Cats

How to Clean a Cat’s Ears

posted: 05/15/12
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A cat's superbly efficient tongue -- part comb, part washcloth -- does a thorough job cleaning her coat, face, paws and rear end. But even a feline's tongue can't fully scour her own ears, so a little help from you is needed to keep them in pristine shape.

By routinely examining her ears, you can clear them of dirt and wax and ward off infections. The ear can be a breeding ground for miniscule parasites known as ear mites, which can cause bacterial or fungal infections.

Take a once-weekly peek into your cat's ears, and follow up with a cleaning if needed. The ear flap, or pointy standup portion, is called the pinna. A healthy pinna has an outer layer of fur with no bald patches and a clean, pale pink inner surface. Check Kitty's inner ear by gently folding back the outside and looking down into the canal, which should be light pink with little or no pale brownish wax.

Cleaning your cat's ears isn't difficult. Ask your vet for a quick demo, then assemble the right materials. Never use Q-tips or similar cotton swabs; probing with those can rupture a cat's fragile eardrums. Instead, use a clean cotton ball, saturated with a small amount of feline ear cleaner (available from your vet or pet supply store).

Place the cat on your lap, or on a smooth surface such as your bathroom counter. Lightly holding the tip of the cat's ear in your thumb and forefinger, roll it gently to see the underside. Wipe away any debris or wax with the cotton ball, lifting the dirt rather than rubbing her ear. Repeat with her other ear, making sure to remove all the visible dirt. Never attempt to clean the ear canal, which can become damaged or infected and should be cleaned only by a vet professional.

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Feline intuition seems to tell cats when you're about to do something they won't like, whether administering a pill or trimming their claws. They'll hunker down under a bed until they're sure the danger is past. By playing with your cat before attempting to clean her ears, you'll distract her from your intentions and burn some of her energy. A toy or food treat, before and after the ear cleaning, will lead your cat to associate this necessary evil with a pleasant payoff. When you're set to begin cleaning, hold her on your lap a while without making any moves, reassuring her and offering praise for being so good. She'll feel mellow, enabling you to begin work.

Your vigilance can keep her ears healthy and avoid vet visits to find out why she's shaking her head or persistently scratching or pawing at her ears. If you notice itching and the distinctive brownish debris that looks like coffee grounds, those are signs of ear mites, and your vet will need to flush them out. If there's redness, swelling, black or yellowish discharge, an unpleasant odor or bleeding in her ears, or if the cat acts disoriented, she requires immediate vet treatment. She's suffering from an ear infection, caused by ear mites, yeast or bacteria. Left untreated, feline ear infections can lead to permanent hearing loss.  

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