Your cat’s ears can get dirty for a variety of reasons: ear mites, bacterial infection, yeast infection, or just plain old wax buildup. Routinely check your cat’s ears to determine if she needs cleaning. Any chronically gross ears or ones that smell bad should be checked by your veterinarian, including having a swab checked out under a microscope to identify the cause of the problem. Regular ear cleaning, however, is something you should be able to tackle at home.
-Pet-safe commercial ear cleaner
Choosing a Cleaner
You can find a pet-safe ear cleaner solution at your veterinarian’s office, local pet stores, or online. A generic ear cleaner is fine for routine ear cleaning, but if your cat has a problem in his ear, your veterinarian may suggest a medicated cleaner.
Avoid things like vinegar, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide unless specifically recommended by your veterinarian—no matter what someone advises you. These solutions can be irritating to your cat’s skin—alcohol in particular stings when it contacts an open scratch.
Some ear cleaners work by loosening up debris and drying out the ear canal, which helps to prevent bacterial accumulation. Others break up tough chunks of earwax to make them easier (and less painful) to remove.
-Soak a cotton ball with a few drops of ear cleaner.
-Place the cotton ball inside your cat’s ear and gently compress the ear so that the solution drips into the ear canal. This will loosen up the debris farther in.
-Use a clean cotton ball to gently wipe out the ear.
-Use cotton-tipped swabs to remove debris from the crevices of the ear. Don’t reach the swab farther into the ear than you can easily see. If you go in any deeper, you may damage your cat’s ear drum.
-Continue until the cotton swabs come back clean.
-Do a final wipe with a clean cotton ball to dry out the ear.
Helpful Tip: You can also apply ear cleaner directly into your cat’s ear. However, most cats seem to find the cotton-ball method a little less offensive than the liquid going into the ear.
You may be thinking that those instructions are missing the step where you seek medical attention after your cat scratches your arm to ribbons. There are a couple of options for safely restraining your cat for an ear cleaning.
Less is more. Active restraint will get many cats on edge, especially if they are not handled often. Approach your cat when he is relaxed and comfortable, and gently rub his face. Then casually start to clean his ears. You might be surprised—many cats will just sit there and let you do your job.
Kitty burrito time. Wrapping your cat up in a towel or thick blanket will help to keep his claws contained. There’s a trick to it, though, so see our February 2018 “Emergency Cat Restraint” article for more details (available at catwatchnewsletter.com).
Phone a friend. You may need a friend to hold and pet your cat while you clean his ears. Brief your helper on the best restraint method for your cat and take precautions to make sure that everyone stays safe.
Even a course of medication begins with cleaning the ears
If your cat’s ear or ears are infested with mites, bacteria, or yeast, a proper ear cleaning will be the first step to remove as much debris as possible. Then your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate medication.
While systemic medications given orally can sometimes work, topicals that are put directly into the ear are generally more effective and have fewer side effects. Some medications only need to be applied once a day, while others require more frequent dosing. Continue to treat for as long as you have been instructed by your veterinarian—even if the infection appears to have resolved sooner. There may be some stubborn hangers-on that require those extra days to fully treat the infection.
When placing an ear medication in your cat’s ear, try to get the tip of the bottle as far down as possible, then massage your cat’s ear immediately after applying the medication. This will help to ensure that as much of the medication as possible gets into the ear and is not shaken out. Never use ear medication without consulting your veterinarian first, as many medications can be dangerous to your cat if your cat’s eardrum is perforated.