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Do you need to clean your cat’s ears?

I didn’t have much experience with cats until a few years ago when a little friendly stray snuck through the front door and decided to stay. I’ve since received a crash course on all things cat, but I’m no expert and frequently wish she could tell me what she needs. Like the time I noticed she was scratching her ears. The constant itching worried me, but I didn’t realise how serious it was for her. Could mites be crawling around in there? Something more sinister? Or was I an overly concerned new cat parent? I peered into her ear to find out, and once I squinted past the wispy curtain of fur, the walls of her ears appeared to be covered with dark, dubious-looking gunk.

What causes ear infections in cats?

“Ear infections in cats don’t occur quite as commonly as in dogs, but when they do, they can cause some serious damage,” says Dr. Sarah Dougherty, DVM. “The most common cause of ear infections in cats are ear mites, but they mostly affect kittens and outdoor cats.” Ear mites are microscopic, highly-contagious parasites that block a cat’s ear canal with a dark, grainy matter resembling coffee grounds. Food and environmental allergies can also cause issues, as can the buildup of wax or fur. Dr. Dougherty adds, “Cats can also get infections caused by yeast and bacteria.” 

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How can I tell if my cat has an ear infection?

“Cats produce more earwax than dogs,” says Dr. Dougherty, so it’s normal for cats to have a thin layer of yellow wax coating the inner ear. If there is wax on the outer ear or fur around the ear, you should see your vet. Cats with ear infections will shake their heads and paw at their ears, and you may notice hair loss or crusty scabs caused by scratching their face and neck. And if you get close enough, you’ll see redness, swelling, and smell an odour. Since the ear canal controls balance for humans and cats, an ear infection could also cause your cat to become disorientated.

How can I keep my cat’s ears clean?

While there’s no way to completely prevent ear infections, cleaning your cat’s ears once a month with an antibacterial or antifungal solution can keep mites, yeast, and bacteria away. Only use a solution that your vet recommends. 

To treat your cat, swaddle them in a towel if you expect they might resist. Squirt a little of the solution in, close your cat’s ear flap, and massage it in. Then let your cat shake its head, loosening wax and anything else that shouldn’t be there. Finally, wipe up whatever came to the surface with a cotton ball. If you need support with this, don’t hesitate to visit your vet. You can also chat to a veterinary expert here for free [insert vetchat link]

How are ear infections in cats treated?

In my cat’s case, she was diagnosed with infections in both ears, likely triggered by environmental allergies. Yeast had caused a thick layer of gunk to form, causing her discomfort. Our vet gave her ears a good cleaning and prescribed antibiotic drops; within a couple of weeks, her ears healed. If left untreated, though, Dr. Dougherty says, “a cat can suffer permanent damage to the structures of the ear canal, eardrum, and inner ear…or permanent loss of hearing.”

If you have any concerns about your cat’s ears, or health in general, talk to your vet and they’ll be able to support you. 

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Written by:
By Helin Jung.
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