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While ear infections in cats are not common, it is still possible that your kitten will get one. Cats and kittens outdoors are more prone to ear infections, but older cats indoors can develop this annoying condition as well. Ear infections are painful and will not go away on their own. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with the signs that indicate a problem.
What causes ear infections in cats?
If cats develop ear infections, it is usually due to ear mites or allergies, says Emily Pashaian-Grant, DVM, medical director of VCA SylvaniaVet Animal Hospital.
Ear mites are microscopic parasites that are highly contagious in animals (not in humans, phew!). Therefore, it is more common to see ear mites in cats that live outdoors or in kittens from a litter. Ear mites live in the ear canal and make a cat’s ears extremely itchy. Inflammation from ear mites and your cat’s constant scratching can cause an ear infection to develop, say experts at the Cornell Feline Health Center.
Cats can also get ear infections in response to food or environmental allergies (think dust mites and seasonal allergens). “When it comes to food allergies, it’s usually because of the source of protein. The most common proteins cats are allergic to are chicken, beef, and turkey,” says Grant.
Symptoms of a cat ear infection
If your cat has an ear infection, the first sign you’re likely to see is scratching – a lot of scratching. Ear infections make the skin incredibly itchy. Your kitten may also shake her head to try to get rid of anything that is making her ears so damn uncomfortable.
In your cat’s ears, you may also notice that the skin is red and that there is a black, brown, yellow, or green discharge. And that funky smell? It’s a sure sign of infection.
How to treat a cat ear infection
Ear infections always need to be treated by a veterinarian, Grant says. Left alone, they can spread to the inner ear. If this option is not checked, ear infections can cause scarring, narrowing of the ear canal, and sometimes deafness.
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At the clinic, your vet will wipe your cat’s ear and examine it under a microscope to determine the exact cause of the infection: mites, yeast, or bacteria. Most of the time, your veterinarian will prescribe a topical medication to apply to your cat’s ear, unless the infection is severe and requires oral medication.
Your cat should feel better within a few days of treatment, Grant says. However, it is important to complete the entire course of treatment recommended by your veterinarian (usually two weeks) to completely eliminate the problem so that it does not recur.
Natural home remedy for infection prevention
There are no natural remedies that cure ear infections, but there is one that prevents it: regular ear cleaning at home.
“I recommend cleaning your cat’s ears at least once a month,” says Grant. “You can get your cat used to this by making it a positive experience. Start by massaging the ears first to get your cat used to being touched. Offer treats for positive reinforcement as well.”
Once your cat tolerates being touched, you can use a cotton ball with ear washes and wipe the inside of your kitten’s ears. Another option: create an ear cleaning solution at home with a mixture of half hydrogen peroxide and half water.
Regular ear cleaning and keeping your cat indoors are the best strategies for preventing ear infections. However, if your cat has a second ear infection, it is time to think about allergy testing. Once you find out what is causing chronic ear infections, you can get rid of it once and for all.