Regular ear care is one of the most overlooked areas of cat health. Many people are actually afraid to clean their cat's ears because they are afraid of "hurting" their cat in the process. The result is that many cats come into our clinic with severe infections or mite infestations that could have been treated quickly and easily if caught earlier. Good routine ear care is very safe and consists of a weekly inspection and, if necessary, a cleaning. Some of the more common problems infecting cat ears include:
- Ear mites
- Bacterial infections
- Yeast infections
- Fungal infections on the ear tips
There are right ways and wrong ways to inspect and clean cats' ears. While most cats actually tolerate routine cleanings very well, these are a few tips that will work on most cats, including the toughest old Toms.
- First and foremost, make regular ear cleaning part of your routine. If you inspect and clean your cat's ears on a weekly basis from the time she is 8 weeks old, it will become a routine part of life and she won't fight you when you start handling her ears.
- Make it a positive experience. This sounds simple but it's the step that most people forget. Use treats like Liver Bites or Tuna Flakes during and after the cleaning to keep the experience positive.
- Only clean the ears of a happy cat. At home, do the cleaning when the cat is happy, not after a bath or associated with other treatments such as nail clipping.
- Veterinarians have a joke that says veterinary success is "all in the holder", that is, it depends on how well the cat is held. This is very true when cleaning a cat's ears, so get some help if your cat is hard to handle. Cats don't like restraint, so do as little as necessary and remember to follow rule number 2.
- Hold the tip of the ear between your thumb and forefinger and gently roll it up so you can visualize the inner part of the ear. If the cat tries to scoot away, you can use your remaining three fingers to gently hang on to the loose skin on the back of its neck.
- Examine the ear for redness, or discharge. Light brown wax is O.K., but black, red, or infected-looking discharges (e.g. yellow or green pus) indicate a problem. Gently wipe the inside of the ear with an Ear Clens® Pad.
- If the ear contains a lot of wax or debris you should squirt 5-10 drops of an ear cleaner like Ear Clens® into the ear and massage the base of the ear for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Wipe the inside of the ear with a cotton ball or another Ear Clens® Pad. If a large amount of debris is removed, repeat steps 7 and 8.
- If the ear is sore or infected or if the cat is shaking its head or scratching at the ear, have her examined by a veterinarian. Ear mites are a common cause of ear infections in young cats and your veterinarian may recommend a treatment like Ear Miticide.
When it comes to ear problems, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so make routine ear exams and cleanings part of your cat's weekly routine.