Category: ear-disease-cat

Ear disease in your cat

A cat’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat, however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. Most often ear disease in cats is caused by a type of mite which lives inside the ear canal.

Cats can also get diseases that affect the skin of the ear flap. Solar dermatitis is an irritation caused by sun burn on the ear tips which causes crusting and scabbing. This must be treated early as it can lead to cancer of the ears later in life if left untreated.

Owners may not notice ear disease until it is severe. Your cat may shake its head from side to side, or may be forever stopping to sit down and scratch its ears.

Ear mite infestation tends to make cats scratch at their ears and shake their heads. You may notice a very dark, almost black wax in the ear canals. Some cats produce so much wax that the ear canal becomes totally blocked. However, many cats carry ear mites without showing any signs. Ear mites should always be treated otherwise bacterial infections may develop and aggravate the problem. The lining of the ear is very delicate and a long-standing problem can cause permanent scarring.

Sometimes a cat will shake their head so much that they burst a blood vessel and develop a swelling in their ear flap – a haematoma. If this happens your cat will probably need an operation to drain the swelling.

In many types of infection there is a smelly discharge or the ear canal may be full of black wax. Ear disease can be very painful, sometimes animals with sore ears will sit with their head tilted to one side, they may be off their food or generally miserable.

Even if your cat has had problems with its ears in the past it is very important that your vet examines them each time a problem occurs. There may be damage deep within the ear, or a foreign body such as a grass seed stuck in the ear. If there is something stuck in the ear it can cause permanent damage if not removed.

To examine the ears properly your vet will need to put an instrument called an ‘otoscope’ inside the ear. However, the inside of the ear is very sensitive and many cats will not allow sore ears to be examined unless they have been sedated or even anaesthetised.

Once ear disease develops your cat will need some treatment to stop the irritation. Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the problem. Obviously a foreign body will have to be removed, and specific treatment may be required for mites or nasty infections.

When one animal is affected by ear mites it is necessary to treat all the in contact animals in the house, even if they’re not obviously affected. If these are not treated then re-infection is likely. Fortunately the treatment of ear mites in cats is simple. Application of a single ‘spot-on’ treatment to the back of the neck should be sufficient (although the dose may need to be repeated a month later in some cases.

Your vet may need to take samples from your cat’s ear to decide which is the best treatment to give. Treatment is usually with ear drops and possibly also some tablets. However, unless the ear is clean the ear drops cannot work. It may be necessary for your vet to admit your pet to the hospital and clean out its ear canals before treatment starts. In less severe cases, your vet will show you how to use an ear cleaner.

Always make sure you follow your vet’s instructions carefully. You must complete the treatment course even if the ears seem to be much better after one or two days.

No! Never put anything into your pet’s ear without first consulting your vet. Even if the drops were prescribed for your pet in the past they may do more harm than good on this occasion. Many types of ear drop deteriorate once they have been opened, or it may be that the ear problem is caused by something different this time. Remember that ear disease is very itchy and can be very painful – you must always seek veterinary treatment sooner rather than later for the sake of your pet.

It is unlikely that ear disease will get better on its own. The longer you leave it before starting treatment the harder it becomes to clear up the irritation. Each time ear disease develops, more damage is done and eventually the walls of the ear canal may become thickened. This makes further infections more likely as fresh air cannot get to the bottom of the ear canal. When ear disease keeps coming back, surgery may be needed to remove part of the wall of the ear canal so that treatment can get to the site of infection.

Unfortunately some animals are just more prone to ear problems than others. Cats with growths within the ear canal may be at risk of developing repeated infections. Animals with allergies frequently have recurring ear problems. The lining of the ear is like the skin on the rest of the body and can become itchy and inflamed in an allergic cat.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some animals. You should check your cat’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.

In most cases of ear disease the symptoms will clear up within a few days of treatment starting. Unfortunately this is not the end of the problem. It is highly likely that the problem will come back at some stage in the future and you should be on your guard for it. If the problem recurs, seek advice from your vet as soon as possible because if the disease is allowed to go untreated for any length of time, permanent damage may result.

Ear cleaning

Ear disease is quite common in cats and you should make ear examination part of a weekly health check for your pet. If your cat’s ears look red or sore on the inside, if there is a smell coming from the ears or if your pet is shaking its head excessively then contact your vet for advice. Ear disease can quickly take hold and is unlikely to get better without treatment. If left untreated it can cause permanent damage to the ear canals and make your pet more likely to have further problems in the future.

