Thursday, May 26, 2011

Caring For Kitty's Kidneys

Caring for Kitty's Kidneys

Got an aging cat? Better keep an eye on kitty's behavior. The litter box is only one of several places to look for signs of kidney disease.

Almost a third of cats over age 10 suffer from chronic kidney, or renal, disease. Long-haired cats and certain breeds may be more vulnerable, as they often have congenitally malformed kidneys. But kidney failure can be caused at any age by bacterial infection, injury, tumors, viral infection, or a protein buildup called amyloidosis. Chronic renal failure (CRF) is a leading cause of death in older cats; I lost my first cat to it when he was about age 11, and my 23-year-old little Vixen has been on a renal diet for years. What causes this, and what can you do about it? Let's explore.

Understanding Kidney Function

Most of us know that kidneys filter waste material from our bodies, but they do much more than that. Kidneys actually impact five bodily functions:
  • Waste filtering
  • Regulation of electrolytes
  • Production of red blood cells
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Producing urine
The kidneys are located on either side, not far below the backbone about midway down the cat's spine. They're, well naturally, kidney-shaped.

Inside the capsule of each kidney and organized into layers called the renal cortex and renal medulla are around 200,000 nephrons, which are tiny structures that act like filters. As kidneys become damaged, kidney cells are replaced with scar tissue. Once this happens, it is impossible for new kidney cells to be created. The kidneys react by producing a larger volume of urine with a lower concentration of toxins. A cat in this stage is said to have "compensated renal failure". Next, the kidneys begin producing less erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and hemoglobin, so anemia will set in.

In advanced kidney disease, the organs become small, hard and lumpy, their amount of functioning tissue greatly diminished. The symptoms described above will worsen. Only you will know when your cat's quality of life has become so low that it's time for euthanasia. For me, this came when he peed on me twice in the night, both times with no odor in the urine because no toxins were being removed. The next morning, his "third eyelid" began showing on the inner corners of his eyes. It seemed to me like he may have been in the early stages of dying anyway, and that made the decision a little less painful...but it was still excruciating to lose him.

Symptoms of Kidney Problems in Cats

If your cat's kidneys aren't functioning up to par, you'll notice several signs. Unfortunately, since cats are so good at masking illness, symptoms may not appear until about 70% of kidney function has already been lost. Kidney failure may further be masked by hyperthyroidism, which is common in older cats. Look for these telltale signs, although not all cats will exhibit all symptoms:
  • Increased thirst - is kitty drinking a lot more water than usual? You may also notice him licking his lips more.
  • Increased urination - all that water has to go somewhere!
  • Loss of appetite - because toxins are building up in the cat's body, it makes him feel sick to eat.
  • Vomiting - you may see vomit unrelated to hairballs, shortly after the cat eats. It may appear clear and foamy or contain large amounts of food.
  • Weight loss - this stands to reason, if the cat's not eating as much or keeping food down.
  • Poor coat quality - don't dismiss this as merely a sign of aging. Loss of potassium in all that extra urine can make the coat appear dull.
  • Lethargy - yes, cats sleep a lot, but a cat with renal failure will be even more listless. She may even seem depressed, showing little interest in playing or interacting with you.
  • Weakness and balance problems - obviously, if your body is filled with toxins, you're losing all your potassium, you're anemic, your muscles are wasting away, and you can't keep your food down, you're going to be weak and wobbly!
  • Breath and body odor - as toxins build up in the cat's body, you may notice an odor. Since cats don't have a body odor like dogs do, if you can smell your cat, there's an underlying problem. Fishy breath from bad teeth may start to smell more like ammonia, as well.
  • Mouth sores - ulcers inside the mouth or on the chin may erupt.
  • Pain - your cat may seem sore when you try to touch her middle back area, or sit in a hunched-up crouching position that looks like she's in pain.
  • Heightened sensitivity to sound - kitty may be more easily startled or seek out quieter places to rest.
  • Changes in litter box behavior - aside from the more frequent urination, some cats get diarrhea, while others get constipated. Some even start eating cat litter!
  • Blindness - in rare cases, some cats will suddenly go blind from kidney failure. This can be caused by detached retinas resulting from high blood pressure.
Any one of these by itself may not be unusual, but if you see two or more, it's time to visit the vet. End-stage symptoms could include convulsions, lowered body temperature, and coma. It goes without saying that catching renal failure early can make all the difference.

