, can affect your cat's ear health and cause infections. Treating the hormonal imbalance is necessary in order to stop the infections.
  • Ear mites: These parasites can be highly contagious and are often found in kittens. Look for dried blood in the cat's ear, which tends to look like coffee grounds, to help determine if your cat has ear mites.
  • Bacteria and yeast: Bacteria and yeast infections can be a secondary symptom of other health issues (allergies, hormone changes) affecting ear health and can generally be treated with antibiotics or anti-fungal medications.

To diagnose chronic ear infections, your veterinarian can inspect the ears and possibly take a sample of wax or discharge to determine what is causing the problem. Tell your vet about any other symptoms and changes in health your cat has experienced recently, such as weight loss, lethargy, lack of appetite, and other changes in behavior.

Prevention of Cat Ear Infections

There are several steps cat owners should take to prevent chronic ear infections and the underlying causes of infections.

  • Hygiene: Maintaining healthy ears can help prevent bacteria and yeast infections from growing in moist, unclean ears. Ask your vet about a mild ear cleansing solution that can be used to clean your cat's ears each week. By starting ear hygiene routines when your kitten is approximately 8 weeks ago he will become comfortable having his ears examined and, if necessary, cleaned or medicated.
  • Nutrition: A cat with a healthy immune system and well-balanced, nutritious diet (that isn't made up of mostly carbohydrates and fillers) may help fight infections. Herbal supplements can also help boost immunity and health in your cat, so talk to your vet about changes in diet or supplements to help.
  • Other health conditions: Treating any other health conditions your cat may be suffering from will help prevent chronic ear conditions. Talk to your vet about changes in your cat's health and behavior along with treatment options available.