Can Your Cat Catch an Ear Infection? The Contagious Truth About Feline Ear Infections

Can cats spread ear infections to each other?

Ear infections are common in cats, causing irritation, head shaking, and pain. As social creatures, pet cats frequently groom each other, share sleeping areas, and play in close contact. This raises the question—can a cat pass an ear infection to another cat? Understanding the contagious causes of feline ear infections provides insight into preventing spread between cats in a multi-pet household.

Causes of Ear Infections in Cats

There are several potential causes of ear infections in cats:

Bacteria and Yeast

Overgrowth of bacteria and yeast are common causes of feline ear infections. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, and Proteus can infect the external ear canal. Yeast overgrowth, usually Malassezia, can also lead to infection and inflammation (Source).


Ear mites are tiny parasites that can infest a cat’s ears and cause irritation and infection. The mites feed on ear wax and oils, leading to inflammation. Mites are highly contagious between cats (Source).

Foreign Objects and Trauma

Grass seeds, dirt, and other foreign material can get lodged in a cat’s ears, causing trauma, irritation, and potential infection. Vigorous scratching and head shaking can also cause self-trauma to the ears.


Allergies to food, pollen, mold, dust, and other irritants can trigger ear infections in cats. The allergens cause inflammation and excess wax production that blocks the ear canal.

Transmission Between Cats

Ear infections can spread between cats through close contact. Cats tend to groom each other frequently, so an infected cat can pass bacteria, yeast, or mites to another cat during grooming sessions. Licking around the head and ears is common during grooming. Sharing food bowls, water bowls, and sleeping areas also allows infectious agents to spread from cat to cat through saliva.

Upper respiratory infections are another way ear infections can transmit between cats. When an infected cat sneezes or coughs near another cat, bacteria and viruses can enter the ear canal. Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus are two common upper respiratory viruses in cats that may lead to secondary ear infections. Therefore, an infected cat should be isolated from other cats during treatment to prevent contagion.

Overall, any situation allowing saliva exchange between cats can potentially spread an ear infection from one cat to another. Keeping infected cats separate and sterilizing shared items can help minimize transmission risks.


Contagious Bacterial and Yeast Infections

Certain ear infections in cats can be transmitted between felines. The most common contagious causes of otitis externa (outer ear infection) are bacteria, yeast, and ear mites.

Bacterial infections such as Staphylococcus species are often secondary invaders that take hold after the ear canal’s normal defense barriers become compromised. Moisture, damage, and inflammation allow bacteria to multiply rapidly. Cats with floppy ear pinnae are more prone as moisture is trapped.

Yeast infections from Malassezia species can also spread between cats. The yeast thrives in the warm, moist environment of the ear canal. Allergies, swimming, ear mite infections, and excessive ear cleaning can trigger overgrowth of yeast.

However, the most common contagious ear invader in cats is the ear mite Otodectes cynotis. Highly contagious between cats, the mites cause intense itchiness. Left untreated, the infestation and scratching can lead to wounds vulnerable to secondary infection. Ear mites spread rapidly between cats in contact, so households with multiple cats are at high risk (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Non-Contagious Causes

While some ear infections in cats can be contagious, like those caused by parasites, bacteria or yeast, there are also many non-contagious causes of ear infections in cats:

Allergies – Allergies to food, flea bites, pollen or other environmental allergens can cause inflammation and irritation in a cat’s ears leading to infection. Allergies trigger the release of chemicals that cause itching and swelling.

Nasal Polyps – Growths in the nasal passage called polyps can obstruct drainage and cause fluid buildup in the ears, resulting in infection.

Autoimmune disorders – Disorders where the immune system attacks the body’s own cells can affect cats’ ears and make them prone to infections.

Hypothyroidism – An underactive thyroid gland results in a lowered metabolism and reduced immunity, making ear infections more likely.

Preventing Spread

There are several steps cat owners can take to prevent the spread of contagious ear infections between cats:

Regular ear cleaning is important. Gently wipe the outer ear with a cotton ball dampened with ear cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. Do this daily while infection is present and weekly for prevention. This helps remove debris, dirt and excess wax where bacteria or yeast can grow. Be very gentle during cleaning to avoid damaging the ear canal.

