Ear Trauma in Cats
Except for fight wounds, most ear injuries in cats are self-inflicted by scratching. This can leave the ear inflamed and scabbed, or the ear can become swollen from abscess (infection) or hematoma (blood pooled under the skin due to trauma). There are many things that can make a cat scratch this aggressively. Fight wounds usually are cuts and tears or puncture wounds, but swelling can also occur.
What to Watch For
- Scabs, hair loss, inflammation, raw-looking skin on and around the ear
- Bleeding, discharge, or crusts in the ear canal
- Swollen ear
- Holding an ear down
- Scratching at the ear, possibly shaking head
Ear infections and ear mites, which both induce excessive scratching of the area, are the most common ear problems in cats. Fighting can also result in trauma to the ears.
- If there is active bleeding from any place other than the ear canal, apply direct pressure with your fingers to control the bleeding. (Wear a glove to keep blood off your hand.)
- Gauze or other absorbent material may also be used, but it is likely to come off and cause the area to bleed again.
- Clip the nails, especially on the back feet.
- If the bleeding should become excessive or if the cut should become infected, bring the cat to the veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will give your cat an overall examination before focusing on the ear. If the ear is swollen, a sample of the fluid causing the swelling will be aspirated and examined. If there is discharge, a sample will be swabbed from the ear and examined, possibly cultured. Ear mites are easily seen in samples examined under a microscope; sometimes they can be seen when the ear is examined with an otoscope.
Fight wounds on the ear are treated like any other wound. The wounds are cleaned, the cat is prescribed antibiotics, and, if needed, sutures are used (under sedation).
If the ear injury is due to excessive scratching, then the cause of the scratching needs to be identified and treated. If ear mites are determined to be the cause, your veterinarian will usually treat with a topical product containing selamectin
Ears swollen due to an abscess will be drained and cleaned, and the cat will be prescribed antibiotics. Ears swollen from a hematoma will have the accumulated blood drained and multiple stitches placed to prevent more swelling. The stitches are typically removed after 14 days. If the swelling occurred as a result of excessive scratching, the cause of the scratching will need to be treated as well.
Other conditions that may cause excessive scratching of the ears affect other areas of the body in much the same way. These conditions include ringworm (dermatophytosis), mange (both scabies and demodectic), eosinophilic plaques, and some cancers. Grass awns and other foreign objects in the ear can also cause excessive scratching.
Living and Management
Most of the time, the ear heals well with proper treatment. Cats that have repeated ear infections will sometimes develop polyps in the ear canal that will need to be surgically removed.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to prevent ear problems from developing. However, treating ear issues as soon as they are noticed can prevent a minor problem from developing into a severe issue.