Have you recently noticed your cat’s ears turning black at the tips? Are you worried this may be a sign of cancer?
When the tips of a cat’s ears turn black, it could be a sign of skin cancer. However, there are several other less severe conditions, such as ear mites and ear infections, that can also cause your cat’s ears to have black discharge.
There are a few ways to tell whether your cat’s ears look like they have cancer or another problem. Read on for more information!
5 reasons your cat’s ears are turning black
When a cat’s ear tips turn black, it could be a sign of skin cancer.
The most common type of skin cancer that creates this necrosis (decay of the tissue) is squamous cell carcinoma.
This is a malignant and invasive skin cancer that latches onto cells on scaly tissue, usually open cavities like the ear and nose.
Signs of skin cancer will create red sores on the tips of the ears that crust over.
The tips of the ears can even begin to decay and become malformed, turning them black. If left unchecked, this type of skin cancer spreads to other organs.
Cats can get a microscopic parasite called ear mites. Mites multiply and create waste in the ear that causes a smelly discharge that turns black.
The discharge will be focused in the ear canal, but the discharge can reach the tips of the ears if it is severe enough. At this point, the cat will begin to shake its head and lay its ears flat.
Ear mites are highly contagious, but adult cats don’t usually get them unless introduced by other cats.
Kittens and outdoor cats are more susceptible. Ear mites are easily treated with topical medications.
Another cause of your cat’s ear tips turning black could be an ear infection.
Cats get ear infections far less frequently than dogs, but if they shake their heads and scratch their ears continuously, this can be a sign of infection.
Their scratching causes lesions that become black scabs. The infection may also cause a black, foul-smelling discharge that looks very similar to ear mite discharge.
Ear infections can be caused by fungi, foreign bodies, bacteria, tumors, or ear mites. A vet can diagnose why the cat’s ear is infected and treat the true cause.
Hematomas are essentially blood blisters. They can form on a cat’s ear due to excessive scratching.
Blood blisters can have a dark brown to black-like coloration due to the blood pooling up under the skin.
Hematomas will be squishy like blisters and cause a swollen lump that can make the ear droop. Similar to infections, hematomas are a secondary illness.
You need to find the root cause of the scratching to treat the hematomas properly. If the hematoma is small, the blister can be drained at the vet’s office.
However, surgery is often needed for larger and more serious ones.
Objects stuck in a cat’s ears are called foreign objects. A foreign object can cause infection or hematoma, which results in a tell-tale black discharge.
If the object is visible and doesn’t appear to pose any danger to the cat’s ear, you can gently remove it with a pair of tweezers.
However, if it is stuck inside the ear canal, has pierced the cat’s ear in any way, or is too small to grip properly, you should take your cat to the vet to get the object removed.
Are skin cancers on cat’s ears common?
Skin cancer is the second most common cancer in cats behind Feline Lymphoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma, which decays cats’ scaly tissues, makes up about 15% of all skin cancers in cats.
This type of skin cancer affects the mouth more commonly than the ears, so ear cancers in cats are actually relatively infrequent.
An older cat has a higher chance of getting skin cancers than younger cats, and if your cat gets ear infections often, they are also more at-risk.
In addition, the color of your cat might affect how susceptible your cat is to skin cancers of the ear.
White cats’ pale fur allows sunlight to penetrate their skin more readily than cats with darker fur.
Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause the skin cells to divide and multiply, which manifests as cancer.
Siamese, Himalayan, and Persians have a slightly lower risk of getting the disease. They have a protective layer of pigment (the points of their fur) that keeps them safer from the sun’s harmful rays.
Yet, dark-colored cats can also get this type of skin cancer.
In fact, it may be harder to detect cancerous tissue on darker cats because it’s harder to see that the tips of your cat’s ear are turning black when your pet has black fur.
Still, dark-furred cats have an even smaller chance of getting skin cancer on their ears than white cats.
Scientists have labeled a few possible causes for this disease in dark cats: Bowen’s disease (a virus), trauma to the ears, and tobacco smoke. Sometimes there is no recognizable reason for a cat getting skin cancer.
How to prevent cat’s ears from turning black
Keep your cat away from extreme sunlight.
You may want to keep your cat indoors exclusively, especially if your cat is white and you live in an area of the world that receives significant sunlight.
If you notice pink, scaly areas on your cat’s skin, the vet can prescribe sunscreen for your cat to prevent serious damage. This will help prevent skin cancers.
Clean your cat’s ears properly.
Cleaning a cat’s ears occasionally will help prevent most of the illnesses that cats will get in their ears. Here is a step-by-step process for properly cleaning your cat’s ears.
1) Cat-safe cleaning aid
Use over-the-counter cleaners approved by your vet to clean your cat’s ears. A quick trip to a pet store will reveal many suitable options for you to use.
2) Clean your cat’s ear with a cotton ball.
Soak a cotton ball with the cleaner. Get yourself and your cat comfortable.
If your cat fidgets, you may want to gently wrap its body in a blanket or towel to prevent it from scratching you.
You can also get another person to help you by holding the cat while you drop some of the liquid into your cat’s ear via the soaked cotton ball.
3) Massage the base of the ear.
Be gentle. Let your cat shake its head. This is a natural response to the liquid being in the ear canal.
It will get the excess liquid out and help you by spreading the cleaner throughout the ear canal.
Use the cotton ball to wipe up any debris from the ear’s opening. Do not stick anything inside the ear canal.
4) Repeat with the other ear.
When to bring your cat to the vet?
It is essential to get your cat’s ears checked out if the tips are turning black or if there is any type of discharge coming from them, whether you believe the problem is serious or not.
If left untreated, secondary infections can set in, causing your cat a lot of discomfort. A vet can diagnose and treat the ears accordingly.
Taking your pet to the vet when you suspect it is sick is the best way to prevent more serious problems.
Follow the vet’s directions.
Antibiotics will be prescribed either in pill or shot form if it is an infection. Antifungal medications will be given for ear infections caused by fungus.
For ear mites, you can get an over-the-counter topical ear drop, but having your vet verify the diagnosis of ear mites is important.
Then, your vet will prescribe a clinical version of the over-the-counter ear solution.
If your cat has a foreign object, the cat will have to undergo light anesthesia, and the object will be surgically removed.
Make sure that you give your cat their medicine as directed; skipping a dose can make it harder for your cat to get rid of their infection.
Let the vet perform tests and therapies.
If skin cancer is suspected, the vet will want to perform a biopsy to examine the cat’s tissue.
If skin cancer is diagnosed early, surgery could remove the affected tissue. Radiation therapy is reserved for more severe cases of skin cancer. These are usually pretty intense.
Veterinarians may also suggest cryotherapy, which is freezing the affected tissues, for serious cancer cases. This can help isolate the spread of the cancerous cells.
Indoor cats don’t suffer much from ear problems; however, some cats are more susceptible to ear disease.
If the tips of your cat’s ears are turning black, you may want to consider all of the possibilities—serious or otherwise—and contact a vet to treat your pet.