Cat Ear Infection – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And More

Cat Conditions, Cats

Last Updated - December 13, 2023

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Our feline friends rely heavily on their acute sense of hearing, and their ears play a vital role in their daily activities. Like humans, cats can be prone to ear problems, encompassing inner and outer ear infections. If you've ever noticed your cat scratching their ears, tilting their head, or showing signs of discomfort, they might be experiencing an ear infection.

In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything pet parents need to know about cat ear infections, exploring their causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment options so you can keep your furry companion's ears healthy and their purrs uninterrupted.

What Is A Cat Ear Infection?

Feline ear infections are common in which a cat's ear canal becomes inflamed and infected. This condition can be triggered by a range of factors, including bacterial or yeast infections, mites, or allergies. Symptoms often include ear scratching, head shaking, and discomfort, highlighting the need for timely veterinary care. If left untreated, ear infections can lead to hearing impairment and persistent discomfort.

Causes Of Ear Infections In Cats

Below are some of the most prevalent causes of outer and middle ear infections in cats:

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial ear infections in cats commonly occur when bacteria, such as Staphylococcus or Pseudomonas, infiltrate the cat's ear canal. This can happen due to moisture buildup or injuries to the ear. Bacteria thrive in warm, damp environments, making the cat's ear canal a conducive breeding ground. The infection can lead to redness, swelling, and discomfort for the cat.

Yeast Overgrowth

Malassezia, a type of yeast, typically causes yeast overgrowth in a cat's ears. These infections are more common in cats with floppy or hairy ears, as these traits can trap moisture and create a suitable environment for yeast to grow. Symptoms often include itching, discharge, and a distinctive, unpleasant odor.

Ear Mites

Among cats, ear mite infestation is the primary culprit behind outer ear infections. Ear mites, such as Otodectes cynotis, are tiny parasites that can infest a cat's ear canal and are the common cause of simple outer ear infections, also known as Otitis externa. Ear mites make a cat's ears itchy, leading to inflammation that can extend to the ear flap and secondary bacterial infections. Cats with ear mites may frequently scratch their ears or shake their heads in an attempt to alleviate the itching.

Ear mites can easily transfer between pets, so prompt treatment is crucial to prevent the condition from worsening and halt the further spread of this troublesome parasite.


Allergic reactions in cats may present as inflammation and itching in the ears. Various factors, including certain foods, pollen, dust mites, or environmental allergens, can trigger these allergies. Cats with allergies may exhibit ear-related symptoms like scratching, head shaking, and inflammation.

Ear Anatomy

Certain cats may be more predisposed to ear infections due to their distinctive ear anatomy. Breeds with folded or tightly positioned ears, such as Scottish Folds or Persians, may have a higher risk of developing ear problems because of reduced airflow and increased moisture retention. When it comes to painful infections of the ear canal, thick fur in certain breeds is more likely to harbor yeast.

Foreign Objects

As naturally curious creatures, cats may introduce foreign objects like grass seeds or small insects into their ear canals while exploring. If left untreated, these objects can lead to irritation, ear infections, and discomfort. It's important to visually inspect your cat's ears regularly to ensure nothing is sitting in the inner ear and outer ear canal.

Immune System Issues

Cats with compromised immune systems, whether due to illness or medication, are more susceptible to infections, including ear infections. A weakened immune system may struggle to avoid pathogens effectively, making chronic ear infection scenarios more likely.

Symptoms of Ear Infections in Cats

If your cat frequently rubs its ear or shows signs of discomfort, it could indicate an ear infection. Your cat may have contracted ear mites, have autoimmune diseases, allergies, or painful ear infections. Any of these culprits will constitute medical advice. Additional common symptoms that your feline companion might exhibit include:

Ear Scratching: Persistent scratching of the affected ear or ears.

Head-Shaking: Frequent shaking or tilting of the head.

Ear Odor: A foul or unpleasant odor coming from the ear.

Ear Discharge: Discharge from the ear, which may be yellow, brown, or black.

Ear Swelling: Swollen tissue or redness around the ear canal.

Pain or Sensitivity: Cats may show signs of pain or discomfort, such as vocalizing, reluctance to be touched around the ears, or rubbing their head against objects.

Balance Issues: Severe ear infections can affect a cat's balance and coordination as fluid builds up in the inner or middle ear canal.

Hearing Loss: In severe cases, hearing loss can occur if the infection progresses to the inner ear.

Changes in Behavior: Cats may display behavioral alterations, such as heightened irritability or increased vocalization, when experiencing ear-related issues.

Head Tilt: A persistent head tilt to one side may indicate an inner ear infection.

How Ear Infections in Cats Are Diagnosed

Ear Infections In Cats

Treating feline ear infections is typically a straightforward process. Cleaning the infected ear is typically the initial therapeutic measure. Veterinarians use specialized ear cleaners to gently flush out discharge, ear debris, and any foreign material that may be present. Cleaning your feline friend's ears first will help create a clean environment for medications to work effectively. If home care is necessary, your vet will demonstrate the proper cleaning technique before treating your cat.

For severe or chronic ear infections, medications in the form of pills, injections, or ointments may be prescribed by a veterinarian. Here are some possible treatments: 

Antibiotics: If the ear infection is bacterial, antibiotics are prescribed. These medications target and eliminate the specific bacteria causing the ear infection.

Antifungals: In the case of yeast infections, antifungal medications, such as clotrimazole, are prescribed to combat yeast overgrowth and treat ear infections.

Parasite Control: If ear mites are identified as the cause, your veterinarian will prescribe medications to eliminate the mites from the ear canal and prevent painful ear infections.

Steroids: In some instances, steroids may be recommended to reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort for your feline friend.

When administered correctly, the optimal medication should form a thin film that coats the pale pink lining of the external ear canal. In cases of prolonged ear canal inflammation or when middle ear inflammation is suspected, oral or injectable antibiotics will likely be included as part of the treatment plan.

Chronic Ear Infections in Cats

If your cat experiences a persistent or recurring ear infection, discussing this with your veterinarian is crucial. Treating chronic ear infections often involves addressing the underlying cause, if known. This might include managing allergies, providing immunosuppressive medications for autoimmune diseases, or performing surgery for anatomical issues. Regular outer ear flaps and medication cleaning may still be needed to manage symptoms and ensure healthy ears.

How To Prevent Ear Infections In Cats

To prevent ear infections in cats, proactive care and attention to their ear health are essential. To safeguard your cat's ears from infections, it's essential to take several measures. Initiate a routine of regular ear checks to identify any signs of discharge or redness. Keeping your cat well-groomed, especially around the ears, can also help since clean ears are less susceptible to infection.

Additionally, follow the ear cleaning guidelines your veterinarian recommends to prevent moisture buildup in the ears. If your cat has allergies, collaborate with your vet to effectively manage allergens. Follow vet-recommended flea and tick preventatives to control parasites such as ear mites.

Additionally, ensuring a balanced diet to support a robust immune system is crucial for preventing ear infections in cats. Lastly, remember to schedule routine vet visits for professional ear assessments to ensure your cat's ears remain healthy.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.