Can My Cat Get an Ear Infection?

by Britt
Photo credit: Silarock /

I’ve you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “Can my cat get an ear infection?” – You’re not alone! As loving cat parents, we strive to provide our feline friends with the best possible quality of life, including staying informed about their health.

Yes, ear infections in cats can indeed occur, and they can cause our cats a lot of discomfort and distress. If left untreated, they can even lead to permanent hearing problems.

In this article, we will explore the ins and outs of feline ear infections, shedding light on the possible causes, common symptoms to watch out for, and how to best protect your cat’s delicate ears. You’ll walk away feeling empowered to ensure your cat can enjoy a cozy, comfortable, and infection-free life.

What is the Most Common Ear Infection in Cats?

The good news is that ear infections are far less common in cats than dogs. But this doesn’t mean they don’t occur or shouldn’t be taken seriously. The types of ear infections a cat may suffer from can be sorted into three categories based on the location in the ear where they occur. This includes outer ear infections, middle ear infections, and inner ear infections.

The most common type of outer ear infection is ear mites. These tiny parasites live on the skin's surface and inside the ear canal. These microscopic pests are uncomfortable and irritating, often causing cats to scratch at their ears until the outer ear is inflamed. They also leave behind debris that can build up within the ear, adding to the irritation.

Inner ear infections are often the result of a bacterial infection. There are several different causes that can lead to the introduction of bacteria to your dog’s ears, including a less serious outer ear infection left untreated. These infections are far less common but are the most damaging if left unaddressed, as they can permanently alter your cat’s hearing.

What Causes Ear Infections in Cats?

While ear mites are one of the most common causes of an ear infection or irritation in a cat, they aren’t the only cause. There are many reasons why your cat’s ears may be bothering them. For some cats, this could result from thick fur in and around the ear. While this fur grows in that area to protect the ear from debris, it can also trap excess wax.

Regular ear cleaning is the best way to prevent wax buildup, but it can lead to problems when done improperly.

An ear infection may also result from a more significant medical problem. Some ear-specific concerns that an infection could indicate include the presence of polyps or tumors in the ear canal, excess bacteria or yeast in the ear, or a ruptured eardrum.

Looking at the bigger picture, an ear infection could also result from environmental allergies, food allergies, immune system diseases (FLV or FIV), or diabetes. As these conditions are often experienced over an extended period, they can result in prolonged or chronic ear infections. You will need to address the underlying cause to stop the infections from returning.

How Do You Tell if a Cat Has an Ear Infection?

Treatment is essential to prevent your cat’s ear infection from having long-term consequences. Of course, that means you need to know what warning signs to watch out for. How do you tell if your cat has an ear problem?

Here are some of the more common signs to be aware of:

  • Pawing and itching at the ears
  • Shaking their head
  • Black or yellowish ear discharge
  • Ear discharge that looks like coffee grounds
  • Excess ear wax
  • Red, swollen ears
  • Foul odor from the ear
  • Head tilting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of balance
  • Disorientation
  • Hearing loss

Of course, many of these signs could point to other ailments, making it difficult to identify an ear infection in the early stages. If you’re unsure, contact your veterinarian to discuss your concerns. They will be able to talk you through what to look out for and the next best steps to take care of your kitty promptly.

Is a Cat Ear Infection an Emergency?

While your cat’s ear infection may not be a life-or-death emergency, it’s not a condition that should be ignored or left untreated. Any issue that impacts your cat’s ears is uncomfortable and painful as this is a sensitive area. Over time, these conditions can cause long-term damage to your cat’s ear leading to permanent hearing loss.

So, while an ear infection doesn’t necessarily warrant rushing to the nearest emergency clinic, it is something that should be addressed in a timely matter.

How Do You Treat an Ear Infection in a Cat?

Treatment of your cat’s ear infection starts with a visit to the veterinarian. They will be able to examine their ear and test a sample of any debris to determine the cause of the problem. This diagnosis will dictate the treatment that is required.

If your cat is suffering from wax build-up, your vet can help to clean out any excess debris carefully and provide medication to relieve any pain your cat may be experiencing. If you have been cleaning your cat’s ears, but they still suffer from build-up, your veterinarian can walk you through the ear cleaning process and any aspect you may be missing. This may also indicate that your cat produces more wax than usual and will require a change in your cleaning routine.

For ear infections caused by bacteria, yeast, or ear mites, your vet will provide you with a prescription to address the problem. This could include anti-parasitics, corticosteroids, antibiotics, or antifungals. You may be given medication that your cat has to take orally or eardrops to administer directly to the area of concern. In cases of severe infection, your vet may administer an injectable antibiotic to provide them with faster relief.

When a cause isn’t quickly evident or an underlying cause is identified, your vet will discuss the treatment or management options available.

Can a Cat’s Ear Infection Go Away On its Own?

No, your cat’s ear infection likely will not go away on its own. Instead, left untreated, it will be allowed to progress and become a more serious condition. If you suspect your cat is suffering from an ear infection, contact your veterinarian. The earlier you address the problem, the easier (and more cost-effective) it will be to clear it up.

