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Cats are great self-groomers, but one place they can't groom is their ears. Knowing how to clean a cat's ears is an important skill to have if you need to lend a helping hand. Cleaning a cat's ears at home allows you to identify any health issues your kitty may have such as built-up debris, ear mites or an infection.
Getting Started: Supplies You'll Need
Before learning how to clean their ears, gather your supplies. Once you get started, you'll want everything within arm's reach.
Here's what you'll need:
- Cotton gauze pads
- Cleaning fluid formulated specifically for cleaning cat ears
- Towel or blanket to wrap around your cat, if necessary
The Animal Medical Center of Chicago recommends that you speak with your veterinarian before purchasing an ear cleaner. Astringents like vinegar, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can harm your cat's delicate ears.
How to Clean Cat Ears
Hold your fur baby in your lap and gently hold them in place. Is your kitty a reluctant cuddler? If so, this is when the towel comes in handy. Safely pick up your cat and wrap them securely in a towel before putting them on your lap. If you have a human helper, they can hold your cat while you clean the ears or vice versa.
- If your cat is yelling or looking at you with "What, are you crazy?" eyes, speak to them with a soft, soothing voice and shower them with loving pets. Continue this throughout the cleaning and afterward, so they associate it with positive interactions.
- Check your cat's ears for debris, ear mites (which appear as tiny brown or red spots), inflammation, discharge or built-up wax. Also, pay attention to foul odors, advises the RSPCA Australia, and dermatological problems likes bumps, scratches and lesions, which can be signs of infection. If these signs are present, contact your vet right away for treatment advice before you clean.
- If your cat's ears pass the visual and sniff tests, gently pull back their ear flap, which is known as the pinna. Working alone? You can do this! Fold back the flap with one hand and use the other hand to hold the bottle of ear cleaner.
- Hold the bottle of ear cleaner close to your cat's ear but don't put the bottle tip in the ear. If the tip touches your cat's ear, clean the tip with an alcohol wipe before using it. This reduces the spread of bacteria and yeast, which are common causes of infection.
- Place a few drops of cleaner in each ear, then gently massage the outside of their ear, especially the base, to make sure the cleaner covers the ear. The cleaner loosens the debris, making it easier to remove.
- Your kitty's going to shake their head when the cleaner drops in and the cleaner will probably splash onto their fur, but that's OK. It won't harm your furry friend.
- Use a cotton pad to wipe out debris from your cat's ear. Again, never put anything, including your finger, into your kitty's ear canal.
- Repeat the process on the other ear. Is your cat stressed out? Try the other ear another time.
Incorporate an ear check into your cat's weekly routine. If you see or smell anything unusual, contact your vet. Unless you see obvious signs of debris, it's not necessary to clean your cat's ears very often. For most cats, every few months is fine.
Benefit of Cleaning Cat Ears
Cleaning your cat's ears helps them stay tidy (just the way they like it) and reduces the risk of infection. MSPCA-Angell notes that ear infections can be secondary symptoms of other health concerns, so don't hesitate to call your vet.
The golden rule for pet care is safety first! If you're uncomfortable or uncertain about cleaning your cat's ears, contact your vet. They'll be happy to give you a tutorial and build your confidence as a cat parent.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.