Otitis Externa in Cats

Otitis externa is a medical term used to describe an inflammation or swelling of the external ear canal.
Otitis externa is not a disease but a condition or a symptom arising from other known and underlying ear diseases. It is often linked with Otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear) and Otitis interna (inflammation of the inner ear).

An infection of the ear can be a result of invading bacteria, fungal growth in and surrounding areas, ear mite infestation, yeast infection, parasite infection, ear tumors, abscess or pus build up and formation, foreign body obstructions. An ear infection causes itchiness, pain, mild swelling and discomfort.

Ear infections are most common during the summer time and in hot and humid environments.

Certain cat breeds are highly susceptible to ear infections.


There are multiple caused of Otitis externa. They are:
› Bacterial infections
› Parasites
› Fungal infections
› Allergies
› Tumors
› Reactions to drugs
› Foreign body obstruction
› Hair growth within the ear
› Build of of dead skin in the ear
› Excess ear wax
› Incorrect ear cleaning
› Frequent water dips which results in fluid accumulation in the ear

Clinical Signs & Symptoms

Common symptoms include:
› Head shaking
› Pain
› Increased ear discharge
› Strong ear odor
› Discomfort
› Deafness
› Scratching of ears (external flaps)
› Vomiting
› Inflammation of the ear


Veterinarians will require a complete history of your cat which includes medical history, vaccination records, existing health concerns, current and previous medications, onset of symptoms, diet and exercise routine and any information which can help in establishing a correct diagnosis. Diagnosis is done with a combination of tests. These include routine lab examinations and special tests. They are:

› Physical examination – this involves a complete ear (otoscopic) examination, looking for any foreign body, mites infestation, internal injury, swelling, ruptures, bacterial or fungal infections, tumors and abscess
› Complete Blood Count (CBC)
› Skin biopsy and scrapings
› Bacterial culture test
› Cytology tests – Examining a sample taken from the ear looking for the presence of ear mites
› Thyroid test – to determine the presence of Hypothyroidism (this is one of the known diseases which causes Otitis externa.


Treatment consists of:

› A thorough cleaning of the ear
› Antibacterial medications
› Antibiotic medications
› Drugs to treat secondary illnesses and diseases
› Anti-inflammatory medications
› Prescription ear drops, topical ointments
› Treatment of wounds, tumors, scars, ruptures

Veterinarians will opt for:
› Fluid drainage (this needs to be done multiple times as there are high chances of recurrence)
› Surgical procedures
› Use of Elizabethan collar (this restricts a pet from scratching its ear)


There is no prevention for Otitis externa. This is not a disease by itself but a secondary result from conditions such as wounds, injury, infections etc.

Home Care

Home care should aim at improving the condition. Treatments can take a few days to a few weeks. If you observe any behavioral changes, or if the condition does not improve, please contact your veterinarian.

Prognosis is always good post surgery. Most pets are treated on an outpatient basis.

› It is mandatory to provide a stress-free environment for your cat. Keep water and food bowls within reach. Avoid physical activity. Keep your cats away from any noise and commotions.
› You have to administer and monitor all prescribed medicine as directed by your veterinarian.
› Do NOT travel with your cat.
› Do not allow your pet to roam outdoors, Accidents, mishaps and unseen situations can arise as the pet is momentarily deaf and will not be able to hear caution sounds
› Always keep sharp objects covered and fragile objects away from pets to avoid the risk of injury and accidents.
› Routine and regular checkups to access the progress (for fluid drainage, ear cleaning, medications)
› Exercise caution when dealing with pets. Daily cleaning and vacuuming, disposal of materials such as bandages, cotton swabs used for abscess or by ear secretions. Wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly. Using disinfectants and proper hygiene protocols are strongly advised.

If left untreated, this may cause permanent damage to the ear leading to Deafness (loss of hearing), Otitis Interna, Facial Paralysis and Meningoencephalitis (very rare)

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