THE VET IS IN
MIND + BODY
When people shake their head, they’re usually trying to say “no.” When cats shake
their heads, however, it usually means,
“My ear is bugging me.”
Cats have a limited way of showing
that their ears are bothering them.
Headshaking is one way. Equally common is scratching. Most affected cats
will use a back paw to scratch at their
ear(s), sometimes vigorously enough
to cause abrasions to the ear and the
Otitis is the medical term for
inflammation of the ear. A common
cause of otitis is a bacterial infection.
Ear infections aren’t as common in
cats as they are in dogs, but they do
occur. Most of the time, the infection
occurs as a result of some other dis-
ease state or predisposing factor.
For example, skin allergies are a
common underlying cause of ear
infections in cats. Two common causes
of skin allergy in cats are food allergy
and atopy (allergic reaction to inhaled
allergens like pollens). These allergies
cause the skin to become inflamed,
and that includes the skin inside the
ear canal. Once the ear skin becomes
inflamed, bacteria (and sometimes
yeast) that normally reside in the
ear can overgrow, causing an
infection. The inside of the ear may
become red, and a foul-smelling
discharge can develop.
Diagnosis is usually made
during physical examination.
Treatment involves administering
antibiotics, usually both topically
(into the ear itself) as well as oral-
ly. Culturing the ear discharge
to determine exactly what
species of bacteria is infecting
the ear improves the chance of
successful treatment; however,
addressed to minimize the chances of
A very common cause of ear discomfort in cats is the presence of ear
mites. These pesky little parasites live
inside the ear, feeding on the wax,
oils and skin debris normally present
in the ear canals. Although adult cats
can be affected, ear mites are much
more common in kittens, especially
those who come from multi-cat environments like shelters and catteries.
Ear mites are intensely itchy,
and kittens often violently scratch
one or both ears with their hind
feet, sometimes causing small skin
wounds around the base of the ears.
continued on page 72
Dr. Arnold Plotnick is
the founder of Manhattan
Cat Specialists, a feline-
practice on Manhattan’s
upper west side. He is also an author of The
Original Cat Fancy Cat Bible. Dr. Plotnick is a
frequent contributor to feline publications
and websites, including his own blog, Cat
Man Do. He lives in New York City with his
cats, Mittens and Glitter.
BY ARNOLD PLOTNICK, D.V.M.
& Other Icky