A cat’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat, however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear.

There are a variety of things which may irritate your cat’s ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. There is also a mite which lives inside ear canals and although this is very common in cats many cats live with this without it causing any problems.

Proper ear cleaning is essential in the management of ear disease. Debris and secretions can accumulate in the ear and this may prevent treatment from reaching deep inside in the ear and some medication may not work in the presence of secretions.

Many cats will not tolerate ear cleaning well unless you have trained them from a young age – if you are finding it very difficult to clean your cat’s ears do not struggle alone. If you are unable to clean your cat’s ears easily you will not do a very good job, and may in fact damage the ears more. If your cat’s ears are very sore, or if your cat is difficult to handle, your vet may need to sedate or anaesthetise your cat in order to be able to clean its ears effectively.

It is easier to restrain your cat for ear cleaning if you have someone to help you. Ask someone to hold your cat either lying down on its tummy or sitting up. The head should be held tightly against the handler’s body so that it can be held securely and there is no chance of the cat shaking its head. You may find it helpful to wrap your cat in a towel to restrain it so that it is unable to get its legs free to scratch you. Ask your vet to demonstrate the best way to restrain your cat so that you can access its ears for cleaning.

Once the cat is restrained introduce some ear cleaner into the opening of the ear. Gently massage the ear canal which runs straight down the side of the head below the opening. As you massage the ear canal you will loosen all the debris in the ear canal. If the ear canal is sore your cat might not like the massaging at first so be as gentle as you can.

After massaging wipe away the cleaning fluid with cotton wool. Never use cotton buds or poke anything into the ear canal – if you do you will only push debris further into the ear and may damage the ear drum. Repeat the whole procedure if necessary then rinse the whole ear canal with water to remove any residual cleaning fluid and dry with cotton wool.

Once the ear canals are clean you can apply any ear drop medications that have been prescribed by your vet. Once the drops have been applied to the ear you should gently massage the ear canal again to spread the drops over the surface of the canal.

Your vet may also prescribe some tablets to help treat the ear disease. It is important to give all the tablets that your vet has prescribed – even if you think your cat is getting better.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some cats. You should check your cat’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.

Regular ear examination, and cleaning when necessary, can help to keep your cat’s ears healthy. If you have any concerns about your cat’s ears you should contact your vet for further advice.

Deafness in cats

Deafness is quite common in cats. Around three in every four white cats are deaf because of a defective gene that causes the inner ear to fail to develop normally. Some of these cats are deaf in only one ear and their owners will often not realise that there is a problem.

Deafness is also common in older cats, probably due to age-related degeneration in the inner ear, as seen in older people.

Other reasons for deafness are less common in cats than in people or dogs. Long-term ear infections, growths in the middle ear or external ear canal and medications given by veterinary surgeons to treat these conditions are probably all important causes. Head trauma and brain tumours are possible causes. However, deafness can result from anything that damages the conduction of sound waves from the ear hole through the ear canal and ear drum to the bones of the middle ear or which affects the conduction of impulses through the nerves to the brain.

Deafness in one ear is not usually detected and actually causes few problems. If the cat is lying curled up with her good ear buried and the deaf one exposed then her hearing would be impaired and an owner may notice a lack of response to noises. However, cats who are deaf in one ear probably take care to avoid lying in such a position and generally keep their good ear pointing in the right direction, even when relaxed at home.

Being deaf in both ears causes more significant problems and most owners notice that their cat does not respond to noises – the opening of doors, the fridge, food packages, calling their name etc. and fail to respond to noisy people, animals and machinery. Deaf cats tend to ‘sleep well’. Many cats will wake to some extent when someone enters a room, even if it’s just a slight opening of an eye or a twitch of the ear; deaf cats will tend to remain sleeping. This is something that owners of older cats may notice as their pet’s hearing deteriorates with age.

A common finding is that deaf cats do not mind vacuum cleaners and it is quite unusual for cats to be completely comfortable when hoovering is going on near them. Some deaf cats even enjoy the sensation of actually being groomed by a hand-held vacuum cleaner. Of course there are some hearing cats that tolerate these sorts of things and this may be more common in some breeds – for example Ragdolls. Owners of old cats may notice that they now tolerate the noise of a vacuum cleaner when previously they did not – this may be the most obvious sign of growing deafness.

