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Be on the Lookout for Common Cat Ear Issues
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Be on the Lookout for Common Cat Ear Issues

Critter Culture Staff
Updated Oct 24, 2022

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Did you know that many white cats with blue eyes become deaf shortly after birth? Congenital hearing loss aside, cats often struggle with ear problems, so knowing the early signs of an issue can significantly improve your feline's quality of life. Cats can acquire fungal infections like ringworm, become infested with fleas, develop frostbite during winter, or have foreign bodies lodged in their ears when they play. Eardrums also thicken with age causing deafness, and various medications can have side effects that lead to hearing loss. We've highlighted some common issues vets see in cats so you can be prepared for action.

1

Congenital conditions

Lovable Scottish Fold Cat lafar / Getty Images

Most of the ear problems cats experience are acquired rather than passed down to them through their genes. Two congenital conditions to note are "fold-ears" and atresia. Fold-ears refer to when the tip of a cat's ears folds unusually. It doesn't cause deafness but can hint at skeletal problems in the future. Atresia is related to abnormal ear canal development that blocks the channel and thus affects hearing.

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2

Otitis externa

Beige or cream coloured older cat resting on bed, scratching his ear Lubo Ivanko / Getty Images

Otitis externa, or an outer ear infection, is pretty common. It's often due to infestation by the likes of ear mites, and both ears usually get infected. It gets super itchy where the mites feed on the ear canal, so you'll notice kitty scratching. There'll be swelling, scaliness, a discharge, and an odor too. Cats with seborrhea are more likely to develop this disorder because bacteria and parasites are attracted to the excess ear wax. Ear mites produce brown debris and a crust and are visible against dark surfaces, so look out for that. Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible because the infection can spread with dire long-term consequences. You should quarantine a cat with ear mites if you have other pets.

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3

Polyps

Kitten paw scratches behind the ear, cat sitting on the sunny windowsill, fleas and ticks in domestic animals sony_moon / Getty Images

Polyps are small growths on mucous membranes. They're benign and can be found in a cat's middle ear, which leads to infections and symptoms such as nasal discharge, squinting, head shaking, and difficulties hearing and walking. Your cat's breathing will often be audible too. Your vet will need to take x-rays, and surgery may be necessary. Polyps can cause otitis interna too, which is inflammation of the inner ear. This can lead to deafness, so it's important to act as soon as you notice odd signs and symptoms.

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4

Allergies

Cat with Flowers in old decorative watering can Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

The same culprits that see you stocking up on antihistamines affect cats too. We're talking about pollen, dust, mold, and various foods that can cause dermatitis or skin inflammation. Your feline friend's head and ears are among the areas that will get itchy and red, and ear infections are possible. Your pet's doctor can do an allergy test, prescribe allergy shots and meds, or put kitty on a hypoallergenic diet for at least six weeks to confirm a diagnosis. Allergies are generally chronic, so symptoms need to be managed.

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5

Mange

Young woman with stray thin calico cat on street of New Orleans ablokhin / Getty Images

Different microscopic mites cause various types of intensely itchy mange which can get so bad that cats self-mutilate to try and find some relief. You may notice hair loss, hard round bumps on the skin, raw areas including along the edges of the ears, and yellow-gray scabs. Mange is highly contagious. In extreme cases, cats become ill and die. Treatment includes dips and topical, oral, or injected medications. You'll have to thoroughly clean your cat's bedding, toys, and brushes, and treat other pets in the household for mange too.

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6

Trauma

Two tabby cats play fighting in appartment Westend61 / Getty Images

Cats prone to fighting may be bitten or scratched on their ears. Cuts can become infected, and blood can collect between the skin of the ear and the cartilage, causing an itchy hematoma. A vet may drain or flush the fluid. You can help heal minor scrapes by cleaning the shallow wound with a pet-safe antiseptic.

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7

Solar dermatitis

White cat under the table Sjale / Getty Images

White-eared cats are particularly susceptible to solar dermatitis if often exposed to harsh sunlight. Be on the lookout for redness and scaling near the tips of the ears. The condition can progress to a form of cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma at which point sores will appear. You'll have to be careful about keeping your fur baby indoors during the day and applying vet-approved sunscreen. Radiation treatment may be necessary.

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8

Treating an ear infection at home

A veterinarian examines the kitten's ear. Hleb Usovich / Getty Images

Unless you medicate your pained and moody cat as per veterinarian instructions, good luck getting it to comply. It's doable, but mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand. Offer treats and gentle touches. You'll have to clean the ear first, and starting with the non-problematic ear is a good idea. Wash your hands and switch gloves when you move to the other ear. Wait ten minutes before applying the medication to the infected ear. Monitor your cat's progress and contact the vet if symptoms don't improve.

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9

Lowering the risk of an ear problem

Man combing his lovely grey cat Daria Kulkova / Getty Images

You can take steps to minimize the odds of a cat ear problem. Keep your cat's living environment clean to put off parasites, and make it a habit to check your cat's ears for any changes. Chat with your vet if you notice a build-up of ear wax. If you've got a beautiful white Persian cat, don't let it lay on your balcony or patio for hours. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight is a no-no.

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10

Managing hearing loss

A young black and white cat watches as a hand presses down on a piano key. She is inquisitive and confident. Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

There's often no going back when your cat becomes deaf. You'll have to change how you communicate with kitty because verbal commands are going to get you nowhere. You can teach it hand or other signals for meal times. You also must alert your cat to your presence to prevent it from getting scared and stressed out. Your kitty will be able to sense vibrations so clap or tap your foot as you approach.

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