Some cats have a higher predisposition to renal failure than others. These include the Maine Coon, Abyssinian, Siamese, Russian Blue, Burmese, and Balinese breeds. Older cats are also more prone to it, while the cat's diet and environmental factors can also play a factor.

CRF: Not The End!

While chronic renal failure is a progressive disease that's always terminal, your cat can live for years beyond initial diagnosis. It will require good management on your part, and kitty won't necessarily like all the treatments. But quality of life will still be pretty good until the very end, so it's worth the effort.

The earlier the diagnosis with CRF, the better the prognosis. If your cat's over about age 7, it's a good idea to have your vet run a series of annual kidney function tests on him or her. One blood test will check the Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN); normal readings should be 60-80 mg/dl. When it's double that, kidney damage is evident. A second will check for an elevated level of creatinine, while a urinalysis checks the urine's specific gravity (USpG). A USpG reading below 1.030 could indicate that at least 2/3 of the kidney tissue is damaged. Your vet may also want to measure the blood levels of elements like potassium, phosphorus and calcium, as well as the counts of red and white blood cells to determine how far any disease may have progressed.

Once diagnosed, treatments vary depending on the causes of the CRF and how far it has progressed. Water intake should be encouraged with additional bowls, pet fountains, or adding extra water to the cat's food. There are drugs to help with the anemia symptom by stimulating bone marrow production, while phosphate binders can help prevent further kidney damage. Some say that restricting the amount of protein in the cat's diet, mainly for the phosphorus in it, is important, but others disagree and say a higher-protein diet is best. Your vet will likely put kitty on a diet of prescription cat food, often referred to as a "renal diet". Some cats do well on this, while others refuse to eat it; if yours won't, it's much more important to feed him something that will help maintain weight and good body condition. Weight loss is the enemy, and high moisture content is more important than protein content. Potassium supplements may also be necessary and both Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants have proven helpful. Supplements of vitamins B and C should be given daily. Some cats will show an improved appetite when given anti-emetics to combat their nausea. Others may need drugs to lower their blood pressure, as hypertension can be a result of poor kidney function.

In more advanced progression, you may also need to give your cat subcutaneous fluids daily to prevent dehydration. It's impossible for the cat to drink enough water to meet the demands of her compromised kidneys. Fluids will help flush toxins from her system and make her feel much better. The fluids are administered by pinching up a section of skin and inserting a needle into it, then keeping the cat still while saline solution drips from an IV bag for about five minutes. Afterward, she'll feel "sloshy" underneath the chest, as the fluids will gather there and be absorbed by her body as needed.

While none of these treatments will prevent eventual kidney failure, they can help your cat continue to live comfortably for months or even years beyond initial diagnosis. Consistency and vigilance are critical.

Worth a Pound of Cure

Obviously, preventing kidney failure in your cat is the preferable route. Several steps can be taken to promote kidney function, or avoid doing damage to the kidneys. They include:
  • Keep kitty's teeth clean - bacteria and toxins from gingivitis damage not only the kidneys, but other major organs of the body, as well. Daily brushing, if your cat will tolerate it, and regular dental scalings at your vet can help avoid this.
  • Feed plenty of wet food - an all-dry-food diet is contrary to a cat's natural bodily functioning, which is to get most or all of their water from consuming prey. Dry food only provides half the water of canned or homemade wet food and leads to chronic dehydration, even when plenty of water is available. This stresses the kidneys and lower urinary tract by forcing a high degree of urine concentration.
  • Avoid toxins - this goes far beyond keeping kitty indoors to limit exposure to lawn chemicals and antifreeze. Many of the products we use in the home can be extremely toxic to cats. These include various types of cleaners, ant traps, rat poison, new rugs (due to the formaldehyde fumes coming off the backings), house plants, flame retardants, and art project fixative sprays.
  • Forgo annual booster shots for feline distemper - any beyond the first vaccination for feline distemper are unnecessary, and may be linked to immune-mediated inflammation of the kidneys.
  • Get annual kidney tests on cats over age 7 - the earlier kidney failure is detected, the longer your cat can maintain a good quality of life.
While there are no guarantees and not every disease is preventable, by keeping your cat safe and healthy you can help ensure many joyous years with a cat who has well functioning kidneys.