Similarly, deaf cats may make odd noises because they can’t hear what they are saying. One of the reasons for older cats starting to howl and yell around the house may be deafness or an owner may just notice that their older cat is making a different cry than they did when they were younger – but there are other possible causes for this besides deafness.

Hearing can be tested by observing the reaction the cat makes to a sudden, unexpected loud noise. A hearing cat is expected to turn its ears towards the noise, and may also move their whole head and possibly move their body into a more alert position.

There are problems with this test. It cannot detect deafness in a single ear, only a totally deaf cat will fail to react. It is also possible to think that a deaf cat can hear if, for example, it reacts to a visual clue if it sees an object being dropped or hands being clapped or it may be able to feel vibrations when something hits the floor. The opposite might also happen – a well-adjusted, non-fearful and relaxed cat may react to a first noise but will quickly react less and less obviously to subsequent noises.

This test will be easier to interpret in a cat well known to the owner in its normal environment and is more difficult to interpret in, for example, a kitten amongst its littermates or a kitten newly introduced into a house or a cat being examined in an unfamiliar veterinary practice.

The only truly reliable test is one similar to that used for the testing of hearing in humans and involves sophisticated equipment available only in a few centres. Your veterinary surgeon would be able to advise you of a centre that offers testing if necessary.

The test is well tolerated by most cats but involves playing noises into each ear in turn and then detecting the nervous impulses invoked by these noises in the brain. It is called BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) testing. This test will not be necessary for the vast majority of cats with a suspected hearing problem as testing will not usually make any difference to the cat or how they are helped and managed.

Cats with normal hearing use the sounds detected by both ears to accurately pinpoint sounds. They use this skill in hunting to detect prey when it is out of sight, for example in long grass. Hunting ability may be reduced in cats with impaired hearing but there are many other factors that will affect this success (time dedicated to hunting and the number of available prey, for example).

When a cat is deaf in both ears it is much more significantly handicapped. Vocalization is an important way of communication between cats and deaf cats may be less good at communicating. Of course, visual clues of ‘body language’ and olfactory clues from pheromones and scent marking are important in cats so this miscommunication may not be obvious. But deaf cats might get into fights more often or be socially ostracized within a group. They may find it more difficult when young kittens and are more likely to be rejected by their mother.

The reduced ability to recognize danger is probably the most serious handicap faced by totally deaf cats especially if they have to face the hazards of the outdoor environment. Apart from other cats, which have been mentioned above, road vehicles and dogs are probably the greatest dangers. Both cars and dogs are usually noisy and being able to hear this danger is an important clue for normal cats. Further examples of dangerous noisy items are farm and garden machinery, household appliances and trains.

As mentioned above, hunting is a natural feline behaviour and one which will be significantly affected by being totally deaf. However, being deaf will not totally stop hunting success and cats that enjoy hunting will not be put off by their failures.

It is unlikely that there will be a treatment to help deafness in your cat. The most common causes – a genetic defect or age-related degeneration – have no appropriate treatment. It is only some of the unusual causes such as disease blocking the passage of sound through the external ear canal from infection, or a resectable mass that can be helped by treatment.

Cats with these conditions will usually have other obvious signs of disease rather than deafness being the major problem noticed by owners. They will have ears that are dirty, smelly and irritating. The cat may scratch and shake its head or might also have a head tilt, usually to the side with the greatest problem. Other signs of underlying disease include wobbliness, from damage to the balance organs, which are also found in the inner ear.

Cats that are deaf in just one ear can be treated just as normal but totally deaf cats should have some special care. The main difference is that deaf cats cannot go outside without running greater risks from common problems and so should be kept indoors for life. Most cats can live happily indoors, although a few cats that are used to being outside much of the time can be significantly stressed by being confined.

Some cats are more likely to be deaf, so avoid obtaining a totally white kitten from a breeder. Buying this kitten may just encourage irresponsible breeding. If there is a rescued or stray cat that may be deaf and you think that you can offer a suitable safe environment for her then that is different.

Any white cat should be checked for deafness prior to breeding. This is where BAER testing is important because only cats with normal hearing in both ears should be bred and BAER testing is the only reliable way to check for deafness in one ear. Cats that are deaf in just one ear are significantly more likely to have deaf kittens than cats with normal hearing.

Deafness causes significant welfare problems and breeders should aim to avoid producing kittens likely to be deaf. However, individual deaf cats can be given a reasonable quality of life by thinking about their special needs. Deafness is also quite common in older cats and considering this is one aspect of providing a good home for a geriatric companion.