What You Need to Know About Your Cat’s Ear Health
It’s nothing short of exceptional.
Your cat’s sense of hearing is that good – and vastly superior to that of humans. Functioning like mini satellite dishes, his ears move back and forth as he listens intently and pinpoints the source of a particular sound.
Cats can hear high-frequency sounds we simply cannot. They’re adept at distinguishing the tone or pitch of various sounds, identifying the tiniest variances when multiple sounds are present. This heightened sensory ability helps explain cats’ ability to catch mice, as they can detect the ultrasonic calls of rodents. It also explains why your feline comes running every time you open a can of cat food.
With the incredible propensity felines demonstrate for hearing, it comes as no surprise that maintaining proper ear care proves critical to a cat’s overall health and well-being. As a cat owner, it’s worthwhile to monitor your pet’s ears on a weekly basis, checking for debris, wax, or anything else that might impede their ability to offer your feline optimal alertness.
Your cat’s ears are prone to problems ranging from infections to trauma wounds to tumors. But by providing adequate monitoring and care, you can minimize the risk that your feline friend’s ears are anything but perky and useful. Here’s what you need to know about cat ear health.
Structure and Function of the Ear in Cats
The feline ear is divided into three portions: External, middle, and inner ear. The external ear is identified by the erect or visible portion of the ear and the external ear canal, the middle ear includes the eardrum, and the inner ear is located within the skull bone.
While the main function of ears involves detecting sound and allowing for hearing, they also serve to assist felines with maintaining balance. The three semicircular canals of the inner ear are oriented at right angles to each other. When the head turns, the resulting movement of fluid in these canals allows the brain to detect which way and how much the head is turning.
As a cat owner, you can observe various indications your cat is suffering from ear problems and should be examined by your veterinarian. These signs include:
- Persistent shaking of the head
- Excessive scratching of the ear
- Discharge or bleeding from the ear
- Unpleasant odor
- Accumulation of dark ear wax
- Redness within the external ear
- Loss of balance or disorientation
For diagnosis of external ear disease, a visual examination and special laboratory tests are important. The ear canals are examined using an otoscope. For middle and inner ear disorders, on the other hand, further diagnostic tests are necessary and are usually performed with your cat under anesthesia.
Chronic Ear Infections in Cats
Chronic ear infections represent a common problem for cats, affecting 10-20 percent of the feline population. The underlying causes of most ear infections range from allergies (inhalant- or food-related) to bacteria-carrying parasites like ear mites to the presence of a serious ear disease.
If you suspect your cat is suffering from an ear infection, veterinary assistance should be sought promptly, as this condition can cause significant discomfort. Identification by your vet of the underlying disease responsible for chronic ear infections is of crucial importance.
In addition to topical therapy and a thorough cleaning of the ear canal, treatments for chronic ear infections often involve prescription medicines. Antibiotics and antifungal drugs may be prescribed for extended periods of time – up to two months in cases in which the infection has progressed into the deep part of the ear canal
How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears Safely
Cleaning your feline’s ears may look easy but it’s more difficult than you think. Cats have long ear canals and improper cleaning can result in a ruptured eardrum, pain, or lacerations of the canal. You can clean your cat’s ears safely if you follow these steps:
- Wrap your kitty in a large thick towel with just his head exposed. This will keep him from wriggling out of your grasp or scratching you.
- Using a cotton ball moistened with water, gently rub the large pieces of dirt, wax, and debris off the ear lobe. Repeat on the opposite ear.
- Use a Q-tip to gently remove the pieces of debris trapped within the cartilage of the ear. Be careful not to place the Q-tip down the ear canal – it’s safest to clean only the parts of the ear you can see.
- After cleaning ears, it is a good idea to offer a treat. This will help make the next ear cleaning session a little smoother.
Ear Mites in Cats
If you see your cat shaking his head and scratching his ears excessively, or if there is an abnormal odor emanating from his ears, he may be suffering from ear mites. Ear mites are the most common mite to infest cats, and they are very contagious, usually spreading to all cats within a household.
Ear mites are tiny crab-like parasites that live in the ear canal and sometimes on the bodies of cats. The presence of mites can cause severe inflammation in your affected cat’s ears.
You can prevent ear mites by drying your cat’s ears after bathing, checking his ears for foreign matter, and promptly visiting the veterinarian at the first sign of trouble. If your feline is already stricken with ear mites, your veterinarian will likely commence treatment by cleaning out your cat’s ears before applying medication, and your vet may also prescribe medication for you to use at home.
Ear Tumors in Cats
Ear tumors are growths associated with the ear. Although ear tumors mostly commonly occur in middle-aged to older cats, it doesn’t hurt for owners to begin monitoring their feline friends for abnormal growths at a young age.
During the early stages of a tumor’s development, most felines demonstrate no clinical signs of illness, and tumors are often incidental findings. Still, there are a number of symptoms cat owners can watch for:
- Skin changes on the ear
- Large growths filling the ear canal
- Odor or discharge
- Nodular masses or ulcers
Treatment for feline ear tumors depends on the tumor type, size, and location. Surgical resection or removal is often the treatment of choice. If your cat suffers a recurrence of signs following the removal of an ear tumor, contact your veterinarian at once.
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