Ear Flap Problems in Cats

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Ear Flap Problems in Cats

The pinna is an erect flap of cartilage covered on both sides by a layer of skin. It is fragile and easily damaged. The signs of an outer or external ear problem are discharge, shaking the head, ear scratching, and tenderness about the ear. A cat with an itchy ear ailment may scratch so vigorously that the skin becomes severely abraded. The abraded skin may then become infected, leading to an abscess. Attempts to treat the traumatized pinna may not be successful until the initiating cause of the itching and scratching has been identified and treated.

Bites and Lacerations

Cats give and receive painful bites and scratches that are prone to severe infection. The pinna is a frequent site for such injuries. Some occur during mating.

Treatment: All cat bite wounds should be carefully cleaned and inspected. Trim the hair from the edges of the wound. Bathe the wound with a Betadine or a chlorhexidine wound cleansing solution to remove dried blood and foreign debris. Be careful to keep all solution out of your cat's eyes. Omit this step if there is fresh bleeding.

Then apply a topical antibiotic ointment, such as triple antibiotic ointment or Neosporin. Try to distract your cat for a minute or two after applying any ointment so that she does not immediately rub or lick it off.

Because claws and teeth produce deep wounds and punctures and almost always inject bacteria into the wound, injuries caused by cat fights are often complicated by abscesses. Some can be prevented by giving your cat a course of antibiotics (often a penicillin such as amoxicillin). Do not give any antibiotics without first consulting your veterinarian.

Large lacerations and those involving the margin of the ear or the cartilage should receive veterinary attention. Surgical repair is necessary to prevent scarring and deformity. With bite wounds from unknown animals, discuss rabies with your veterinarian.

Swollen Pinna

Sudden swelling about the ear is due to an abscess or a hematoma. Abscesses are more common. They are caused by an infection of the skin of the ear and often occur after a fight. Severe scratching at the ear may produce skin infection and abscess. Abscesses are usually found below the ear.

A hematoma is a blood clot under the skin of the pinna. It, too, can be caused by trauma or by violent head shaking and scratching at the ear. Look for an itchy ear disorder, such as ear mites, or an infection involving the ear canal-which should be treated along with the hematoma.

Treatment: Blood should be expressed from a hematoma by a veterinarian, to prevent scarring and deformity of the ear when the clot retracts. Removing it with a needle and syringe usually is not effective, because serum accumulates in the pocket formerly occupied by the blood clot and the pocket fills again. Surgery, the treatment of choice, involves removing a window of skin to provide open and continuous drainage. A drain may be placed through the area. Sutures are then made through both sides of the ear to pull the skin down and eliminate the pocket. Expect your cat to need to wear a BiteNot collar or an Elizabethan collar to prevent her from pawing at the ear.

Ear Allergies

Allergies are typified by itching and skin redness without drainage. Both food allergies and atopy (inhaled allergies) may first present as an otitis. They can affect the skin of the ear canals as well as the pinna. An allergic ear problem can closely resemble a yeast infection or may have a yeast infection secondary to an allergy, so check with your veterinarian before applying any medication at home.

Treatment: An allergic reaction is best treated with a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, such as Cortaid. Because of the intense itching, the cat may traumatize her ears and set the stage for a secondary bacterial infection.


Head mange is caused by the head mite called Notoedres cati, which lives on the skin about the head and ears of cats. Itching is the predominant sign. Clean ear canals help distinguish this condition from an ear mite infection caused by Otodectes cynotis.

Fleas frequently feed on the skin of the pinna. You may be able to see the actual fleas on the ears or elsewhere on the body, or you may see only black, crumbly crusts of dried blood.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.

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Reviewed on 12/3/2009 11:30:08 AM

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