Ear disease is quite common in cats and you should make ear examination part of a weekly health check for your pet. If your cat's ears look red or sore on the inside, if there is a smell coming from the ears or if your pet is shaking its head excessively then contact your vet for advice. Ear disease can quickly take hold and is unlikely to get better without treatment. Ear disease left untreated can cause permanent damage to the ear canals and make your pet more likely to have further problems in the future.
Why do I need to clean my cat's ears?
A cat's ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear. There are a variety of things which may irritate your cat's ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. There is also a mite which lives inside ear canals and although this is very common in cats many cats live with this without it causing any problems.
Proper ear cleaning is essential in the management of ear disease. Debris and secretions can accumulate in the ear and this may prevent treatment from reaching deep inside in the ear and some medication may not work in the presence of secretions.
Will I be able to clean my cat's ears?
Many cats will not tolerate ear cleaning well unless you have trained them from a young age - if you are finding it very difficult to clean your cat's ears do not struggle alone. If you are unable to clean your cat's ears easily you will not do a very good job, and may in fact damage the ears more. If your cat's ears are very sore, or if your cat is difficult to handle, your vet may need to sedate or anaesthetise your cat in order to be able to clean its ears effectively.
How do I clean my cat's ears?
It is easier to restrain your cat for ear cleaning if you have someone to help you. Ask someone to hold your cat either lying down on its tummy or sitting up. The head should be held tightly against the handler's body so that it can be held securely and there is no chance of the cat shaking its head. You may find it helpful to wrap your cat in a towel to restrain it so that it is unable to get its legs free to scratch you. Ask your vet to demonstrate the best way to restrain your cat so that you can access its ears for cleaning.
Once the cat is restrained introduce some ear cleaner into the opening of the ear. Gently massage the ear canal which runs straight down the side of the head below the opening. As you massage the ear canal you will loosen all the debris in the ear canal. If the ear canal is sore your cat might not like the massaging at first so be as gentle as you can. After massaging wipe away the cleaning fluid with cotton wool. Never use cotton buds or poke anything into the ear canal - if you do you will only push debris further into the ear and may damage the ear drum. Repeat the whole procedure if necessary then rinse the whole ear canal with water to remove any residual cleaning fluid and dry with cotton wool.
What medication should I give my cat?
Once the ear canals are clean you can apply any ear drop medications that have been prescribed by your vet. Once the drops have been applied to the ear you should gently massage the ear canal again to spread the drops over the surface of the canal.
Your vet may also prescribe some tablets to help treat the ear disease. It is important to give all the tablets that your vet has prescribed - even if you think your cat is getting better.
How can I stop my cat getting ear disease?
Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some cats. You should check your cat's ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.
Regular ear examination, and cleaning when necessary, can help to keep your cat's ears healthy. If you have any concerns about your cat's ears you should contact your vet for further advice.