Cat Care

How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears: The Ultimate Guide

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As a happy cat owner, you might be wondering how to clean the ears of your precious pet and whether or not you should even do that.

Great question! After all, there so many assumptions around this mysterious body part, that it might be a bit difficult for you to figure out what is right and what is wrong.

In a nutshell, you might have to clean your cat’s ears if they start getting dirty. In case the fluffy ball is prone to infections or wax build-up, it would require assistance.

Even though we are used to thinking of cats as ‘self groomers, because of the horizontal structure of the ear canal, they are not able to keep this body part nice and clean on their own.

How do you know if the cute ears need cleaning? And if they do, what would you need for the procedure? Don’t you worry – we have the answers to all of your questions.

About Ear Structure in Cats

To understand the dos and don’ts of cats’ ear cleaning to a tee, we should first have a quick look at the structure of this body part.

You might already know that cats hear better than humans. However, some kittens are even more sensitive to sound than dogs.

The organ is responsible not only for hearing but also for balance.

The outer ear consists of the ear canal and the pinna. The latter is the part that you can see and it is, basically, cartilage covered by skin. Cats have pinnae that can move independently.

The canal gets quite deep and is, unfortunately, prone to wax and dirt build-up. The fact that this ear part is horizontal makes it practically impossible for the cat to clean its own ears.

Fun fact: the strange pockets on your cat’s ears are called ‘Henry’s pockets. No one knows for sure what these things are for. Possibly, to enhance the cat’s hearing.

The middle ear is made up of the eardrum and a chamber with three bones – the stirrup, anvil, and hammer.

The inner ear consists of the cochlea that makes it possible for the cats to hear and the vestibular system. The system plays a crucial role in maintaining balance.

Of course, all we can do, as regular pet owners, is carefully inspect the outer ear. And this is where your next question might arise…

Should You Clean Your Cat’s Ears?

You may not have to clean the ears of your pet at all. If they are clean, don’t perform any manipulations.

However, what you would have to do, is regularly check the outer ear. Even if the ears were clean during all the previous years, that does not mean that they’ll stay like that forever.

In case you have spotted that the ears of your fluffy ball have too much wax (bear in mind that having a little amount of wax is ok) or dirt in them, you would have to assist the little guy.

How Do You Know If the Cat’s Ears Need Cleaning?

Examine the ears at least once a week to ensure that you don’t miss any infection or other problems.

You would have to clean the cat’s ears, in case you have noticed excess wax or debris. Also, do pay attention to the smell – odor might be a sign of infection.

You can repeat the procedure once a week or less often. If you are not quite sure – ask your vet to come up with a grooming schedule for you.

Noticed any discharge, redness, or irritation? It is always better to take the ball of happiness to the veterinarian and skip the at-home procedures this time.

What Supplies Are You Going to Need to Clean the Cat’s Ears?

Let’s start from a very important ‘don’t’.

Please, do not use Q-tips. It is just too dangerous as the applicators may push the wax or dirt even further into the canal, traumatize the ear canal, or (worst-case scenario) perforate the eardrum.

Here is a list of the supplies that you are going to need:

A cleaning fluid

Don’t use hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or vinegar to clean the ears of your precious pet. In fact, it is better to use a cleaning formula made specifically for that. Some owners might recommend olive oil – the chances are high that the oil won’t do any harm to the ears, but a professional ear cleaning solution is the best option.
Your veterinarian will help you pick the best cleaning fluid.

A dropper

Some solutions already come in convenient packaging. For those that don’t, you might want to get a dropper that will make it a lot easier to get the fluid into the cat’s ears.

Cotton gauze pads

You can also use a cotton makeup pad. You will be using the thing to clean and dry the delicate ears.

A blanket or a towel (optional)

A soft towel will help you calm the fluffy ball down during the stressful procedure.

Treats (optional)

Don’t forget to give a treat to your cat for going through the cleaning process with dignity and grace.

Someone to help (optional, but recommended)

You might need help from another person in handling the little guy. The assistant will also make sure that the cat doesn’t hurt you or itself.

How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears?

Now that you have prepared all the necessary supplies, you are finally ready to clean the ears of your precious cat. Make sure to follow our step-by-step guide (the whole process will take you around 10 minutes).

