2012-09-14 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

Itchy Ears In Felines And Managing a Cat’s Nails
Commentary By Jay Rogoff And Susan Whittred, DVM

Our clients often ask us, why does my cat scratch its ears?

The easy answer is probably because they’re itchy! The harder part is figuring out why they’re itchy. Many of our clients come to the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways with this problem after they’ve used some type of ear “medicine” that they bought at the pet store. This is the first mistake. If we don’t know what’s going on in those ears, some of these products can make matters worse! The first thing a responsible cat owner should do, is to bring his or her cat to the vet.

One of our veterinarians will carefully examine your friendly feline and look down your cat’s ears with an otoscope, which allows them to see all the way down the canal and make sure all the structures are intact. There is a structure at the end of the ear canal, called the tympanic membrane, which if broken, can indicate a middle ear problem (otitis media). Most ear infections that we see involve the external ear (otitis externa). It is most likely that we will need to do a cytology to determine the exact cause of the inflammation. Examining a sample of the debris in the ear is very important in making a diagnosis. The most common problem in kittens is ear mites (otodectes cynotis). The discharge from the ears when ear mites are the culprit looks like coffee grounds. Our veterinarians can instantly diagnose ear mites after looking at the discharge under a microscope. Ear mites are easily treated with a one-time application, but we recommend that you follow it with a two month application of Revolution, available from our hospital. Adult cats more commonly have allergies, which manifest as itchy ears. This problem is a little more complex as it can be difficult to find out what the cat is allergic to. Your veterinarian will likely see yeast in your cat’s ears when allergies are present. We often try cats on a hypoallergenic diet to see if the kitty will respond. Sometimes it is necessary to go through a few diets to find one that will work (that’s if the kitty is allergic to food!). Otherwise, it can be an environmental allergy which can be helped with medications or even shots to desensitize the cat to whatever it is allergic to. We provide allergy testing and have had very successful results. Of course, those are two of the most common things we see, but tumors and other infections can also cause itchy ears. Either way itchy ears need to be seen by a veterinarian.

Another question we get asked is, how do I care for my cat’s nails?

Scratching is a necessary part of a cat’s behavior. Have you ever found pieces of their nails near their scratching posts? That’s because one of the reasons that cats scratch is to remove the outer sheath of their claws. If they don’t have a surface where they can do this, their claws become very thick and because they grow in a circular manner, the claws can then grow into their pads, which is very painful. This problem sometimes has to be cured surgically.

Cats also scratch because they have scent glands in the pads of their paws and scratching allows them to mark their territory. Scratching or hooking their nails on a firm platform, allows them to hold on and stretch the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders and paws. The nails are also important for balance, because they provide a mechanism to grip (which, without opposable thumbs, is their only means of gripping). Providing surfaces for cats to do this (scratching posts) will protect your furniture and give them a safe place to exhibit their natural behavior.

Occasionally the outer sheaths don’t come off for one reason or another, this especially occurs with older cats or cats with arthritis. So it is important to check your cat’s paws at least monthly to make sure the claws are not in danger of growing into the pad. Since claws are very important to the cat, it’s important to help them maintain them, especially for our indoor kitties.

Please visit us at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, 114-10 Beach Channel Drive, call us at 718-474-0500 or visit our website www.animal-hopsitaloftherockaways.com if you have any questions or concerns. We look forward to seeing you.

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