Ear infections in cats are most often caused by environmental allergens or parasites. In some cases, ear infections in cats can be caused by trauma, underlying diseases, or tumors.
Causes of Ear Infections in Cats
One of the most common, and well known, causes of ear infections in cats is ear mites. These mites burrow deep within a cat's ears, feed off of the cat's blood, and they cause intense itching and excessive discharge in the ear. If ear mites are not treated in a timely manner, they can quickly cause secondary bacterial infections to develop. Other types of parasites that can cause ear infections in cats are scabies and fleas.
In some cases, environmental allergens can cause ear infections to develop in cats. These allergens may be certain types of grasses or pollens, chemicals, or food ingredients. In other cases, hot humid environments cause ear infections to develop in cats due to out of control bacteria and yeast infections that thrive in these climates.
Underlying Medical Infection
Underlying medical infections can also lead to ear infections in cats. Cats that are suffering from diseases which attack the immune system, such as Lupus, FeLV, or FIV, often develop ear infections as their immune system breaks down.
Cats may also develop ear infections due to ear trauma, tumors in the ear, or even if an object becomes lodged deep within the ear. Though these are rarer causes of ear infections in cats, veterinarians still see many cats each year that are suffering from ear infections due to these causes.
Ear trauma can occur from constant itching, scratching, and head shaking from allergies, and tumors in the ear may be caused by some types of cancers. In some cases objects, such as plant stickers or seeds, may become lodged in the cat's ear and cause an ear infection to develop.
Ear disorders in cats are caused primarily by two different reasons. Either the ear disorder is a result of a problem within the structure of the ear, or the ear disorder is caused by an outside factor. Some of the most common ear disorders in cats include: otitis, hematoma, masses within the ear canal, and feline vestibular syndrome.
Types of Ear Disorders in Cats
Otitis ear disorders cause the ear to become inflamed. The most common causes of otitis inflammation are allergies, yeast and/or bacterial infections, parasites, and stenosis. Allergic reactions that cause the ear to become inflamed can be the result of a food allergy, plant allergy, or an allergic reaction to a parasite such as an ear mite or sarcoptic mange mite. Yeast and bacterial infections often occur in cats with droopy long ears and in cats which live in humid environments. Stenosis is a condition in which the ear canals are very narrow; these narrow canals often trap moisture and dirt which causes irritations.
Often when a cat has an ear disorder which causes itching and irritation a hematoma develops on the ear. The hematoma occurs when the cat continually shakes the ears to try to get rid of the itching. Excessive head shaking causes the tissues in the ear to become damaged, blood leaks into the tissues, and a hematoma type bubble appears on the ear.
Masses Within the Ear
Sometimes a mass can develop in the ear of a cat. This type of disorder can be caused by benign or cancerous growths. Often the masses lead to impaired hearing, irritation, infection, or neurological problems. The cause of the development of the mass is generally not known.
Feline Vestibular Syndrome
Feline vestibular syndrome is an ear disorder that occurs mainly in older cats, but it does occasionally occur in young to middle aged cats as well. The cause of the disease is not known. The effect of the disease on the ears results in inflammation of the nerves which connect the cerebellum to the ear. Balance problems, vomiting, and difficulty eating or drinking are the symptoms of the disorder.
Treating ear infections in cats involves finding out what is causing the ear infection, and then treating the cause of the disorder. In most cases, a physical examination of the cat's ear is all that is needed to discover the cause of the infection.
Treating Ear Infections in Cats
Infections Caused by Parasites
If a veterinarian finds that the ear infection is due to parasites such as ear mites, fleas, or scabies, then medications are prescribed to treat this type of infection. In some cases, anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed to soothe the ear tissues and reduce the symptoms of the infection.
Infections Caused by Bacteria
Ear infections that are caused by bacteria and yeast are treated using ear medications that contain anti-fugal and antibacterial ingredients. Depending on the severity of the infection, the drops are normally prescribed for 2-4 weeks and they are normally applied to the ears twice a day. Oral antibiotics or oral anti-fungal medications may be prescribed in severe cases.
Infections Caused by Allergies
When allergies cause ear infections to develop, finding out what is causing the allergy and calming the allergy symptoms are the only way to treat the ear infections. These types of ear infections can be difficult to treat, as it can take many months to find out what is causing the allergy to occur. In order to calm the symptoms and ear infections caused by allergies, anti-inflammatory medications in addition to antihistamines and steroids may be prescribed.
Infections Caused by Tumors
Ear infections that are caused by tumors often require surgery to treat. These surgeries can be very difficult, and in some cases a veterinarian may recommend a specialist to perform the surgery. If an ear infection is caused by underlying medical condition such as lupus, FeLV, or FIV, supportive treatments to control these conditions can help to stop ear infections from occurring.