Many thanks to the Feline CRF site, All About Cats, and the Feline Advisory Bureau, all listed on's links page, along with numerous other omnibus Q-and-A sites, for information contributing to this post.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spotlight: Grooming

As we all know, cats are obsessive about their grooming. It's an essential part of their "catness" and one of the chief things that differentiates them from dogs. Mother cats groom their kittens and teach them the behavior. Cats of all ages seem to enjoy both grooming and being groomed. So it stands to reason that understanding grooming behavior is important in having a happy, healthy cat.

Reasons for Grooming Your Cat

No, your kitty doesn't have obsessive-compulsive disorder! There are several good reasons cats groom for their health.
  1. After a meal, your cat will likely wash its face and whiskers to remove any traces of food from them. This is accomplished by licking the paws and using them just as we would use our hands to wash our own faces. The cat will often groom its entire head and ears likewise. Many times, this face washing is the precursor to a full-body grooming session (usually followed by a nice, long nap).
  2. Although it's a little disgusting to think about, cats also often groom their hindquarters after using the litter box. They don't like walking around with a stinky, dirty hiney any more than we would. But how else would they clean it, without hands or toilet paper? Bleah!
  3. In addition to removing dead hair and fleas, grooming helps keep a cat's coat waterproof. You've noticed that a little bit of water tends to bead up and roll off your cat when he's well groomed, right? That's why. Grooming moves oil from the skin level out onto each hair shaft. This thin coating of oil keeps the hair supple and repels water. It won't keep the cat dry in a deluge, but a light sprinkle should just roll off the back of a healthy, well-groomed cat.
  4. Removing mats from the fur is also important for regulating body temperature. A cat's coat is its insulation against both cold and heat. It does this by trapping air in between the individual hairs. If the hair gets matted, it doesn't allow this air cushion that keeps the cat's body temperature moderated. Grooming removes the excess hair that can become matted, freeing the living hairs to trap all that insulating air.
  5. While grooming its fur, your cat is doing her own little health check. If there are any injuries or sores on the skin, these are given extra attention during grooming. By keeping any breaks in the skin clean, the cat is trying to help them heal. Fleas and ticks that are discovered during grooming are quickly dispensed of, as well. If you see kitty nibbling at places while grooming, check him for fleas and ticks, and check your calendar to see when you last applied flea protection.
  6. Grooming is a way for cats to spread their scent. The importance of scent to animals is something a lot of humans have trouble understanding. Cats have a far more sensitive nose than we do; that's why a lot of our highly scented cleaning products are offensive to them. They are intensely aware of their own scent, as well as ours and those of all the other animals in the household. When companion cats groom each other, it's a sign of acceptance and trust. A cat that rubs its face on your hand is marking you with its scent glands as a member of its trusted inner circle.
  7. Cats will use grooming as displacement behavior. You've surely seen a cat who's embarrassed or uncertain of what to do next begin to groom. This type of grooming may be more abbreviated or frantic than normal. It's actually a comforting behavior for the cat. It could mean, "I meant to do that." Or "Who, me? I've just been sitting here grooming. I have no idea what that crashing sound was, or where that broken lamp came from." As long as it doesn't happen to the point that the cat is losing fur and developing hot spots, there's no harm in it. And admit've laughed at your cat for grooming in embarrassing situations!

