Unlike dogs, cats have almost no breed variation in the shape and conformation of their ear canals. The ears look the same from breed to breed. This means that all breeds are equally at risk of ear disease.
When you look at the causes of ear disease in cats, they can be divided into primary or secondary factors. Primary factors are those that cause inflammation in the ears. They include ear mites, allergies and polyps in the ear canal. Secondary factors are responsible for continuing symptoms even after the primary cause has been treated. Bacteria and fungi are common secondary factors in ear disease in cats.
Symptoms of ear inflammation, or otitis, in cats include shaking the head and scratching at the ears. If the middle ear is affected, you may see neurological signs such as facial paralysis. This occurs because inflammation deep inside the ear affects the nerves in that area.
COMMON EAR PROBLEMS IN CATS
Whenever you are treating ear infections in your cat, you need to work out why the infection occurred and it’s usually because of an underlying problem. These are the common causes of otitis in your feline friend:
- Allergies. Atopy is an allergy to dusts and pollens in the environment. Cats can also suffer from food allergies. Both can cause inflammation in the ear canal and allow bacteria and fungi to multiply.
- Ear mites. These contagious little creatures cause severe itching and irritation. They spread readily from cat to cat.
- Aural polyps. A polyp is an inflammatory growth that develops in the middle ear of cats. It’s not known why they occur but they can become large enough to fill the ear and extend either into the outer ear or inwards into the pharynx.
TREATING EAR DISEASE IN CATS
Medicated ear drops can be used to treat ear infections in cats. They usually contain an antibiotic, an anti-fungal drug and an anti-inflammatory medication to ease the irritation and make your cat more comfortable. Continue using them as directed for as long as your veterinarian recommends.
When you are treating these ear infections, it’s important that you not only tackle the secondary bacteria and fungi, but that you treat the primary cause. If you don’t, the infection is likely to recur. Depending on the type of infection, your vet may prescribe tablets instead of ear drops.
Ear mites can be eliminated by using Revolution, a liquid that is applied to the back of your cat’s neck once a month. It has the added benefit of killing fleas, heartworm and intestinal worms too.
Polyps may need to be surgically removed if they are causing ongoing irritation and inflammation.
Allergies can be managed in several ways. If your cat has a food allergy, you can control it by doing a food trial to identify what he’s allergic to, then keeping that off his menu. If he is atopic and is reacting to environmental dusts and pollens, then a course of desensitising injections can help him to better tolerate the allergen. A third option is to give him medication such as anti-histamines or corticosteroids to stop the allergic reaction happening in his body.
HOW TO PREVENT FELINE EAR DISEASE
In a normal healthy cat, there isn’t anything you need to do on a regular basis to prevent ear disease. If your feline family member enjoys the great outdoors and is likely to come into contact with other cats with ear mites, then regular use of Revolution will keep these little creatures at bay.
For those cats that suffer from allergies, the only way to prevent ear infections is to keep his allergic symptoms well under control. In spite of your best efforts, he may still have the occasional flare up of otitis that needs veterinary care.
EAR DISEASE IS NOT A DO-IT-YOURSELF ISSUE
Inflammation and infection in the outer and middle ear are not as common in cats as in dogs, but they are still a reasonably frequent cause of pain and discomfort. It’s a good idea to examine your cat’s ears regularly so you can recognise when there is something wrong with them. This will allow you to have them treated quickly so your cat recovers sooner.
Don’t be tempted to treat your cat’s ears yourself. Without an accurate diagnosis, your treatment may not help and may in fact make things worse. Always have your cat checked by your veterinarian before putting anything in his ears.