How To Spot Cat Ear Infections: Warm Ears & Other Symptoms

4 min read
May 10, 2023

Feline ears are fascinating, and they play a big role in your cat's behavior and health. As a pet parent, your cat's ears can tell you a lot about the health issues your furry friend could be dealing with.

Warm ears in cats are one of many signals that your cat’s body may be fighting off an ear infection. Here’s everything you need to know about ear infections in cats.

Causes of Cat Ear Infections

A healthy, indoor cat isn’t likely to develop ear infections. If they do, there may be an underlying condition that’s causing ear infections in your cat, such as:¹

  • Ear mites: Ear mites can create an environment that leads to bacterial or yeast infections.
  • Debris: Excess hair, dirt, or other debris in the ear can lead to bacteria or yeast infections.
  • Foreign objects
  • Environmental allergies

In short: something inside your cat’s ear can throw their immune system into overdrive to fight off the infection.

Cat Ear Infection Symptoms

Warm ears can be a signal that your cat may have an infection. A cat with a fever will may retreat to a cool place with their body splayed rather than curled up.
Excessive wax or discharge in the ears prevents your cat from expelling excess heat.

Look for black, brown, or yellow discharge. The black discharge could be a sign of ear mites, and brown or yellow discharge could be a sign of bacterial and yeast overgrowth.

Other common signs of ear infection in cats can be:

●      Fever

●      Scratching or rubbing ears

●      Waxy build-up

●      Pungent smell

An ear infection can inhibit a cat’s ability to maintain balance and regulate body temperature. An important thing to watch out for is a fever. A cat’s normal body temperature is roughly 104°F. If your furry friend's temperature is more than 104°F, it’s highly advised that you take them to the veterinarian for further treatment.

Need To See A Vet?

Pet Insurance Can Help

Diagnosing Cat Ear Infections

Pet parents should take their cat to the vet to figure out what kind of infection their cat has if they notice any symptoms.

The vet may examine their ears with an otoscope – a small, magnifying instrument that lets them see the inner ear. This can help them figure out where the infection is. Your vet may take a sample from your cat’s ears with a cotton swab to test what sort of bacteria or yeast is causing the infection.

There are three types of ear infections cats can experience:

  1. Outer ear (otitis externa): This is an infection of the outer parts of the ear canal.¹
  2. Middle ear (otitis media): This inflammation of the middle ear structures is typically caused by an infection or a punctured eardrum.²
  3. Inner ear (otitis interna): This is a very serious infection of the inner ear that can lead to deafness or loss of balance.²

Your cat may need further testing, especially if they have an inner ear infection. The vet may choose to conduct an X-ray, CT scan, or an MRI to determine the extent of the inflammation in your cat’s ears. Keep in mind that your cat may need to be sedated if your kitty doesn’t cooperate with the examinations, potentially adding an additional cost to your final vet bill.

Options for Cat Ear Infection Treatment

Your cat's treatment can depend on what your vet determines is causing the infection. Your vet will likely prescribe a combination of antibiotics or antifungal ear drops if your pet has an outer or middle ear infection.¹,² Oral medications may also be offered to treat advanced ear infections.

Inner ear infections can be treated a bit differently. If your cat’s eardrum is healthy, your cat may only need antibiotics at home with a handful of follow-up exams with your vet.

On the other hand, a damaged ear drum can be difficult to treat. Cats whose ear infections can’t be treated with antibiotic medications may develop life-long issues like nerve damage, deafness, and poor coordination.²

The key to treating inner ear infections is early intervention. Cats who are treated early may respond well to prescription medications, allowing their ears to heal themselves. However, some cats may need surgery to restore their hearing if their ear infections aren't treated early or if they have chronic infections.

How To Prevent Ear Infections in Cats

Is your kitty prone to ear infections? A good way to prevent ear infections in cats can be to clean their ears regularly.³ Pet parents can purchase vet-approved ear wash or make a solution of equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide.³ You could use a cotton ball to clean the outer parts of your cat’s ears once a month. Go slowly and reward your cat with treats throughout the process.

Warning against home remedies for cat ear infections

There aren’t any home remedies for cat ear infections that truly work because you’d need to prevent the underlying cause of the infection.¹ Don’t attempt to treat your pet’s ear infection at home unless you’ve been instructed to do so by your vet.

At-home remedies can further damage your cat’s ear by introducing more debris to the ear canal.³ Never insert a cotton swab or other objects into your cat’s ears because you risk rupturing their eardrum.³ The best course of action is to seek out professional medical care once you notice your cat has an ear infection.

MetLife Pet Insurance Could Help Treat Warm Ears in Cats

Our feline companions need tender love and care when they aren’t feeling their best. An ear infection can ruin your cat’s day, but knowing the symptoms can help you treat the infection early. Early intervention with medication and regular ear cleanings can help you avoid costly surgeries to correct your cat’s hearing.

Consider getting a cat insurance policy that could cover the cost of prescriptions, follow-up vet visits, and X-rays. You and your family shouldn’t have to worry about surprise vet bills. MetLife Pet can help reimburse covered expenses so you can get back to spending time with your furry friend.

¹ “Ear Infections in Cats (Otitis Externa),” VCA Hospitals

² “Otitis Media and Interna in Cats,” Merck Veterinary Manual

³ “Instructions for Ear Cleaning and Administering Ear Medication in Cats,” VCA Hospitals

Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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