Do I Need to Clean My Cat’s Ears?

Depending on your cat’s grooming habits and environment, the need for ear cleaning may vary. Many cats are excellent self-groomers, rarely requiring ear care, while others, not as diligent with their grooming, will need routine cleanings to help ward off infection. Generally, if you notice wax, dirt, or other debris, then it is probably time for a cleaning.

Periodic cleanings and regular at-home examinations will allow you to detect ear issues early, allowing for timelier treatment options. If you suspect your cat may have an ear problem, request an appointment with your local veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment often offers a better prognosis, can reduce the potential for chronic disease and hearing loss, and may also provide earlier relief for any discomfort your cat may be experiencing.

How Will I Know If My Cat Has an Ear Infection?

As your cat’s owner, you will be the first line of defense in detecting anything abnormal about your cat’s behavior or physical health. Keep an eye out for signs of infection, such as:

  • Ear discharge
  • Odor around the ear
  • Excess scratching, pawing or rubbing at the ears
  • Redness in the ear canal
  • Sensitivity or pain around the ears
  • Ear swelling
  • Masses around the ear area

How Can I Help Prevent Ear Infections?

Periodic cleanings, especially when you notice excess buildup in your cat’s ears, are a great way to help your cat avoid a painful infection or disease. For normal ears, choose a mild ear cleaner specifically designed for use on pets. It’s generally best to avoid vinegar, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide, which can irritate the skin of some cats and be painful to an already-inflamed ear canal.

There are several types of cleaners to choose from when preparing for an ear cleaning. Some cleaners are designed to break up wax while others are meant to dry the ear canal. You may also opt for combination products, which are designed to do a bit of both. Consult your local veterinarian for your cat’s best options.

How Should I Prepare My Cat for an Ear Cleaning?

For the best results, begin your ear cleaning with a good general grooming. Excess, dirty, or matted hair should be removed from around the ear canal and the ear flap. Heavy, matted, moist ear flaps, surrounding hair, and excessively hairy ear canals will decrease air flow to the ear canal, making it possible for wax and other debris to build up, potentially leading to infection.

In some cats, excess hair may need to be gently removed from inside the ear canal; note, this must be done carefully to avoid damaging the ear canal and minimize discomfort to your pet. Consider having a professional groomer or medical professional remove the hair if needed.

How Should I Clean My Cat’s Ears?

After grooming the areas around the ears, prepare your cat for the cleaning. Remember, above all else, be gentle! The ear canals and flaps are sensitive, and overly aggressive cleanings may cause serious damage to the delicate structures of your cat’s inner-ear.

Begin by dribbling a small amount (enough to fill the canal but not overflow) of the appropriate ear cleaning solution into the ear. Massage gently for five to ten seconds at the ear base as the solution drips deep into the ear canal. You will probably hear the solution squish around as you massage, which is normal. This step should not be painful for your cat. If it is, have your cat examined immediately by your local veterinarian. Repeat the process with your cat’s other ear.

How Should I Clean The Area After The Treatment?

After the massaging, stand back and let your pet shake his or her head to bring the softened wax up out of the ear canals. Use clean cotton balls to gently wipe out and up the canal, removing any wax or cleaning solution you see. For smaller cats, you may need to use cotton balls that have been pulled in half.

We recommend avoiding the use of cotton swabs, unless you are certain your cat will be very still and allow ear care without moving his or her head. Even then, however, never place the swab into the ear canal. A cotton swab placed too deeply or forcefully into the ear can cause ear drum damage, pain, and even complete hearing loss. The ears are particularly sensitive areas, so always use caution when cleaning them.

Need More Information?

If you have any more questions about your pet’s health, contact your local veterinarian, check out our Pet Health Resource, Pet Health Concern, or Ask a Vet libraries, or feel free to browse through some of the ear care links below.

Update 1/06/2016