Healthy Ears

Hi everyone,

We would like to introduce you to our new regular contributor Clare Espley RVN from Castle Vets Reading who will be writing about important cat health topics under this author profile moving forward.

Please give her a warm welcome and find the first post below!

Ears are very sensitive organs that are not only necessary for hearing, but are also responsible for maintaining balance. Cat’s also use them for communication in order to express how they are feeling, for example pricked up, forward facing ears are seen in alert cats and ears laid flat against the head can be a sign of fear.

Anatomy Of The Ear

The Outer or External Ear consists of the Ear Flaps (Pinna) which are very mobile and allow the ears to be moved independently of each other, allowing the cat to pick up sounds in the environment and communicate with others. It also contains the Ear Canal which is a tube of cartilage running from the ear flap to the tympanic membrane (ear drum). The ear canal is lined with glands which secrete wax to protect the ear canal.

The Middle Ear consists of the Tympanic Membrane (eardrum) and Auditory Ossicles (three small bones) which convey vibrations caused by sound waves from the external ear to the inner ear. It also contains the Eustachian Tube (auditory tube) which equalises the air pressure on either side of the Tympanic Membrane.

The Inner Ear lies within the temporal bone of the skull and consists of an inner membranous labyrinth that is surrounded by a bony labyrinth.  The inner ear consists of the Cochlea, where sound is processed and passed on to the brain via the auditory nerve and the Vestibular System, which is responsible for the sensations of balance and motion.

ear-diagram

Common Symptoms Of An Ear Problem 

Ear problems can be accompanied by a number of symptoms. .

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching or rubbing the ears
  • Otitis – inflammation, pain and redness of the ear flap and canal
  • Crusty build-ups on the ear flap or in the canal
  • Excessive wax – usually thick and brown in colour
  • Deafness
  • Discharge from the ear canal
  • Yeasty or unusual smell
  • Swelling up of the ear flap (aural haematoma)

If your pet is showing any of the above signs it is a good idea to have their ears checked by a vet as soon as possible to lower the chance of a secondary infection or problem

Common Causes Of Ear Problems 

Ear problems in pets can occur for many reasons, but some of the most commonly seen problems are caused by

Abscess: These pus-filled swellings are commonly seen in cats and are usually the end result of a scratch or bite from another cat that has become infected. You may notice a swelling or lump on the ear, or possibly not notice anything until the abscess has burst and is weeping.

Aural Haematoma: Sometimes the ear flap is damaged and this allows the flap to fill up with blood. This is usually the result of ear scratching or head shaking because of an ear problem, rather than being the cause itself. Aural haematomas can be very painful and need immediate veterinary attention.

Ear Mites: These tiny little parasites live in the cat’s ears and are fairly common. Ear mite infestation is usually accompanied by a dark reddish-brown or wax throughout the ear canal which can have a similar appearance to coffee grounds.

Grass Seeds: These get lodged in the pet’s ear and can gradually work their way down the ear canal and further in some cases; they can cause a lot of discomfort and pain to the pet and need to be removed quickly (see our Grass Seed article for more information)

Growths: Benign or malignant growths (cancers) may occur on the ear flap, ear canal or in the middle ear and cause problems for the pet.

Harvest Mites: These can be a seasonal problem with the orange larvae of the mite seen on the ears, face and feet, which cause irritation.

Infections: Bacterial and fungal ear infections can happen for many different reasons. Bacteria and fungus thrive in warm, moist environments like ear canals and are often seen in pets who have very hairy ears, narrow ear canals and pets that swim a lot.

Solar Dermatitis: Inflammation of the ear tips in cats with white or pale coloured ears can be caused by exposure to sunlight. The skin starts to look pink and scaly (similar to sunburn), but if left it can become crusty, ulcerated, bleed and may develop into a skin cancer. It is recommended to use a pet-safe sun cream for any pets at risk during sunny weather.

