How to Clean a Cat’s Ears

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PetMD Editorial
Published: February 16, 2016

By Elizabeth Xu

Your cat probably seems pretty self-sufficient (except for when they need you for a treat or some food, or course) and it might even seem like they have self-care figured out, thanks to all that grooming that goes on. Unfortunately, that’s only partially true; sometimes, especially if they have ear problems, our cats must rely on us for a good, safe ear cleaning.

Veterinarians know all about cleaning your cat’s ears and can take care of it easily, however, if you prefer to take care of them at home, there are a few things you can do to make the process go smoothly. Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell, DVM at the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore, Maryland, lent her expertise when it comes to cleaning your cat’s ears, from how often you should do it to tips that will make the process easier.

Why Should You Clean Your Cat’s Ears?

Cats are fairly good at keep themselves tidy, something you’ve likely observed if you’ve spent any time with a feline friend, and their ears are especially good at taking care of themselves, as they have a natural, built-in cleaning mechanism in which the wax migrates toward the external part of the ear, Cottrell said.

However, if your cat has had any ear issues, like ear mites, blood blisters or ear infections, a cleaning is likely necessary. A cat’s ears should also be cleaned thoroughly by a vet before topical medication is applied so the medication can be effective, Cottrell said. Check your cat’s ears regularly for any signs of abnormality.

How Often Should You Clean a Cat’s Ears?

Though it might be counter-intuitive, there’s a chance your cat will never need an ear cleaning, though it definitely varies from cat to cat.

“Owners of cats with healthy ears can evaluate the ears once a month for debris and odor,” Cottrell said. “If any abnormalities are noted, a thorough evaluation by a veterinarian is warranted.” Additionally, there’s a chance your cat will need an ear cleaning more often if they’ve experienced ear inflammation, and Cottrell recommends a weekly cleaning after the inflammation is treated.

How Do You Clean a Cat’s Ears?

It might take some practice if you’ve never cleaned your cat’s ears before, but luckily the process is pretty straightforward. Complete the following steps with cleaning solution and gauze close at hand:

  1. Start with pulling back the earflap gently and fill one ear canal with a cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian.
  2. Massage the ear base for five to ten seconds, and then let your cat shake the solution out.
  3. Wrap gauze around your finger to clean excess liquid out of the ear canal; and don’t worry, your finger can’t go in far enough to cause damage, according to Cottrell.
  4. Repeat with the other ear.

Tips for How to Clean a Cat’s Ears

Even if you think your cat needs an ear cleaning, your feline friend may have a different opinion. Here are a few tips to help you through the process:

  • Have a second person your hold your cat while cleaning her ears to keep her from moving.
  • Never use a Q-tip in the ear canal, as Cottrell says it can damage the eardrum and push debris further inside the ear. Instead, use a Q-tip to only clean visible earflap folds.
  • Before you begin the cleaning process, it can be helpful to wrap the cat in a towel to keep them still, Cottrell said.
  • Remember how your cat will shake its head to get out that excess liquid? Cottrell has one last, important tip: “Be sure and close your eyes and mouth before letting your cat shake its head!” 

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