Use separate grooming supplies for infected cats. Do not share the same cotton balls, cleaning cloths or solutions between infected and healthy cats, as this can transfer infection. Disinfect or replace supplies after use.

Isolate infected cats during treatment whenever possible. Keep them separate from other household cats to prevent spread through grooming and other contact. Only allow contact again once prescribed medication regimen is complete and ears are clear.

For specific prevention against ear mites, applying a topical anti-parasitic medication prescribed by your veterinarian can kill the mites. All cats in the household should be treated simultaneously.

Stop community cats from accessing your house if strays are suspected source of infection. Discourage interaction with other neighborhood cats.

Consider immuno-compromised cats most at risk and keep them separated. Senior cats or those with preexisting conditions need extra care to avoid exposure.

Follow your veterinarian’s guidance to continue prevention after infection clears. This may include periodic cleaning and medication.


What Cat Owners Should Know About Ear Infections


To diagnose an ear infection in cats, a veterinarian will perform a thorough ear exam. This starts with a visual inspection of the outer ear and ear canal using an otoscope, which allows the vet to look for signs of inflammation, discharge, debris, redness, swelling or masses.

The veterinarian will also perform an ear swab, taking a sample from the ear canal to examine under a microscope. This cytology test allows the vet to identify any bacteria, yeast or mites present. Determining the exact cause of the infection is important for choosing the proper treatment.

According to Tucson Vet, the vet may also take a culture of the ear discharge to identify the specific type of bacteria or yeast involved in the infection.

In some cases, the veterinarian may wish to sedate or anesthetize the cat to perform a more thorough ear exam and cleaning. This allows for a better assessment of the ear canal and eardrum if the cat is unwilling or unable to let its ears be handled while awake.


Treatment for ear infections in cats depends on the underlying cause. Bacterial and yeast infections are commonly treated with antibiotics, antifungals, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Antibiotics like enrofloxacin, orbifloxacin, and marbofloxacin may be prescribed to fight bacterial infections like otitis externa. These are often administered as oral medications or ear drops for 7-14 days (1).

For fungal ear infections caused by yeast overgrowth, vets typically prescribe antifungal ear drops containing miconazole, clotrimazole, or nystatin 2-3 times per day for 2-4 weeks. Oral antifungals like itraconazole may also be used (2).

Corticosteroids like hydrocortisone or dexamethasone are often included in ear medications to help reduce swelling and itching. More severe cases may need an injectable steroid like prednisolone. Long-term oral steroids are avoided due to side effects (3).

For chronic or serious ear infections, surgery may be required to thoroughly flush and clean the ear canal. Total ear canal ablation removal (TECA) surgery may be done in severe recurrent cases unresponsive to other treatments.


With prompt treatment, the prognosis for ear infections in cats is usually good1. Most ear infections can be cured if caught early and treated properly before they spread deeper into the ear canal. However, chronic or recurring ear infections may indicate an underlying cause that needs to be addressed1.

Cats usually respond well to medication and return to normal once the infection clears. However, if the underlying cause is not identified and treated, the infection may continue to recur2. Prompt veterinary care can diagnose the cause and allow for appropriate treatment to avoid chronic issues.

With quick treatment, most ear infections will resolve within 7-10 days. More severe or chronic cases may take 4-6 weeks or longer to fully clear3. Follow up exams will be needed to ensure the infection has resolved completely.


In summary, ear infections in cats can sometimes spread between cats, especially bacterial and yeast infections which are contagious. However, many ear infections have non-contagious causes like allergies, polyps, trauma or ear mites. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and proper treatment. Prompt diagnosis and following treatment guidelines can lead to a good prognosis in most cases.

Regular cleaning and periodic exams by a veterinarian can help prevent and catch ear infections early. Limiting contact with infected cats and keeping a clean home environment helps reduce contagious spread. Completing the full course of any prescribed medications is essential.

While uncomfortable for cats, most ear infections are treatable with veterinary care. Left untreated, they can lead to more serious complications. Overall, being aware of the signs and seeking timely veterinary diagnosis and treatment provides the best opportunity for a full recovery.

Scroll to Top