What to do About Black or Brown Discharge in Cat's Ears

Updated on October 29, 2014
Cats ears are wonderful parts of their features.  But sometimes they can get infected.
Cats ears are wonderful parts of their features. But sometimes they can get infected. | Source

The ears of a cat are a prominent and distinctive feature.

But sometimes they can have problems.

If your cat has been scratching its ear a lot or you notice a discharge from the cat's ear, find out what it could be and how you can treat it.

Some ear issues are treatable at home and some will require vet care.

What Are Cat Ear Mites?

Ear mites are very small insects that can live inside your cat's ear.

According to Animal Planet, the mites feed on debris in the ear and blood.

Mites can happen to indoor or outdoor cats and seem to be opportunistic feeders.

If you have multiple pets in your house and have an ear mite infection, all the animals will need to be treated.

Just like fleas, mites can travel very easily from one pet to the next.

Young kittens and senior cats are most prone to ear mites.

How Can I Tell If It's Ear Mites?

Since ear mites are the most common cause of cat ear infection and irritation, it's a pretty safe bet that your cat has ear mites.

However, there are other kinds of ear infections so it's best to make sure.

One way to be sure that it is ear mites is to take a sample of the build up in your cat's ear. You can get it on a tissue or a cotton ball.

If you have a home miscrosope, study the sample and look for movement. Any movement indicates mites.

Some people can see movement with the naked eye. To try this, get a very bright light (or bright sunlight) and watch the sample for any kind of movement. Even if you don't see movement, however, it could still be mites.

Your safest bet is to run your cat by the vet's office and let him or her check your cat's ears and determine if it is ear mites.

Other symptoms include a very itchy ear; the ear may be bloody or red and irritated because of your cat scratching it. If the mite infection is bad enough, the debris may spread to the outside of the ears as well.

Ear  mite under a microscope.
Ear mite under a microscope. | Source

How Can I Treat Ear Mites?

There are several options for treating ear mites.

The first step is to clean your cat's ears well. Many pet stores have over the counter ear cleaners or you can put baby oil on a cotton ball and gently swab the ear.

Remember to never enter the ear canal.

The cat's ear may be very sensitive. If it is in a lot of pain, you may need another person to help hold the cat while you clean the ear. You can also wrap the cat up in a thick towel so that only its head is sticking out and then try to clean the ear.

You will then need to apply a miticide to the ear. Pet stores have cat ear mite treatments. These work but they may take up to a week or longer.

There are prescription miticides available through your vet that can get rid of the mites in one dose.

The Best Way to Apply Ear Solution to Cats

Here is a simple way to get any kind of ear drops into a cat's ear

  1. Place the cat or your lap.
  2. If the cat is anxious or skittish, wrap it in a thick towel first.
  3. Apply the number of drops according the package/bottle.
  4. Take your thumb and gently massage the base of the cat's ear,
  5. You should hear a "crackling" noise as the medicine is massaged into the ear canal,
  6. Allow your cat to shake its head but be prepared, the discharge may go everywere including on you.

There are several possible causes of discharge or build-up in a cat's ears.
There are several possible causes of discharge or build-up in a cat's ears. | Source

Other Causes of Cat Ear Infections

If your cat's ear is irritated or has a discharge, it may have a bacterial or fungal infection.

Both of these can be caused by similar circumstances

  • Something got lodged in the ear
  • Allergies
  • Moisture from rain or a bath
  • Immune system weakened due to age or illness

There are natural, over the counter remedies you can try such as applying a couple of drops of olive oil or cleaning the ear out with baby oil, however, realize that cat's ears are very delicate.

The Best Ear Product For All Issues That Are Not Mites.

Another great product that will often help to get rid of yeast infections and mild bacterial infections is Zymox Otic HC. I keep this product on hand and use it on my own, older cats when they get ear issues.

This product has hydrocortisone and actually works to clean the discharge through enzymes. The product specifically states that you should not clean out the cat's ear before placing the drops in it.

If you have tried cleaning and treating your cat's ears at home for more than two weeks, it is important to see a vet.

Yeast and bacterial infections, especially, may need an antibiotic or a fungal treatment for proper care and removal of the issue.

What if the cat is still not getting better?

Cats can also have build-up and discharge in the ear because of polyps, cysts and cancer.

Many of the tumors in cat's ears are benign so it is important not to panic and think the worst if your cat is still having ear issues.

According to Jennifer Coates of Paw Nation, diagnosis of tumors within the ear can be tricky.

It requires sedation of the cat in order to examine the space and determine if a tumor is indeed causing the issue.

The cat will require surgery to remove the tumor.

Take Aways

  • If your cat has ear discharge, it is most likely ear mites.
  • There are over-the-counter treatments for ear mites.
  • A mild bacterial or yeast infection may be treated with Zymox.
  • If the cat does not get better, have a vet check it for other issues.
  • Do not wait more than two weeks to clear up the ear infection.
  • Very often, you can resolve your cat's ear discharge issues at home.

What do you think is the issue with your cat's ears?

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Cleaning Cat Ears

Questions & Answers


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      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

        Very well written and researched hub. Voted up and useful!

      • LCDWriter profile image

        L C David 5 years ago from Florida

        Thanks Pamela-anne. One of my cats just went through treatments for ear issues so I wanted to share what I had learned. I appreciate you stopping by!

      • Pamela-anne profile image

        Pamela-anne 5 years ago from Miller Lake

        Good informative hub it was making me feel itchy just reading it but its good to know that there is treatments out there for our dear furry friends thanks for sharing voted up as useful info!