Photo credit: frantic00 /

5 Tips to Prevent Ear Infections in Cats

Keep Your Cat Safely Indoors

Allowing your cat to roam outdoors can introduce them to many risks, including potential injuries from vehicles or local predators, bite or scratch wounds from cat fights, or exposure to poisons that may be present in the area. But a risk that is often overlooked is the fact that your cat will also have an increased risk of parasites, including ear mites.

By keeping your cat indoors and only allowing them out when they are safely on a leash, you significantly reduce the risk of them spending time in close quarters with cats suffering from ear mites and other transmissible conditions.

Conduct a Regular Ear Check

As cat parents, we often enjoy time curled up with our cats. But did you know you can use this time to prioritize your cat’s health and well-being? While you are snuggled up together, take a moment to check out their ears. Look for signs of irritation like swelling or redness. Peek inside to see if you spot any buildup of wax or debris that could indicate a problem. Feel their ear if they allow you, and check if it feels overly warm. Finally, give a quick smell check to see if there is any sign of unpleasant odors.

If your cat is uncomfortable having their ears checked, this is also a great time to work on that (as well as handling paws, the abdomen, and other areas). The more you practice handling your cat at home, the less stressful it will be when addressing injuries or during vet exams.

Stay on Top of Your Cat’s Annual Exams

Experts recommend you take your cat to the vet at least once a year for a checkup. This is essential as it allows your vet to check for any signs of illness, address any concerns early, and keep your cat healthy. This is also your opportunity to bring up any concerns you may have that your vet may not be able to see with a quick exam, like changes in behavior at home.

Why is this important in terms of ear infections? Your veterinarian will check your cat’s ears as part of a standard exam. This may mean realizing a problem is starting to develop long before it starts to cause your kitty unnecessary pain and discomfort.

Avoid Sticking Cleaning Devices or Tools in Your Cat’s Ear

One mistake many well-meaning cat parents make when cleaning their cat’s ears is using cleaning devices like Q-Tips and ear cleaning kits on their cat. Not only does this risk causing trauma to the ear canal or the ear drum, but you may also be pushing excess wax and debris further into the canal. This means you could be contributing to making a minor outer ear infection worse. Special tools like these aren’t needed for a standard ear cleaning.

Clean Your Cat’s Ears Regularly

While your veterinarian would be happy to hear that you’re leaving the Q-tips and special tools safely stored in the cupboard, that doesn’t mean you should skip out on routine ear cleaning. Excess wax can add up, causing or contributing to your cat’s ear infection.

You should clean your cat’s ears once every 2-3 months, checking them periodically between cleanings for any signs of trouble. But avoid overcleaning, which can cause irritation and lead to trouble too!

How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears Step-By-Step

Does the idea of cleaning your cat’s ears intimidate you? Are you worried about whether you’re doing it right or if there is a better way to approach the task? We’re here to help! Let’s break down how to clean your cat’s ears quickly and easily.

You Will Need:

  • A high-quality cat ear cleaning solution (We use Oxyfresh Advanced Pet Ear Cleaner)
  • Cotton Balls or Gauze
  • Your cat’s favorite treats
  • Small blanket to contain your cat if needed

Step One: Get Comfortable

Before you get started, focus on getting you and your cat settled comfortably. Find a comfortable place to sit and get your cat settled in your lap. Talk to them calmly, offering treats, until you can see that they are relaxed.

If your cat is overly anxious, this is the point where you will use the small blanket. Wrap your cat’s body in the blanket, with their head exposed, like swaddling a baby. Not only will the pressure of being swaddled help to calm them and soothe any feelings of stress and anxiety, but it will also keep their claws safely contained where they can’t lash out and cause any damage.

Step Two: Pull Out the Ear Cleaner

This step can be approached in 2 ways. If your cat is comfortable with having their ears cleaned, you can pour a little ear cleaner directly into the ear. If not, pour it onto the cotton ball or gauze and introduce it that way. This can be easier for a cat to accept than the feeling of pouring the liquid into their ear directly.

Step Three: Massage Time

After pouring the ear cleaner directly into your cat’s ear or placing the saturated gauze or cotton ball in their ear, gently massage around the base for at least 30 seconds. This is going to help move the cleaning solution around, loosening debris. You should hear a squishing sound, regardless of your chosen option. If not, add a little more cleaning solution.

Step Four: Allow Your Cat to Shake

If you are using a cotton ball or gauze, remove it from your cat’s ear at this point. Allow your cat to shake their ear. But be warned, this will mean any ear cleaner, debris, and ear wax will be thrown loose. You may need to clean up a little afterward!

Step Five: Rinse and Repeat

Repeat steps two to four in the second ear.

Final Thoughts: Ear Infections in Cats

While ear infections are not overly common in cats compared to our canine companions, it is still a risk that we should be familiar with as loving cat parents. Learn the warning signs and conduct regular ear exams when cuddling your cat to catch an infection in the earliest stages. Don’t wait to see if your cat’s ear problems will clear up on their own – they are painful and uncomfortable. Instead, make an appointment with your veterinarian to get it addressed properly. Your cat will thank you for it!


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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