Cats seem pretty self-sufficient when it comes to grooming. After all, that is how they spend half of their waking hours.
Yet, one of the hardest places for a cat to reach is inside their ears.
Outdoor cats, especially, are at risk for serious ear hygiene problems.
Whether your furry bundle of love is an indoor-only princess or an adventurous outdoor tomcat, clean cat ears can make for a happy, healthy, comfortable feline.
Read on to learn more about how often you should clean your cat’s ears and how to perform maintenance checks.
What Should Normal Cat Ears Look Like?
They’re cute, fuzzy, and perfectly pink, which explains why they’re all the rage on Snapchat filters. Here’s what to look for when you take a peek at those cute things perched on top of your cat’s head.
On the outside, your cat’s ears should have no bald spots. If your cat’s fur is light in color, you should be able to see the skin, which should be light and pink. If you see any redness, swelling, sores, or bald spots, take your furry friend in for a check up.
Inside of the ears, you should be able to see that the skin is all one color - a nice healthy pink. Your cat shouldn’t have any visible ear wax, dirt, or insects trying to catch a ride. If you notice any of these or if your cat’s ears are giving off an odor, it’s time to see a vet.
Ideally, you should do an ear check with your cat once per week. Now, before you go looking for your “Ain't nobody got time for that!” gif, let us clarify: this ear check should take you about 20 seconds.
Your feline friend may be up for several hours of lap time each day, but chances are he won’t have much patience when you start touching his ears. So you want to make this process quick and as deceptively affectionate as possible.
If you don’t already, start adding head rubs to your shows of affection toward your cat. Most cats love a quick swoop over the head and a nice scratch behind the ears. When you pull off this maneuver, add a bit of wrist and thumb action to get a good look inside your cat’s ears.
Now here’s where things get tricky. Depending on how rambunctious your cat is, he may need an ear cleaning once per month.
Outdoor cats are especially prone to getting dirt and hitchhikers in their ears. If your cat likes to roam outside, he may need an ear cleaning more often. However, for most cats once per month is enough.
Wondering how to clean your cat's ears? Start with these steps. When the day comes, prep your tools before bringing your cat into the mix. You can either add a bit of ear cleaning solution made for cats (like this) to a cotton ball or soft cloth, or you can use pre-moistened wipes (we like these). Avoid using cotton swabs as they can easily slip into your cat’s ear canal and cause damage.
Once you're ready with the ear cleaner, sit with your cat in a comfortable position either on your lap or somewhere you both feel secure. Use one hand to support your cat's head and the other to gently dab away any dirt, debris, or excess ear wax in the inner ear. Try not to wipe, as this could cause the debris to scratch your cat's skin, and he surely won't like that.
Stay outside of the ear canal and only clean what you can see. Probing into your cat’s ear too far can cause damage or even an infection.
Tick & Mite Checks
Another thing to look out for - again, especially for outdoor kitties - is the occasional unwelcome insect. Ticks and mites love to live in cats ears since they’re small, warm, and offer easy access to the blood supply.
If your cat picks up a tick or has an ear mite infestation, visit your vet straight away. Ear mites are very difficult to see on cats, but the symptoms of them are easy to spot. Your cat may have ear mites if he:
- Paws at his ears excessively
- Shakes his head often
- Experiences hair loss on his ears
- Has any irritation, swelling, or inflammation in the ear
- Has any dark discharge in his ear
- Accumulates debris in his ear that resembles coffee grounds
- Develops ear odor
Both ticks and ear mites are rather quick to treat, but they should be left to a professional. You may need an ear mite treatment for cats to eliminate any persistent pests. Expert vet hands can quickly remove ticks. Learn more about common cat health issues and how to spot them.
Maintenance Prevents Problems
Luckily, the vast majority of cat ear problems are curable. However, it’s best to avoid the problem altogether, and the key to that is regular maintenance.
Get in the habit of looking inside your cat's ears whenever you get the opportunity, and you'll be able to spot any abnormalities before they turn into problems. Aside from the ears, you should also regularly trim your cat’s claws not only for proper hygiene but also to protect yourself, your family, and your furnishings. All in all, taking care of your cat’s hygiene can keep him healthy.
Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long-time storyteller, and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!