The Mechanics of Grooming a Cat

Okay, so now that we know why cats groom during about half their waking hours, let's examine how they do it.
  • You may have noticed that when your cat licks you, its tongue feels like sandpaper. That's because it's covered with little "teeth" that are ideal for combing its hair. All cats, regardless of breed, have this trait in common...even the wild ones. In the wild, it also comes in handy for removing every morsel of meat from the bones of prey. But in our domesticated kitties, unless they're avid hunters, it's mostly used for grooming. Using their tongues to comb their hair means that they'll inevitably get hairballs, which are a whole other joy unto themselves for cat owners; we'll address those in a separate post.
  • Cats also use their teeth when grooming. They can help remove tangles or mats in the hair and pull off any ticks discovered. Cats who like to rub their faces on a comb may also do this to clean their teeth. If your cat does this, chances are he'd be receptive to having his teeth brushed, once you show him the practice a few times. The key to getting the cat to accept this is to let him be in control of the teeth brushing. It's a natural behavior that he'll accept if you present it in the right way.
  • Something many people overlook as part of a cat's grooming regimen are the paws. Front paws are used to wash the face, ears, and head, while back claws help clean behind the ears. The cat may gnaw on its claws to clean them where things get lodged in between the toes, or actually pull on them to remove old claws that are being shed. You'll often see a grooming cat stretch out her front paws and scratch a little. This exercises the muscles in the front legs and can keep the claws filed down, if the scratching surface is a little abrasive. Outdoor cats will use trees or concrete surfaces to file their nails, but an indoor cat must either have such surfaces available or get their claws trimmed or filed by you.

When Kitty Needs Grooming Help

That cats groom themselves, thus removing the need for us to bathe them weekly, is one of the things we love about them! But that doesn't mean that we're absolved of all responsibility in helping kitty to stay well groomed.

Providing the necessary tools to help kitty keep clean is an important part of being a cat owner. This means scratching posts and/or pads (depending on whether your cat prefers to scratch vertically or horizontally) for the claws, as well as something to keep the teeth clean and the right kinds of brushes and combs for your cat's coat, in the event that you need to step in and help with the grooming. This is especially true for longer-haired cats.

Paying attention to your cat's grooming habits can be so important as to make the difference between life and death. Yes, you read that correctly! If you notice her fur taking on an "oily" appearance, clumping up as though it's dirty, your cat is likely not grooming herself. You may also see clumps of fur sticking out, or even see them on the carpet where they've fallen out. When you pet her, you will likely feel several mats in her coat. These could be in places where the cat is experiencing pain. But pain is only one possible cause. There may be several reasons a cat will stop grooming.

Older cats may stop grooming because arthritis makes it too uncomfortable for them. This will require that you step in and take over. Daily brushing is recommended, for the aforementioned reasons the cat grooms itself. The health check of the cat's skin and coat are now up to you. This also gives you some time to interact with your cat and "think good thoughts" together. Taking a little break from your hectic day is good for you, as well as the cat.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, kittens younger than two weeks don't yet know how to groom, and their mothers teach them this behavior. So kittens who lost their mothers early on may have never learned how to groom themselves. Even if mama kitty grooms her kittens, a little gentle help from you is a good way to get them used to loving, affectionate human interaction.

Cats who are sick will also stop grooming. This is probably because they just don't feel well and can't bring themselves to do it, or they may be in pain and fear that grooming will exacerbate it. The problem with this is that cats won't show signs of illness until they are seriously ill. This is a survival instinct that remains from their wild days. So by the time your cat stops grooming, you need to get him to the vet immediately. This is especially true if you notice an odor coming from your cat, which can indicate kidney failure.

Going in the other direction, some cats can overgroom if they feel stressed or have pain in a certain area. This should also be a red-light warning indicator to you that something's not right. If kitty keeps licking the same area, or licks itself bald there (often accompanied by nasty hairballs), get to the vet. Again, odor can be a symptom of infection if the area they're overgrooming has a smell to it.

