Ear-cleaning is an important part of a cat's health so it's important that you regular tackle the task. Follow these tips to ensure you don't damage your cat's ears during cleaning.

By Melissa A. Kay
Updated August 17, 2018

Most cats groom themselves from top to bottom, so you may never need to take part in their everyday cleaning process. Their ear wax moves toward the external area of their ears, so they are effectively self-cleaning for the most part.

There may, however, come a time when cleaning your cat's ears will become an important part of your pet care routine. Check with your veterinarian to find out if you should be assisting your cat with ear cleaning—perhaps she develops an ear infection, mite infestation, allergies, or unusual odor. The effects of aging, illness, or injury can also limit your cat's self-cleaning capabilities. When such a need arises, follow these simple and straightforward guidelines to keep your cat's ears healthy and clean.

Start Ear Checks When Your Cat is Young

Try to inspect your cat's ears as early as possible. Even if your cat doesn't need your help to keep her ears clean, the routine will get your cat accustomed to the practice of you touching and tending to her ears. Reinforce the positive aspects of the process by providing a small treat for good behavior. Be sure to check the ears while your cat seems calm. Too much distraction or hyperactivity will aggravate her and make it difficult when you need to repeat this later. It can be easier to get a kitten used to the process. When working with an older cat, especially one that is quite nervous, it can be difficult to get her relaxed enough and comfortable with the process. A veterinarian can step in in this case.

Position Yourself (and Your Cat) for Success

Depending on how cooperative your cat is, aside from holding her tightly and securely, you may find that swaddling her in a bath towel is helpful. This will keep her feeling safe and will prevent any biting or scratching (or escaping). You can also have someone help you by holding the cat while you do the cleaning. Doing it while seated will give you more control. Make sure you put her in a position where you can more easily look into her ears while holding her—your lap or an elevated surface such as a counter works well.

Make Ear Cleaning a Pleasant Process

Your cat is a keen detector, knowing when you are about to do something unpleasant to her such as administer a pill. She'll find a spot to hide in until she believes the threat is over. The trick is to either distract her by first playing with her or clean her ears when she is already in a relaxed state. Make sure to give her a treat before and after the cleaning so she associates the task with a positive outcome.

Inspect the Ear Area Before Cleaning

Before you start the actual cleaning process, give your cat’s ears a good inspection. You're looking for any swelling, dry skin, debris, extra earwax or smells, as these can indicate other medical issues you should address with your vet. You can use a small flashlight to examine the ear canal. Conduct a smell test each time you clean her ears so you are able to detect when her ears smell different. An unpleasant smell coming from your cat's ears is a sure sign of an issue.

The ear-cleaning process may need to begin with a grooming. If there is dirty, matted hair around the ear it can cause decreased airflow to the ear canal, and wax and other dirt can build up and cause an infection. If there is already dirt and matted hair around the ear you should remove the hair from around the ear canal and the ear flap (an area called the pinna).

Treat Your Cat’s Ears Like You Would Your Own

Just as humans are warned to never stick a cotton swab into the ear canal, the same goes for our feline friends. Vets say you can use cotton swabs to clean away debris from the outer earflap folds, but never dig inside.

To clean deep down, your vet can supply or recommend a safe liquid solution to apply inside the ear. Hold the tip of the ear back so you can see all the way inside, so cleaning is done with as much precision and effectiveness as possible. As you hold the tip back, apply the solution as directed and rub the base of the ear to guide it downward. As you might expect, your cat will shake its head to try to remove the residue. This is perfectly fine, and you can clear away the excess by wrapping medical gauze around your fingertip and wiping it off gently. A cotton ball or pad will work just as effectively. Repeat on the other ear.

Don’t Overclean Your Cat’s Ears

Once a week for normal cleaning is satisfactory. An indoor cat will need fewer cleanings than an outdoor cat but just check the ears weekly. If your cat has an ear infection or another ear-related medical condition, follow the vet's orders for appropriate cleaning frequency.


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