External otitis in cats

If our cat has ocular discharge, shakes its head or rubs its ears, it may be suffering from otitis.

Depending on the area of ​​the ear that is affected, we can distinguish internal, middle or external otitis, which we will talk about in detail in this SoyUnGato article.

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            What is external otitis?

External otitis is a disease in which the external canal of the ear , up to the eardrum, and the pinna becomes inflamed . It is a common pathology. Different predisposing, primary and perpetuating factors are involved in the development of otitis.

Predisposing factors for feline otitis

They are all those circumstances that favor the development of inflammation but do not trigger it directly. They are as follows:

  • Environmental conditions, such as humidity or temperature.
  • Systemic diseases such as immunodeficiency or feline leukemia that weaken the immune system in a way that makes the cat more prone to all kinds of disorders.
  • Using cotton swabs in an attempt to clean the ears.
  • Irritations when applying products such as ear cleaners. We should never use anything without a prescription from a veterinarian.


Primary factors of otitis in cats

These are all circumstances that, by themselves, explain the development of otitis in a healthy ear. The following stand out:

  • Presence of mites , especially Otodectes cynotis. Also other parasites such as demodectic or notohedral scabies mites, ticks, etc.
  • Hypersensitivity, that is, allergic reactions to food, fleas, atopic dermatitis, etc.
  • Foreign bodies, especially in cats with access to the outside.
  • Trauma
  • Dermatological problems such as keratinization disorders that are related to diseases such as hypothyroidism or seborrhea.
  • Autoimmune diseases.
  • Obstructions caused by masses such as polyps, tumors or cysts. They usually affect one ear.- Viral infections.
  • There are also idiopathic causes, that is, of unknown origin.

Perpetuating factors in an otitis

They refer to the causes that make the process chronic, maintaining inflammation even if the primary cause is resolved. They are as follows:

  • Infections caused by bacteria such as staphylococci or streptococci or fungi such as malassezia. Secondary causes can be considered.
  • Otitis media
  • Problems that modify the conformation of the ear, calcify it or narrow it in such a way that it is no longer possible to apply any treatment.


Symptoms of otitis externa in a cat

A cat suffering from external otitis will show clinical signs such as the following, which will be more or less evident depending on the severity of the condition:

  • Secretion.
  • Bad smell.
  • Discomfort that causes the cat to scratch or rub.
  • Thickening of the pinna, redness and inflammation.
  • The cat shakes its head or keeps it bowed.
  • Pain, which can manifest itself with changes in behavior, for which the cat will show aggressiveness, restlessness or greater susceptibility. You can complain if we touch you around the area. Other cats will show it by stopping eating or playing.
  • More or less intense itching. The cat scratches a lot .
  • Injuries, such as wounds or alopecia, in the area around the ears.
  • Sometimes the trauma suffered by the ear from scratching and shaking end up forming an otohematoma, which is a collection of blood under the skin of the ear due to the rupture of blood capillaries. The ear will be swollen and hot.


How to know if a cat has external otitis?

If we observe any of the aforementioned symptoms, we must go to the veterinarian since an external infection that is not treated can advance and end up damaging the entire otic structure.

The vet will examine the inside of the ear with the otoscope . In this way, the extent of the inflammation can be known and, if there are mites or masses, they will be visualized. If necessary, samples will be taken for cytology or cultures, always with care because using rods can cause inflammation. In some cases, a blood test is done to find out if there is a systemic disease.

Some cats will experience a lot of pain, so they will not tolerate any handling. They will need to be sedated. Also, if there has been a lot of discharge, narrowing or inflammation, it will be impossible to see inside the ear. These are cases in which, before the exam, it is necessary to wash, sometimes medicating beforehand to improve the conditions of the canal. It is called flushing .

Treatment for external otitis

If we know the primary cause and any other predisposing or perpetuating causes, the treatment is usually successful. But the more factors involved, the more difficult it will be to solve the otitis. Treatment should always be aimed at combating the primary cause.


In addition, it is also necessary to medicate against the presence of opportunistic infections such as those that can cause bacteria or fungi and it is essential to keep the ear as dry and clean as possible. There are different drugs that the veterinarian will choose from depending on the characteristics and severity of the condition.

If the presence of a contagious cause is detected, such as Otodectes , it is possible that if the cat lives with others, they will also suffer from the disease, since it can be transmitted by contact . Untreated otitis externa can eventually perforate the eardrum, turning into otitis media.



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