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Epithelial Cells In Cat EarsUpdated 10 months ago

There are two types of skin cells commonly seen under the microscope (1000x magnification) on an ear swab sample cytology: corneocytes and keratinocytes. 

Corneocytes are “dead skin flakes” on the surface layer of skin which flake off as they’re replaced by newer, deeper layers of skin cells. Keratinocytes are living skin cells (with a nucleus), found just underneath the corneocytes in the skin layer. So, it’s common and quite normal to find small (occasional) numbers of each under the microscope. An ear swab sample is expected to wipe off low numbers of corneocytes and fewer numbers of the deeper keratinocytes if the skin of the ear is healthy. 

Larger quantities of both types of skin cells are common if the ear is inflamed (red, sore, swollen) and/or if a microbe (bacteria, yeast) infection or ear mite infestation is underway. Therefore, it’s important to interpret the skin cell results along with the other cytology results for the same ear. If the skin cell counts are high (1+, 2+, 3+, 4+) in your cat's ear swab samples, and combined with high numbers of bacteria and/or yeast (or any ear mites), and/or with one or more clinical signs (e.g., scratching at head), then a physical exam of your cat's ears is needed by a veterinarian.

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