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Otitis Externa in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause and help guide subsequent treatment recommendations. Tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination with special attention to the ears and skin

  • Cytology, which involves taking a sample of the ear discharge or any masses and examining it under a microscope. The discharge if evaluated for the presence of mites, yeast organisms or bacteria.

    Some pets may require additional diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the abnormalities. Pets with recurrent ear infections, those who respond poorly to treatment, pets with generalized skin abnormalities, or those with other health problems may need additional diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • Culture and sensitivity involves taking a sample of the ear discharge and sending it to a laboratory to identify the specific bacteria present. The bacteria are exposed to multiple antibiotic samples to determine what will kill them most effectively.

  • Radiographs (X-rays) may be recommended to determine the health of the ear canal and bone and to evaluate the extent of involvement. Some cases of otitis externa (inflammation of the OUTER ear) can progress to otitis media (inflammation of the inner ear).

  • Complete blood count (CBC) and biochemical profile to check for factors that may contribute to the infection as well as to determine if a concurrent disease is present

  • Allergy tests to determine if your pet is allergic to things that may irritate the ears, as well as the skin


    Treatments for otitis externa may include the following:

  • Cleaning the ear. This can be accomplished by placing solutions in your pet's ear at home or by having the ears cleaned by your veterinarian. Moderate to severe infections may require sedation and in-hospital flushing.

  • Topical therapy. It usually consists of an ear medication that you place in your pet's ear once or twice daily. The specific medicine and directions will depend on the cause of the infection. It is extremely important to follow your veterinarian's directions carefully.

  • Systemic therapy with glucocorticoids (steroids) to decrease pain and inflammation.

  • Antibiotic therapy in cases of severe bacterial infection or ulceration

  • Antifungal therapy in cases of severe or recurrent yeast infections

  • Anti-allergy therapy

    Home Care and Prevention

    Optimal treatment requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Be sure to have your veterinarian or his/her staff show you how to place medication into your cat's ears.

  • Do not use cotton swabs in the ear; these may push infection and/or discharge deeper into the ear canal. Clean the ears before applying medication.

  • Return to your veterinarian for follow-up examinations as suggested. Repeated cytology may be recommended to monitor therapy.

    At home special care of your cat's ears can help to maintain healthy ears. Dry the ears after bathing or swimming and check ears for foreign matter.

    Also, at the first sign of scratching, head shaking, pain, swelling, odor, or discharge, have your cat's ears checked by your veterinarian.

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