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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. 

Ear Discharge Average Cost

From 229 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$250

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 
  • Pain 
  • Large amount of earwax buildup
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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 
  • Polyps
  • Tumors
  • Wax buildup
  • Allergies to food or inhaled and environmental substances
  • Bacterial ear infection
  • Yeast infection
  • Trapped foreign body 
  • Ear mites 
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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.

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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. 

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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.

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Ear Discharge Average Cost

From 229 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$250

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Ear Discharge Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Albus

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Cat

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4 Years

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Urinating Outside Litterbox
Clear Ear Discharge
Excessive Ear Scratching

We’ve had Albus for about 4 years. A couple years ago, he began scratching at his ears excessively and shaking his head. I noticed a clear liquid coming out of them when this happened. We took him to the vet, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. I don’t know if this is related, but for the past month or so he’s been urinating everywhere besides his litter box. He’s always been extremely jumpy and skittish. Sometimes, it’s like he doesn’t know where he is and doesn’t respond to his name. He still has an appetite, drinks, etc. He’s an extremely sweet cat, but I’m starting to wonder if he’s special needs. His behavior isn’t cat-like at all. I don’t know if this could have anything to do with the ear discharge. Is it possible it could be neurological?

Sept. 22, 2018

Albus' Owner

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Forest

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Long haired

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Head Tilt
Head Shaking
Head Held Low
Brown Dirt Like Discharge

My cat Forest is about 5 years old and has been having an excessive amount of brown dirtiness like discharge in only 1 ear for about 2 weeks now. I took him to the vet and after doing a cytology they said it came up negative for infection and ear mites. The Dr. simply cleaned his ear well and sent us on our way. It is now 48 hours later and his ear is just as brown and dirty as it was before, if not worse! What is wrong with him?

Sept. 21, 2018

Forest's Owner

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Cathy

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8 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Itching
Ear Lesion
Head Tilt
Head Shaking
Ear Discharge
Low Energy

Hello my cat has a brownish discharge in one of her ears but it doesnt have any smell at all. I think it has happened for 3 days, but i just see the discharge now. She just got back from her vet after getting neutered. I wonder if it is because she is stressed by the trip to the vet or it actually happened before she is neutered. Now she has no appetite

Sept. 15, 2018

Cathy's Owner

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Shadow

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Tiger cat

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13 Weeks

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Fair severity

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1 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Liquid Coming Out Ear

My kitten is only 13 weeks old since I got him he never had problems this morning I woke up to his ear bring really red and looks like orange liquid so I cleaned his ear and there is brown liquid coming out what could it be could it be a ear infection

Aug. 19, 2018

Shadow's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Shadow could have an ear infection, or parasites. Since I can't see him, and those can be quite painful, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian to see what might be going on, and how best to treat him.

Aug. 19, 2018

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Boo

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Boo

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13 Years

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Scratching , Head Shaking,
Ear Scratching , Head Shaking,Brown

My cat Boo is 13 years old he does not like crowd's or being took out of his home which makes it hard to take to vet...to much stress but he has had a sticky mucus in his ear causing the nasty crusty around the bottom outside.I clean daily with a sulferdine solution ear cleaner,used hydrogen peroxide , Tryed Banixx and treated for ear mites.When he shakes his head still fluid comes out. What to do next ?

Aug. 15, 2018

Boo's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Unfortunately, it sounds like Boo may have an infection that needs medication to treat, and he will need to be seen by a veterinarian to have that treatment. If there is a house call veterinarian in your area, they may be able to come to you to see what is going on with him and get treatment for him.

Aug. 15, 2018

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Stella

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American Shorthair

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking
Ear Discharge

My 10 yr old cat has very dark brown/black ear wax that has been persistent for over two months. It has no odor and she does not paw at her ears, but she does shake her head a lot and paw around her mouth. I have taken her to two vets and they both basically shrugged and said it seems fine. All they know for sure is that it's definitely not mites. She is an indoor cat so I don't think it's dirt, and I've been cleaning the visible gunk with a q-tip every week or two. Any other suggestions? Is it possible that it really is nothing like the vets said?

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Chub

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Calico

dog-age-icon

4 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Scratching
Brown Discharge
Wax Buildup

My cat is 4 years old, she had ear mites as a kitten which were discovered and treated by our family vet. After a few months one ear had cleared up and the other still had some brown discharge/buildup in it. I took her back to the vet and he said it’s normal and gave me an ear cleaner to take home and “swab” her ears out with. I’ve never felt good about taking anything anywhere near her ears like that so I only do it when her ears are driving her CRAZY, and I’ll get rid of any big irritating chunks that I can easily access. It’s been almost 3 years that she’s had this problem. I’m really concerned for her health and comfort

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Mittens

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Tux

dog-age-icon

8 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Excess Ear Wax

My cart mittens started producing extra Ear wax out of no where. She not bothered by it. Her ear doesn't smell. She'll let me mess with her ear as much as I want and clean it. She plays and runs like normal with no balance issues. She doesn't shake or lean her head. She also doesn't scratch or itch her ear. I have another cat and she doesn't have any issues. I'm completely at a loss. I don't want to take her to the vet if I do t have to because when I do take her she's a completely different cat when she gets home for a few months. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Chamel

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DOMESTIC

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Itchy Smelly Crusty Discharge

My Chamel is about 12 years old and has always had sensitive ears but lately this pussy crusty gunk is building up in her ears. I am having to clean them 2 or 3 times a day now. I can tell she is extremely uncomfortable and the itch seems to be driving her crazy. I don't have alot of money for appointments and tests and not sure how to help her. My heart breaks when she comes and lays down now for me to clean her ears(she used to fight me tooth and nail).

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Pumba

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Abyssinian

dog-age-icon

1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Wax

My cat has one ear that repeatedly gets a build up of darkish brown/black earwax. I clean it out with a tips and it’s back in a week or less. Had it his whole life and he is now 1 almost 2 years old. It doesn’t have an odor and he doesn’t scratch or tilt his head or act weird because of it. I don’t think it’s mites or yeast because there is no smell and it doesn’t bother him, plus it’s only one ear and his brother doesn’t get it in either ears. It’s waxy but smooth not chunky. Any ideas?

Ear Discharge Average Cost

From 229 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$250