What is Ear Discharge?
Irregular ear discharge in cats is commonly referred to as otitis in the veterinary world, as otitis means inflammation of the ear. Tumors, allergens, parasites, and infections can all cause ear discharge otitis, leading to painful, pruritic ears. A feline with infectious ear discharge will scratch her ears profusely, which often progresses to eardrum rupture and permanent damage to the ear in general. Ear discharge in cats is regularly misdiagnosed by cat owners; incorrect treatment will cause the condition to worsen. Ear discharge in cats must be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian to avoid secondary ear trauma to the feline.
Ear discharge in cats in a thick, waxy substance that prevents particles from entering the inner portions of the ears. In a healthy cat, the ears will have very little ear wax and the discharge will be a light brownish color. The healthy discharge will have no smell and be accompanied by a pink, clean inner ear canal. However, black, dark brown, or irregularly pigmented discharge in a cat’s ears, accompanied by a foul smell, is a red flag to a health problem. Ear mites and yeast infections account for the majority of abnormal ear discharge cases in felines, but the condition can also be caused by bacteria, immune-related conditions, and drug reactions, as well as allergies.
Symptoms of Ear Discharge in Cats
The primary clinical sign of ear discharge in cats is a thick, irregularly colored wax buildup inside one or both ears. The discharge may or may not promote a foul smell, but almost all felines respond to the excess discharge with scratching. Additional symptoms of ear discharge to watch for in your cat include:
- Head shaking
- Head tilting
- Loss of balance
- Pawing at the ears
- Hearing loss
- Ear sensitivity
- Large amount of earwax buildup
Causes of Ear Discharge in Cats
Ear discharge in cats can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions including parasites, infections, trauma and even immune-mediated diseases that suppress the feline’s immunity.
- Immune-mediated disease
- Hereditary condition
- Drug reaction
- Wax buildup
- Allergies to food or inhaled and environmental substances
- Bacterial ear infection
- Yeast infection
- Trapped foreign body
- Ear mites
Diagnosis of Ear Discharge in Cats
Your veterinarian will begin the diagnostic process by reviewing your cat’s medical history, as the feline’s health record will highlight past ear infection cases and previous illness. It is at this time that you should expect to answer questions about your feline’s current symptoms including what they are and how long they have been noted. Ear discharge can be caused by allergens and drug reactions, so it is important to relay any changes in diet or medications to the veterinarian. The animal doctor will then move onto performing a physical exam. Ear discharge in cats can provide valuable information to the vet and through the use of an otoscope, the doctor may have a hypothesis of the underlying cause.
Ear mite parasites often cause a black ear discharge, whereas yeast infections cause the discharge to expel a foul smell. However, a cytology test will be required to properly identify the ailment and avoid treating the problem incorrectly. A cytological test requires only a swab of discharge from your cat’s ear to be placed under microscopic view. It is this diagnostic test that will differentiate a yeast infection from a mite infection, as ear mites can only be seen under a microscope.
Additionally, the veterinarian may choose to conduct an allergy test if primary testing turned out to be negative. Allergy testing can be performed on the skin or through the use of your cat’s blood. Ear polyps or tumors present will likely be biopsied to identify the cancerous nature.
Treatment of Ear Discharge in Cats
The treatment of ear discharge in cats depends on the underlying ailment causing the abnormal accumulation of ear debris. In the case of an ear mite, bacterial or yeast infection, treatment will begin with cleaning out the ear. The ear structure of a cat is not like that of a human ear and should be cleaned by a professional. The ear cleaning is then followed by medicated drops of antimicrobial or antifungal nature. Ear mites are often terminated through the cleaning solution used to clean the ear, and therefore, will likely not require medicated drops. Ask your veterinarian about the proper treatment option for your cat and her ear discharge.
Recovery of Ear Discharge in Cats
The prognosis for ear discharge in cats is excellent if a proper diagnosis is made and treatment received right away. Secondary trauma to the ear, such as ruptured blood vessels or a ruptured ear drum, are often permanent. Ear trauma is known to cause disfiguration of the ear and hearing loss, which will require continuous management.