Leading Causes of Dry and Dirty Ears in Cats

The interior condition of a cat's ear is an indicator of her overall health.

The interior condition of a cat's ear is an indicator of her overall health.

Your furry friend isn't scratching her ears in search of an answer to a question. Instead, there is probably something inside her ear bugging her and spurring on the annoying habit. Finding out what it is -- especially with the help of your veterinarian -- can put an end to scratching.

Bacteria

Some bacteria naturally reside in the ear canal, Vetstreet reports. It wards off invaders trying to get further in to the delicate canal and ear drum. In a perfect world, this natural bacterial flora does its job and all is well. In reality, Kitty gets scratched on her ear and the delicate balance is upset as bacteria finds its way in to the exposed skin, thus creating an infection. Vetstreet explains that some type of irritation -- such as a scratch -- to skin lining the ear canal causes an inflammation. This leads to an overproduction of wax, which is the ear's natural defense, but also a productive breeding ground for bacteria. Unless treated, this leads to a vicious cycle in which Kitty scratches at the irritant, thus causing further damage and more irritation, which in turn leads to further scratching. Fortunately, veterinary science has developed several anti-bacterial treatments. It's just that most likely Kitty's cooperation level isn't part of the prescription.

Yeast

Some levels of yeast are also naturally present in the ear canal. Prolonged treatment of bacterial infections and the accompanying instability in natural bacterial flora improves the conditions for the growth of yeast, according to WebMD. The difficulty in diagnosing a yeast infection is that its symptoms aren't nearly as obvious as a bacterial infection. Kitty's ear will be red with a dark discharge. Topical ointments are used to treat this condition. Fair warning: yeast is tough to eradicate; treatment can be prolonged.

Ear Mites

If it looks like Kitty has some coffee grounds in her ears, she's more than just dirty: Chances are excellent that she has ear mites. WebMD describes ear mites as prolific, tiny insects that live in the ear canal and feed by piercing the skin. This activity leaves behind a dry, crumbly, dark brown wax-like discharge that is far from clean feeling. Veterinarians have a fairly wide selection of medications applied directly to the ear to kill the mites. Because mites reproduce at a rapid rate, it is critical to complete treatment -- usually long after Kitty stops scratching at her head -- in an effort to get rid of all the mites. It may be necessary to treat your entire cat's body with an insecticide, as ear mites will attempt to escape from the ear canal during treatment and reside elsewhere on Kitty's flesh.

Allergies

Kitty's foray through your backyard garden or the tall grasses at the edge of your lawn may very well be the catalyst to an allergic reaction in her ear. Some felines have serious reactions to grasses or pollens, according to Pet Wave. Other allergies, such as aversions to certain food products, can end up being reflected in Kitty's ear as her body fights off the allergic invader with a raised temperature. The heat index within the ear itself is increased, setting in motion a much more conducive breeding and growing situation for bacteria and yeast.

 

About the Author

Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.

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