Long-haired cats often need help in grooming, as well. The sheer volume of hair they need to comb is sometimes just too overwhelming for them to get to it all. This can cause those unsightly mats that interfere with the coat's proper functioning. There are many types of combs designed especially for long-haired coats. Try to avoid the temptation to shave your long-haired cats in summer. Remember how we talked about the coat being an insulator against both cold and heat? Remove the coat and you remove this layer of insulation around your cat.

Tips for Good Cat Grooming

Whatever reasons you have for grooming your cat, there are some standard practices that work best.

The first step is making sure you have the right tools. Different types of cat coats require different types of combs and brushes. Some cats also have a preference in the type of grooming tools you use. Peruse's Grooming Time section to see the different types of combs and brushes available.

If your cat has stopped grooming, of if he's gotten into something that's made him too dirty for self grooming, you may need to bathe him. You'll find all types of shampoos, both traditional and waterless, as well as wipes, in our Grooming Time section. We even have a bathing tub that makes it easier to bathe your cat. Come even combat the allergens that cause people to be allergic to cats. When bathing kitty, you need to give his claws something to grab onto, like a towel in the bottom of the tub. Be careful when rinsing him not to use too much water pressure and don't wet his face. Make sure you get all the shampoo rinsed off, then thoroughly towel dry him and use a blow dryer if he will tolerate the noise from it.

For cleaning teeth, you'll need either a finger brush or a full-sized cat toothbrush. Never use human toothpaste for a cat, as it contains ingredients that can be toxic to cats. Use a special toothpaste for cats, which is not only safer for them, but flavored so they will enjoy it. It may take several tries for the cat to become accustomed to having her teeth brushed, but many cats actually enjoy this. And it helps keep them healthy, too!

Ears require special attention and delicacy when grooming your cat. Always use a cleaner designed especially for cleaning a cat's ears and follow the instructions to the letter. Never put a cotton swab into your cat's ear canal, as it can damage the delicate structure and lead to all sorts of problems, including deafness. Just use a cotton ball to gently clean out the residue after using the ear cleanser. I find that my little Vixen actually seems to enjoy this, leaning her head toward my hand as I gently massage her ear with the cotton ball.

And, finally, don't neglect the cat's paws and claws when grooming. Make sure kitty has appropriate scratching surfaces other than your upholstered furniture and carpets. There are countless styles of cat scratchers, in all sizes and shapes, to fit any decor. These are essential pieces of furniture if you are going to have a cat. Even with the scratchers, your cat's claws will need to be trimmed or filed regularly. Failure to do so allows the curved claws to grow right into the foot pads, causing pain and even piercing the skin to cause bleeding and sores. To trim my cats' claws, I've always held them in my lap, their head close to my body and their feet out. This lets me put an arm around them to hold them there, giving them loving pats while I'm working with them and holding the paw I'm working on while the other hand wields the clipper or file. As you trim, inspect the pads of your cat's paws for any injuries, and make sure there isn't anything stuck in between her toes that needs cleaning out. Talking or singing to the cat as you're working should make claw trimming a pleasant session for you both.

Grooming is one of the most important parts of a cat's life. While we may never understand why they feel the need to plop down in the middle of the room, hike up a leg, and clean their private parts whenever we have company, appreciating and embracing the grooming aspect of their lives is a major step to better understanding our feline companions.

Visit the "Grooming Time" section of for all the tools you'll need to keep your kitty in tip-top shape!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Are old cats like babies?

For quite some time now, little Vixen has been eating less and less. She always has an appetite, mind you, but she'll lick the gravy off her food and leave most of the solid parts behind...then yowl for more food! Arranging the leftovers a little differently on the plate will fool her sometimes and she'll lick at it a little more, but not always. For the past few months, I've been throwing away an awful lot of cat food.

This would be bad enough if she just ate the stuff out of the can from the grocery store. But her advanced age of 23 has her on a special kidney diet from Royal Canin that I can only buy at the vet's office. A case of 24 tiny little cans is almost $30. So it hurts to throw away that type of food when the cat won't eat it. She eats from her bowl of crunchies, but just as many of those end up on the floor as in the cat. Smashing her face into the center of the bowl pushes the round little pieces of kibble out the sides and I'm constantly sweeping it up from underneath her food area. (Sigh.)

