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Causes of Ear Infections in Cats

What Types of Things Can Cause Infection or Inflammation in Your Cat's Ears?

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Ear Infections in Cats

Ear mites are the most common cause of ear infections in cats but there are other causes as well. Photo courtesy of Dzilam/Flickr.com

Ear infections or inflammation in the ear canals (more properly termed otitis or otitis externa) are common complaints for cats.

The Most Common Cause of Ear Infections in Cats

In cats, ear mites are by far the most common cause of ear infections. Ear mites are responsible for approximately 50% of the ear infections seen in cats. Fortunately, ear mites are reasonably easy to treat with the products we have available today.

The bad news is that ear mites are not the only potential cause of feline ear infections or otitis. When your cat's ear problems are not due to ear mites, treatment for ear mites is unlikely to be effective. That makes diagnosis of the real cause important.

Other Causes of Feline Ear Infections or Feline Otitis

Many other causes of inflammation or infection that can affect your cat's ears exist.

  • Bacterial infections can occur in your cat's ear and can cause both infection and otitis. Many different types of bacteria are capable of infecting the ear of the cat. Bacterial infections are likely to be secondary to another cause in most cats though.
  • Yeast infections can also occur in your cat's ears. Malassezia is the most commonly seen yeast infection and, like bacterial infections, yeast infections are most often secondary to another underlying cause.
  • Fungal infections can affect your cat's ears also, causing ear infections and inflammation.
  • Though ear mites are the most commonly seen parasite in feline ear infections, other parasites can also be responsible. Examples include fleas, ticks, Demodex mites, Sarcoptes mites and others. Even fly and chigger bites can be responsible for causing feline otitis.
  • Foreign objects which enter the ear canals are another potential cause of ear infections and otitis in cats. Foxtails are an example of a foreign body sometimes found in cat ears.
  • Similarly, trauma to your cat's ears from other sources, like a cat fight or even over-zealous cleaning of the ears, can cause infection or otitis.
  • Allergies to fleas, food or allergens encountered in the cat's environment (more commonly termed atopy) are also potential causes of feline ear infections and otitis. Learn more
  • Other immune-mediated diseases can also cause infection and otitis in your cat's ears.
  • Inflammatory polyps and cysts can occur in your cat's ears and can cause further inflammation and/or infection.
  • Cancerous growths can also occur within your cat's ear.
  • Some drugs can cause reactions in both the skin and ears when administered to your cat.

With so many potential causes of ear problems for cats, diagnosing the cause of your cat's ear infection or otitis is important for choosing the correct treatment. Obviously, a foreign object in your cat's ear needs to be treated differently than an allergic reaction or an ear mite infestation.

Learn more: Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats

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