Tuesday 14 September 2021

How do I clean my cat's ears?

I guess the first point to make is that cats don't need their ears cleaning routinely. In fact, you might never need to do it and probably won't need to do it throughout your cat's entire life. I would argue that it is only under exceptional circumstances when there is an excessive amount of wax, dirt or debris visible in the ear that you should consider cleaning them. It would be unlikely, in my view, for ears to be this dirty under normal circumstances. Seeing some wax in the ear is not a reason to clean them because the wax is there for a purpose i.e. to maintain ear health and to capture bits of debris which head towards the eardrum.

Cleaning a cat's ears
Cleaning a cat's ears. Screenshot.

My reference manual for this article is Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by four American veterinarians. They say that for small amounts of waxy debris a damp cotton ball or a cotton tipped swab works well. A cat should tolerate it. The vets stress that you should not put any cleaning solution in the ear but use a special cleaning solution from your veterinarian. In America this might be Epi-Optic but just check with a veterinarian first; I would. This is applied to the external ear canal and after application you massage the base of the ear to loosen the dirt, debris and ear wax. You then gently wipe out the ear with a cotton ball.

In the ear flap that there are ear folds and creases and these areas can be cleaned with a cotton tipped swab moistened with oil or a cleaning solution. You don't push the cotton-tip swab into the ear canal under any circumstances as this will make matters worse by jamming the debris towards the eardrum where it will be impossible to get out. You'd have to go to a veterinarian to have that removed professionally.

They also say that you should not use ether, alcohol or other irritating solvents to help you clean your cat's ears. They can cause pain and inflame the tissues inside the ear. Cats will probably object in this sort of ear cleaning so you may have to restrain them. You should try and keep calm and quiet while doing it and provide them with a treat afterwards.

Restraining a cat is quite difficult, I think. Cats can generally struggle against restraint. I also think that you have to work quickly because there will be a time limit based upon how long your cat accepts it. Some will be more pliable than others. 

I think if you hold a cat by the scruff of their neck it will restrain and subdue them but only for a certain period of time perhaps around 15 seconds which sounds very short but this is the kind of time-limit one has, I think, for doing these sorts of procedures. Perhaps two phases of 15 seconds might be the way forward.

The alternative is a towel wrapped around them. This is probably better provided the cat accepts it. It will provide more time.

Here is a video on the topic. I have not seen it except for the first 20 seconds or so. The advice may differ to that provided here.

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