But when a recent vet visit revealed that Miss Vixen was down to a little over 6 pounds, it was time to do something. I immediately got her some Nutri-Cal, which is one of the few supplements she'll actually touch. (We carry the kitten version of Nutri-Cal on, but our supplier of it doesn't stock the adult one, for some reason.) Since her blood work had revealed that everything was within normal parameters, I hesitated to take her off the expensive kidney diet; that could be the very thing that's been keeping her healthy. But I strongly suspected that she was bored with it.

So here's my solution: there are several good brands of premium wet cat foods that are good for senior cats. She's eaten several before from companies like Tiki Cat, Wellness, and others. I bought several of those in tuna and chicken flavors, since those are her favorites. In a mini-food processor I'd bought myself for Christmas, I mix a can of her kidney food, one can (or pouch, in some cases) of the premium wet cat food, some extra water, and some fish oil obtained from puncturing one of the capsules I take daily. The fish oil has an anti-inflammatory property that should help her tender knees to hurt less, just like it helped my finger joints stop hurting. I grind it all up in the food processor until it's the consistency of pablum and keep it in a plastic container in the fridge. A little stir at feeding time mixes the liquid back into the ground-up solid parts so it's mushier than the pate-style canned foods.

So far, she seems to be ingesting more of the solid food, albeit in very small pieces, than she was before. She still has a tendency to lick the food off the plate, but with the finer consistency of it she gets more little pieces into her. She's acting more satisfied, as well and not yowling all day. Time will tell if this approach helps her put weight back on, but for now, it seems to be a good solution!

Have you ever had a cat who was unable to eat because of old age? Share your techniques here for coaxing Kitty to eat more!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spotlight: Otitis Externa

Spotlight: Otitis Externa

Say whatsy whosie? Otitis externa is a fancy name for an infection of a cat's external ear canal. It affects 2-10% of all cats seen in a general veterinary practice, ranking second in the most common illnesses treated by vets. Some cats are more prone to it, and in those who get chronic ear infections 20-30% of cases are due to an unknown cause (idiopathic). Himalayan and Persian cats seem to be more prone to otitis externa, as do some diabetic cats.

To understand how to prevent ear infections, it's important to understand what causes them. Here's what you need to know:

Causes of Otitis Externa in Cats

By far, the most common cause of otitis externa is ear mites. They cause about half of all cases. Kittens are especially prone to them. If your cat's ears have a black discharge, ear mites may be the culprit. Ear mites can be treated with a number of over-the-counter remedies. A couple we carry are Ear Mite Remedy by Four Paws and Ear Rite Miticide by Lambert Kay. Other bugs that can cause otitis externa include chiggers (redbugs), ticks lodged in the ear canal, and mange (scabies).

Two other common causes of otitis externa are bacteria, dermatophytes (fungus) and yeast. These can set in if an initial infestation of ear mites is left untreated. Often, even if the mites are treated, the secondary infection may remain and require treatment by your veterinarian.

Other causes: thick or matted hair, excess wax buildup, a foreign object, a tumor or polyp, allergies, or an impaired drainage system. Cats prone to fighting may get injuries that can abscess and cause an ear infection. Feline papilloma virus may also cause them. A hot, humid environment can set up a perfect environment for pathogens to cause an ear infection in your cat.

In some cases, cats who have contracted the feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, also known as feline AIDS) may present ear infections as a symptom. If your cat has not been vaccinated against these diseases, a blood test will determine if she has contracted one of them.

Symptoms of Otitis Externa in Cats

Ear infections cause itching and pain for your cat. You'll probably see him shaking his head often or scratching at his ears. While cats often clean their ears as part of their normal grooming, excessive attention to the ears can indicate infection.

The infected ear may look red and swollen. As the infection progresses, you'll probably notice a foul odor. Sometimes there is a discharge. Some cats may wail when in severe pain.