Wounds:  These are often the result of fighting or from getting tangled or caught on something. Ear wounds can often cause owners to panic because they tend to look worse than they are, due to the profuse bleeding even the smallest of wounds can cause (often made 100 times worse if your cat decides to shake their head, resulting in a blood splatter all over any walls or other objects in the vicinity!) If your cat will allow it, you can apply direct pressure to the wound using a piece of gauze, or any material that is clean and to hand (preferably not cotton wool or tissue) held over the wound and holding the ear and gauze between your thumb and finger. All wounds should be checked by the vet to ensure there is no infection, if left your cat may end up with a nasty abscess.

cat ears
Ears should look clean & healthy

Cleaning & Applying Medication To Your Pet’s Ears

Many cats will never need to have their ears cleaned, but you may need to apply ear drops at some point in their lives.

It is good practice to check your pet’s ears every couple of days to ensure they are free from wax and dirt.

If you do need to clean your cat’s ears,  it is best to use pet ear wipes or a pet ear cleaner and cotton wool – never put cotton buds down your cat’s ear canal!

Get your ear equipment ready before you get your pet; you will need

  1. Ear Medication Bottle (Shake well before use) or pet ear cleaner or ear wipes – Ask your veterinary nurse about what is best to use for your cat.
  2. Cotton wool balls/pads or a small piece of soft absorbent cloth (muslin cloth used for babies is great to use)
  3. Cotton buds (if necessary)
  4. Tasty pet treats to reward your pet afterwards.
  5. Small towel or paper towel

Applying Medication

  • Have someone else gently restrain your cat if necessary.
  • Gently hold your cat’s head so he or she cannot shake it
  • Squeeze the correct number of drops of medication into the ear canal and gently prevent head shaking at this stage.
  • Gently massage the base of the ear canal for 30 seconds to a minute. If your cat has really sore ears this may not be possible, so in this case just prevent head shaking if you can.
  • Use a small ball of cotton wool or a piece of cloth wrapped around your finger to wipe away any excess liquid on the ear flap.
  • Apply drops to the other ear if you have been directed to do so by your vet.
  • Let your cat shake his or her head; hold a small towel up next to your pet’s head to catch anything that flies out!

Ear Cleaning 

  • Have someone else gently restrain your cat if necessary.
  • Gently hold your cat’s head so he or she cannot shake it
  • Squeeze a few drops of ear cleaner into the ear canal and gently prevent head shaking at this stage.
  • Gently massage the base of the ear canal for 30 seconds to a minute (it is normal to hear a squelching noise from the liquid).
  • Using a small ball of cotton wool or a piece of cloth wrapped around your finger, soak up any excess cleaner and wipe any wax away from the parts of the ear you can see. You can add a few more drops of cleaner to the cotton wool or cloth if necessary to clean any stubborn dirt from the flap.
  • Clean the other ear.
  • Let your pet shake his or her head to get rid of any excess cleaner and wax in the canal; you may want to let them do this outside or you can have a towel up next to your pet’s head to catch anything that flies out!.
  • Reward your cat with lots of yummy treats (assuming he or she is still talking to you!)

If you would like any advice or you are in any way concerned about your pet’s health, please contact your veterinary practice for advice. Most veterinary practices will offer free veterinary nurse appointments for demonstrating ear cleaning or applying medication.

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23 thoughts on “Healthy Ears

  1. Castle Vets have a very good reputation here in Reading – where I live! A very informative piece which I’m sure everyone will find useful.

  2. hello katzenworld its dennis the vizsla dog hay helthy eerz shoor ar importent!!! my poor sister saya had an aural hem … hemat … wel she had a big blood blister in her eer when she wuz stil a baby the vet thawt it cud be fud allerdjeez wot kawzd her to shayk her hed and then my other poor sister trixie had the saym thing a munth or so layter not long before she went to the rainbo bridj!!! so lets all keep those eerz kleen!!! ok bye

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