How to Tell If Your Cat Has an Ear Problem

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
If your cat’s been scratching at her ears, she may be trying to tell you something. Watch for these symptoms of ear infections.

Like people, cats could suffer with ear problems. As a pet parent, knowing the signs will allow you to give your kitty the prompt treatment necessary to help her feel better. Check out the information below on some of the different ear problems that felines could develop, as well as the symptoms that are typically associated with each.

Symptoms of Ear Mites

Ear mites are one of the most common causes of ear ailments in felines. These tiny parasites can make their home inside your kitty’s ears, and they’re also contagious between cats. It’s important to get rid of this problem promptly, as mites that are within the external ear canal may eventually end up causing problems within the inner ear as well.

Related: Ear Mites In Cats Lead To Serious Scratching

If your cat has these annoying mites living in her ears, she may scratch around her neck, head, and ears, as well as shake her head. You can look inside the ears to see if you notice what looks like coffee grounds in there. And if you’re able to—and really careful in the process—you could take some out and look for live, white mites moving around; otherwise, leave it up to your vet, who can properly diagnose and treat your kitty’s ear problem.

Symptoms of Ear Infections

A cat could develop an inner ear infection, middle ear infection, or outer ear infection. Here’s a brief overview of some of the symptoms:

  • Inner ear infections and inflammation could be caused by things like bacteria and fungus. Symptoms depend upon how severe the infection is. You might notice nausea and vomiting, that your kitty feels pain when she opens her mouth, or that she’s reluctant to chew. Your pet might also shake her head, paw at her ear, or develop a head tilt. Some cats will even lean toward the side of the ear that’s infected, and their balance might be off. And if both ears are infected, the head may swing from one side to the other. It’s also important to note that kitties who have active inner ear infections won’t be able to hear out of the ear that’s affected, and they could develop facial paralysis if the facial nerve is affected.

Related: How to Tell If Your Cat is Happy

  • Middle ear infections, like inner ear infections, might be caused by an outer ear infection that has worsened or by infectious agents like yeast and bacteria. Symptoms may be similar to those of inner ear infections, and they might include ear pain, discharge, head shaking, and pawing or scratching at the ear.
  • Outer ear infections, which could also be caused by fungus or bacteria, may cause your kitty’s ears to become swollen and red, and there might be a foul odor, as well as a discharge. Your cat might shake her head and scratch at her ears too.

What to Do If You Notice Symptoms of Ear Ailments

If you notice that your kitty is exhibiting the signs that could indicate an ear ailment, getting her to the vet and treating the problem as soon as possible is necessary. Otherwise, an ear infection has the potential of becoming a chronic issue, and it could also potentially lead to more serious problems, such as facial paralysis and deafness. Your vet will be able to determine the cause of the ear problem, whether it’s parasites, a foreign body, a polyp, trauma, allergies, or a deeper underlying condition, as well as provide the appropriate treatment.

In addition to keeping an eye out for the symptoms above, it’s also a good idea to examine your kitty’s ears routinely. You can even talk to your veterinarian about the best methods for safely cleaning your cat’s ears whenever necessary.

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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