Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bacteria can cause ear infections in cats

Paws & Claws

Jill Bowen has practiced veterinary medicine in England and Texas. She lives in Blacksburg now, and answers local pet owners' questions every week in The Roanoke Times and roanoke.com.

Recent columns

Q. My 2-year-old cat seems to have a chronic ear problem. She had ear mites when we got her that cleared up quickly with treatment. But she still has an ear problem. She has had two different ointments, but the infection keeps coming back.

A. Bacteria and/or yeasts are the usual cause of chronic ear infections in cats. Treatment consists of taking a swab from the infected ear and culturing it to see which bacterium grows and to which drug the bacterium is sensitive. The swab is also checked under the microscope to look for yeast organisms and to make sure that there has been no re-infestation from ear mites. Cats that hunt can pick up another ear mite infection by poking their heads into rabbit burrows, as wild rabbits often harbor ear mites. If the cat is still showing signs of ear irritation in spite of being treated with the correct ointment, there is a third possibility. Some cats have over-active glands in the ear producing an excessive wax buildup and waxy ears are itchy and uncomfortable. Your veterinarian will be able to show you how to clean the ears safely. Baby wipes are excellent for cleaning the outer ear area.

Q. My cats love tuna. We feed them commercial canned cat food containing tuna most days. As a treat on Sundays, we give them a can of people tuna. I recently read that children fed 6 ounces of tuna once a week on a regular basis could have brain damage. Am I harming my cats?

A. Research has shown that levels of mercury are higher in canned tuna for human consumption than in commercial tuna containing cat foods. So obviously it is better to feed your cats commercial cat food rather than canned tuna for people. The effects of mercury poisoning have been studied extensively in dogs and cats; most cases of clinical mercury toxicity are the result of the pet licking a topical ointment that contains mercury. The clinical signs of mercury poisoning are fairly dramatic and involve the nervous system. These include weakness, knuckling over at the wrists and hocks, tremors and disorientation. Some animals die. If you are concerned that your cats may have consumed excess mercury, your veterinarian can take blood and urine samples. Laboratory tests on the blood, plasma and urine can detect and measure the mercury levels in your cats. These tests will be able to accurately assess any threat of poisoning. Meantime, wean your cats off tuna to meat-based cat foods.

Q. We have a new baby and two middle-aged cats. A friend from Mexico said I should ban them from the house as they could smother the baby. Is this true?

A. There are many stories and old wivestales about cats hurting newborn babies by smothering them or sucking the breath out of them. By and large, these are just stories and have no basis in fact. I know of one recorded case of a large cat sleeping on the chest of a newborn baby thus impeding the breathing and causing accidental death. Cats' instinctive curiosity means they will want to investigate the new baby. Because the baby will smell "milky" and is sleeping in a cozy crib, cats might think it is a good place to sleep there, too, so it is important to make sure that the cats are never left in the baby's room on their own. As an added precaution, there are nets available from baby shops that are similar to mosquito nets to prevent cats from joining the baby.

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