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Ear Problems in Cats: Causes and Treatment

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Ear Problems in Cats: Causes and Treatment

     The inside lining of the ear is normally smooth with a small amount of wax buildup. Many problems can cause the ears to be irritated, inflamed and/or infected. Any of these causes left untreated can lead to more complicated problems, including middle and inner ear damage and hearing loss. Most cats let you know that their ears are uncomfortable by scratching, shaking and/or tilting their heads.


Ear mites are most common in ear problems adult cats and puppies. These microscopic mites have hairs on their body that irritate the ears. They are also responsible for the itching and the dark brown, coffee-like residue. Mites live primarily within the ear canal. They can also live outside of the ear and on other parts of the cats body, they do not infest your home.

* Trauma to the ear from foreign materials like plant seeds or over-aggressive cleaning can also cause pain and inflammation of the ears.

* Flea allergies can occasionally involve the ears.

* Allergic reactions to pollen, mold, and dust are not common in ears. Ear infections associated with allergies often recur until the underlying cause of the allergy is determined and treated.


* Scratch ears often.

* Shake or tilt head.

* Odor and/or discharge from ears.


* Diagnosis involves examining a sample of the ear discharge under the microscope. This is called a Cytology and will identify the problem. The most effective treatment will be determined according to whether mites, yeast or bacteria are present.

* Ear mites can also live outside of the ear, on other parts of your cat's body. Flea control products can help to manage this problem.

* Instead of using eardrops to treat mite infections, you can now purchase a new topical treatment called Revolution (selamectin), applied onto the skin at 30 day intervals, which controls fleas, ticks, heartworms, intestinal worms and ear mites for cats and dogs.

* To prevent ear problems, check your cat's ears regularly. Only use products recommended by your vet to clean your cat's ears, and never clean any deeper than you can see.

* Long-term and/or recurrent ear infections may require a culture to pinpoint the exact agent responsible and the medication best suited to eliminate the infection.

NOTE: An otoscope is designed and illuminated to allow complete visualization of the ear canal


* Hematomas usually occur as a result of self-inflicted trauma to the ear. Many cats vigorously Itch their ears because of a persistent underlying ear mite problem. A blood vessel in the earflap ruptures which causes bleeding into the earflap tissue. Treatment usually requires surgical

removal of blood clots and drainage of blood under anesthesia. Hematomas tend to recur until the underlying problem is eliminated because the cats continue to traumatize their ears by itching. Many ears scar down into an abnormal appearance.


Milbemycin, is the active ingredient in Sentinel, a tablet given monthly to prevent heartworms, fleas, intestinal worms, and ear mites in cats. Selamectin is the active ingredient in Revolution, approved in cats, a monthly product that kills ear mites and walking dandruff mites, and prevents heartworms and fleas. New monthly flea preventative products have replaced ear drops to treat ear mites.


Yeast Infections: Mixing equal parts of white vinegar and water (50:50) makes a good ear cleaning solution for yeast.

Bacterial Ear Infections: Garlic can be added to the diet only occasionally, continual high doses can cause anemia:

* Garlic has antibacterial and antifungal effects.


* Mullein (Verbascom thapsus)

* Mucilage or Sapenins have a demilucent effect.

* Use topically for bacterial ear infections.

* Calendula makes an effective ear cleaning solution: Mix one teaspoon of Calendula with a teaspoon sea salt and one cup of water.

* Calendula Oil is soothing to red inflamed ears. Apply two drops into ears once daily.

* To eliminate ear mites, Yellow Duck (Rumex crispus) two drops every 3rd day for three to six weeks.


For red, irritated ears try Pulsatilla (6c Windflower) one pellet every third day for two weeks. Withhold food ten minutes before and after treatment. Sepia officinalis (30C) two whole or three crushed pellets by mouth twice a day for three days then once a week, until the ears are healed. Helpful with itching and head shaking.


Long-term and/or recurrent ear infections can spread to involve the middle ear. The middle ear houses nerves, called Vestibular nerves, which are responsible for balance and equilibrium. If these nerves are irritated, cats can lose their balance, tilt their heads, stagger and often fall over. This is called Vestibular Disease. Some cases are associated with ear infections and rarely brain tumors are responsible but the cause in most cases is unknown or idiopathic. The term Idiopathic Vestibular Disease is used in these cases.


X-rays are initially used to evaluate the middle ear. The bone housing the middle ear is called the Tympanic bulla and is located within the brain. The series of x-rays taken in this case, is respectively called a "Bulla Series". A CAT scan or MRI are more sensitive imaging techniques that may be necessary to allow visualization of this area of the brain if the x-rays are inconclusive.

Typically, most cases of Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome occur for some as of yet unknown reason in the spring and fall. Cats suddenly tilt their heads and begin staggering, for no apparent reason. Cats generally improve within 72 hours and symptoms usually resolve in a couple weeks. Occasionally the head tilt persists.