  • Warm the cleaning fluid, if it’s cold. You can do it by placing the container in warm water for a few minutes.
  • Wrap the fluffy ball in a towel or blanket, sit in a comfortable position, and put the little guy in your lap.
  • Here is your chance to also clean the area around the ears. Check the skin and the fur for any dirt and knots.
  • Gently pull back the tip of the pinna, so that you can examine the ear canal. It will also help you to straighten the canal out a bit, making the whole procedure easier.
  • If you notice any discharge, inflammation, mites, or a strange smell postpone the procedure and call your veterinarian.
  • Talk to the cat with a soft voice to comfort the pet.
  • Hold the tip of the pinna with one hand and the cleaning fluid with another. If you have a helper, ask him to hold the cat and ensure that it doesn’t run away.
  • Squeeze enough solution into the ear, so that it ‘floods’ the canal. Some fluid might spill, but don’t worry – it’s normal.
  • The dropper or the bottle with the cleaning solution has to be close to the ear, but ensure that the tip doesn’t actually touch the ear. In such a case, you would have to disinfect the dropper with alcohol, for example.
  • Put the solution down and start massaging the base of the ear (right below the opening). This will help the fluid break up the dirt. The massage session has to last for at least 10 seconds; don’t be surprised, if you hear squishy sounds – this means that the fluid is moving around the canal.
  • Use your gauze to wipe away any dirt from the pinna. Your other hand should be still gently holding the tip of the ear.
  • Now, the cat would want to shake its head. This will be helpful, as the remaining dirt and fluid will start to move out of the canal.
  • Remove the dirt and the fluid from the outer ear and the canal with the help of the gauze pad. Don’t go too deep and don’t put your finger into the canal. Simply make sure that the entrance is clean.
  • Give your fluffy friend a treat.
  • Repeat the same thing with the other ear. If you feel comfortable doing two ears at once, you can totally do that.

Stop the cleaning process, if you can feel that the cat is in pain. This may be a sign of inflammation or other problems, so you would have to take a trip to the vet.

By the way, if you need to apply any type of medication into the ears, clean them first and then squeeze the right number of drops into the ear.

Over-cleaning might be just as bad as too-little-cleaning. Usually, you would need to repeat all the steps once a week. But if the ears are clean even after a week, feel free to leave your cat’s body part alone for a longer period (until they get a little dirty).

What to Keep an Eye on During Cleaning

Eye cleaning is not only an important grooming procedure. It also gives you an additional chance to do a quick health check-up.

These are the signs that might mean that something is wrong:

  • Discharge in the form of pus, blood, or other fluid
  • Redness
  • Odor
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity or even pain
  • Masses around the outer ear
  • Excess scratching
  • Mites
  • Bold patches
  • Excessive ear wax

When Should You Call a Vet?

If you have noticed any of the symptoms mentioned above, call your vet.

Inaction might lead to serious health issues that include hearing loss.

The symptoms may be signs of mites (that like to eat the wax and dirt found inside the ears) or an infection.

A wide range of factors can cause an ear infection.

Mites are a problem on their own, but if untreated, they can cause inflammation as well. Your furry friend can start to scratch its ears because of a food allergy. Foreign bodies that are stuck in the canal can also cause problems (look out for grass, for example).

Any ear injury can lead to the development of an infection. Cats are passionate explorers, so a lot of them end up scratching themselves a bit. What you can do is perform regular check-ups in search of scratches and other traumas and make sure that the cleaning procedure is 100% safe for the ears.

Finally, wax build-up may result in an infection. Bacteria love snacking on wax and dirt.

More Tips on Cleaning Your Cat’s Ears

It is better to initiate the cleaning process when your pet is in a relaxed state. You wouldn’t want to cause the little guy even more stress in case he’s already a bit too overwhelmed, right?

Ideally, you would want to clean both ears in one go or at least on the same day. But if your cat is not in the mood for it, you can clean the second ear the other day.

Some cats might have excess hair inside their ears that ‘collect’ dirt. A professional groomer (or your vet) can remove it.

Don’t forget to give a treat to your beloved cat after the cleaning procedure. The fluffy ball will get used to the process much faster if in anticipation of a yummy treat.

Know when to surrender. In case you feel like you can’t clean your cat’s ears without hurting the little fella, leave the procedure to a professional.

Let’s Wrap It Up

As a responsible owner, you want to know how to take perfect care of your dear cat. Hopefully, now you are a real pro in everything that concerns ear cleaning.

The chances are that your cat might not require any assistance at all. But if it does need your help one day, you will be there to perform the procedure.

The main rules are pretty simple.

Check the ears of your fluffy friend on a regular basis (at least once and week) and keep an eye on any changes. If you have noticed something suspicious (like odor, inflammation, discharge, and so on), call your vet.

All-in-all, ear cleaning is a relatively simple procedure, in case you know exactly what to do. As an additional bonus, it will also allow you to spend some one-on-one time with your beloved pet. And that is priceless, right?