Quick update: What to know about allergic otitis in cats


Otitis in cats may not be common in your veterinary clinic-but here's a quick update to prep for the next time you see a cat with itchy ears.

Felines, vets, technicians, lend me your ears. (Shutterstock)Thankfully, otitis externa is uncommon in cats. (Seriously, can you imagine where we'd be if cats' ears were as bad off as dogs'?)

Anyway, when present, otitis externa in cats is usually secondary to allergies, ear mites, polyps or tumors. Obviously, cytologic and otoscopic examinations are critical in helping you identify infection, ear mites and masses in the ear canal.

Let's focus on allergy-related otitis externa because it is often overlooked. Allergy-related otitis externa can result in bacterial otitis, Malassezia species otitis, excess cerumen production or simply otic pruritus.

Allergic otitis can occur with or without other clinical signs of allergy-or the signs may be mild enough that the owner doesn't mention them to you. As usual, a thorough examination and thoughtful questioning are important. In many ways, treating feline otitis is similar to treating canine otitis.

Here are some useful cat-specific tips to remember:

1. Cats typically don't allow deep ear cleaning. They'll need to be sedated.

2. Few medications are labeled in the United States for treating otitis in cats.

3. I often use Posatex Otic Suspension (Merck) as my first-line therapy when cytology supports the diagnosis of an infectious otitis externa. Posatex only needs to be applied once daily, which is helpful for owners with uncooperative cats. In addition, the antibiotic in Posatex, orbifloxacin, is less likely to cause deafness than gentamicin. Keep in mind that Posatex is not labeled for use in cats in the United States.

4. If an underlying allergy is present, it needs to be treated or you will “fight” the otitis forever.

Dr. Darin Dell is a veterinary dermatologist at Animal Dermatology Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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