Otitis Interna & Otitis Media in Cats

Before we get into what these conditions are, here is an overview of the ear structure in a cat. The ear canal is divided into three parts, the external, middle and the inner ear (collectively called the ear). Transmission of sound waves happens when it passes through the ear canal till it reaches the nerves which converts these waves into sound and transports them to the brain.

Ears as we know is responsible for hearing. The external ear extends from the outside till the ear drum, the middle ear begins from the ear drum and includes bones and nerves, whereas the inner ear is the closest to the brain and includes organs responsible for maintaining proper balance. Malfunction of the inner ear leads to the pet feeling dizzy, the brain cannot determine of the animal is standing, sitting, running etc. this inflammation is referred as Otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear) and Otitis interna (inflammation of the inner ear).

Internal ear problems can be caused by bacteria, fungi, yeast, parasites, foreign objects, trauma, polyps and cancer. Middle ear infections are a progression from Otitis Externa and have similar causes. All cats are susceptible to this condition, Cats with genetic predispositions of abnormal ear canals, older cats are affected.


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

Clinical Signs & Symptoms

The signs seen in Otitis Media and Interna are:
› Anorexia (Loss of Appetite)
› Head shaking
› Nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eye)
› Pain
› Increased earwax
› Strong ear odor
› Discomfort
› Deafness
› Scratching of ears
› Inflammation of the ear
› Vomiting


Diagnosis needs to determine the underlying illness which causes this condition.

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. Pets may be sedated if they are experiencing pain.
› 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.
› Myringotomy test (a bulging ear drum is punctured to collect the fluid from the middle ear, anesthesia is used in this process)
› Cytology Test – microscopic examination of fluid and discharge looking for any parasites, fungi
› Diagnosis of Polyps
› X-rays (radiographs) of the ear, looking for any obstruction of masses at the base of the ear.


Treatment includes:

› 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 use anesthesia to puncture the ear drum and drain the middle and the inner ear.


Otitis Interna is a result of untreated Otitis Externa and other known conditions. Regular and routine cleaning can reduce the severity of the infection.

Home Care

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

› 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 cat to roam freely. This works two ways, firstly if the cat is infected, it greatly reduces the chances of risk of exposure to other pets and humans and secondly in-case of a healthy pet, it reduces the chances of contracting the infection.
› Use of environmental disinfectants is recommended. Prompt disposal of any and all materials after use is suggested.
› Routine and regular checkups to access the progress (for fluid drainage, ear cleaning, medications).
› Humans, especially children, pregnant women and ones handling infected pets need to exercise caution. Wear gloves when dealing with a pet, cleaning the litter boxes, disposing any and all contaminated materials, garbage disposals etc. A thorough wash of hands is advised. Practice hygiene.

If left untreated, this may cause permanent damage to the ear, leading to Deafness (loss of hearing)

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