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The essentials

  • Cleaning your cat’s ears can help prevent health issues — Removing excess wax or debris can reduce the risk of infection.
  • Don’t clean your cat’s ears too often — You should only do this when their ears are dirty. Overcleaning can damage the ear canal.
  • Check your cat’s ears regularly Watch for signs of ear mites, ear infections, or inflammation. If you find anything unusual, it’s time to call the vet.

Cats are notoriously clean animals — but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to step in to help now and then.

Your kitty’s grooming routine may already include brushing their teeth, checking them for fleas, and trimming their nails. But when was the last time you checked your cat’s ears?

In this article, we’ll tell you when and why you should clean your cat’s ears, as well as how to do it safely. You’ll also learn what to look for in an ear that needs cleaning, including infection, dirt, and debris — and when it’s time to call your vet.

Why should you clean your cat’s ears?

Keeping your cat’s ears clean is important for their overall health. When you check their ears regularly, you can flag any minor issues before they become major ones.

If your cat has a buildup of wax, that can affect their hearing. It can also be a sign of a chronic ear infection. This may especially be so if you notice that your kitty scratches the area or shakes their head more than usual.

While you can look in your cat’s ears regularly, cleaning should only occur on an as-needed basis. You can go months between cleans, depending on your pet. 

This is a delicate process, and if you’re not careful, it can lead to long-term damage.

How do you clean your cat’s ears?

If you need to clean your cat’s dirty ears, here are our top tips to make the process comfortable and safe for your fur baby:

1. Use an ear-cleaning solution

Using the wrong products can damage your cat’s ears and make the problem worse. Avoid using home-based remedies and stick to a dedicated pet ear-cleaning solution. You can purchase these products from your local pet store or a trusted veterinarian. 

Always read the manufacturer’s directions carefully. Most products only require a few drops placed carefully inside the ear. 

Lastly, never use water to clean inside your pet’s ear. While it may seem like a gentle alternative to ear cleaning products, water in a cat’s ear canal is a gateway to a yeast infection.

2. Use a cotton pad or soft cloth

If there is any debris in their ear, use a cotton pad or a soft, clean cloth to carefully wipe it away. Pet wipes are another great alternative.

🚨 Never use a cotton swab as it can severely damage your cat’s eardrum. 

3. Look for signs of infection

When you look inside your cat’s ears, there are a few signs of trouble to watch out for that would warrant a vet visit.

Common warning signs of an infection include inflammation, lesions, or wax discoloration. For example, you may notice the wax is brown or black.

Look out for wax buildup or waxy discharge, as well as any foul or otherwise unusual odors. This could be from an infection or even ear mites. If your cat is suffering from a burst eardrum, the wax may also contain traces of blood. It’ll likely be clear to you that your cat is in pain if this is the case.

4. Reward your cat

Try to make ear cleaning a positive experience for your fur baby. Put them in a comfortable position and make sure they feel relaxed. After you do an ear check, you can reward their good behavior with a cat treat.

If your cat does become distressed while you’re cleaning their ears, take a break. If they wriggle and squirm, it could cause accidental ear damage — or you could be damaged by scratching or biting. You can always pause and do the other ear later when your cat is calm again.

5. See your vet

It’s not always easy to clean a cat’s ears. If you’re not confident doing it yourself, your vet or a professional groomer can help. And they can do other general grooming as well, such as claw clipping, teeth cleaning, and detangling matted fur.

If you suspect your cat has an infection of some sort, antibiotics may be required. And if something is stuck inside their ear canal, it’ll need to be removed by a professional.

Remember, if you do notice anything unusual, it’s best to get expert advice. Whether it’s a possible infection, unusual ear discharge, or your cat is in pain, call your vet.

Can I damage my cat’s ears?

Yes, it’s possible to damage your cat’s ears, even when you’re trying to do the right thing.

You should only clean your cat’s ears when they really need it. Overcleaning them may damage your feline friend’s sensitive ear canals.

And remember to use a gentle touch! If you’re too rough or you accidentally touch your cat’s inner eardrum during a cleaning, it could spell long-term damage.

Be careful about the types of solutions you use because putting the wrong products in your cat’s ears can also cause issues. Always buy a solution that’s designed especially for felines.

If you think you’ve accidentally hurt your cat’s ears during the cleaning process, head to your vet right away.

What does a healthy cat’s ear look like?

Now that you know about some of the warning signs, let’s talk about what a healthy cat ear should look like.

When you check your kitty’s ears, you’ll be looking at the outer ear, or pinna. You can carefully fold the ears back to get a better view.

  • The area should be a pale pink shade and covered with a light layer of hair. Make sure there are no signs of redness or inflammation.
  • The outer ear and ear canal should look clean, without any dirt or debris. 
  • A healthy ear won’t have earwax buildup, but a small amount is acceptable.
  • A healthy cat’s ear also won’t have a noticeable odor, and the cat won’t flinch in pain when you touch the area. There should also be no signs of parasites, wounds, or bleeding.

Check your cat’s ears regularly. Look for abnormalities such as discharge, color changes, or unusual odors. And only clean your cat’s ears if there are obvious signs of dirt or debris. You can use a dedicated ear-cleaning solution and a gentle wipe. 

If you do notice any red flags, make sure you book an appointment with your vet. And when you’re done with your inspection, give your cat a pet treat to reward them for their good behavior.

Want more cat care tips? Head to our cat guide library.