Why Treatment Is Important

When properly treated, just about all ear infections are curable. While it may take several weeks and multiple vet visits, properly diagnosing and treating your cat's ear infection is well worth the investment.

If left untreated, an infection in your cat's outer ear will not only continue causing pain, but may spread to the middle ear. Infections there are much more difficult to treat, sometimes requiring surgery and a multi-week recovery period (and costing you much more in the long run). Even worse, the infection could become systemic and require an injection of antibiotic, followed by pills given daily at home until it clears up. Your cat's behavior in trying to scratch her ears or shaking her head may also break delicate blood vessels and cause more serious problems.

If the otitis externa is being caused by a foreign object, it can rupture the cat's eardrum. If the infections are chronic, the eardrum may become damaged and the ear canal close up, rendering kitty deaf. Because there are so many potential causes of otitis externa, it's important that your cat see a veterinarian as soon as you notice the symptoms.

Chronic ear infections can cause swelling that will progress to fibrosis and calcification of the ear cartilage that requires treatment with corticosteroids for up to a month. Secondary infections from a variety of bacteria can turn a mildly unpleasant situation into a serious medical condition.

What Treatment Involves

Your veterinarian will examine the cat's ear to see if the eardrum is still intact. If the infection is severe, the cat may need to be sedated even to perform the exam. A sample of the material in the cat's ear canal should be taken by the vet and examined under a microscope to identify the culprit. Knowing exactly what's causing the infection will determine which treatment should be used. There may even be more than one cause that calls for a multi-pronged treatment.

After an initial cleaning by the vet, you may need to clean the cat's ears twice daily with a medicated solution for a week or two. This usually involves holding the cat on your lap and squirting a small amount of the solution into the horizontal part of the ear, holding it closed for a few seconds as you massage it, then drying the ear with a cotton ball (not a cotton swab; it can push the material back into the ear canal) to remove dirt and any other material dislodged by the solution. You'll be able to hear the solution squishing around in the ear as you massage it. Proper care must be taken to avoid damaging the cat's eardrum while doing this.

Your cat will enjoy this about as much as you would enjoy having something squirted in your ear when it hurts, so it's recommended that you put a multi-folded towel underneath him so his claws will have something other than your thighs to grab onto. For particularly strong cats, you may need an extra person to help restrain him with a second towel, as he will try to push your hands away from his painful ear with his front paws. Wear some old clothes, as he'll shake his head once you've stopped massaging the ear, and any wax or discharge in the ear will fly all over you. After his treatment, you can reward kitty with a tasty treat. He'll be mad with you for a short time, but will get over it and soon be cuddling with you again once his painful ear has healed!

If the cause is allergies, your cat may need to receive regular therapy to treat the underlying allergy causing the infections.

In some severe cases, surgery may be required to open a closed ear canal. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on this. Sometimes this procedure can result in deafness on that side for the cat.

Worth A Pound of Cure

While you can't ensure that your cat never gets an ear infection, some precautionary measures will help. First keep your cat indoors so he won't be getting into fights with neighborhood cats. This also lowers his risk of being exposed to parasites like mites or ticks that can cause ear infections, as well as the more dangerous FeLV and FIV diseases.

Regularly cleaning your cat's ears will also keep wax from building up there and possibly causing problems. One cleaner we carry is Earoxide Cat by Tomlyn. It's used similar to the way the medications are administered, as described above, except that you don't need to dry the ears with the cotton ball after using it.

Ear Dr. from PetAlive is an all-natural treatment with herbs and olive oil. Keeping some on hand may be a good first line of defense if kitty starts scratching her ears a lot, but it won't substitute for an accurate diagnosis by a veterinarian.

The Bottom Line on Feline Ear Health

If your cat is showing symptoms of an ear infection, get to the veterinarian. It may be something simple, or it may be serious. Waiting to seek treatment will not only cause your cat to suffer longer, but could drive up your cost for treatment exponentially. Ear infections are not like that noise your car makes that you can turn up the radio to drown out!