When your cat’s ears become inflamed a more thorough cleaning than you give them routinely is often necessary. In most cases inflamed ears should be examined by a veterinarian, and if cleaning is necessary it should be done by a veterinarian who will have the necessary tools for observing the ear canal and eardrum during and after cleaning.
Also, if the ears seem painful when touched, anesthesia is usually necessary to make most cats hold still for a thorough and safe ear cleaning. Fortunately, instances when ear cleaning in cats is necessary are infrequent.
Veterinarians use several methods for cleaning ears. In one method a rubber bulb syringe filled with warm water-antiseptic soap solution or a wax-dissolving solution is inserted into the ear canal and used to flush the fluid in and out of the ear. This is done several times and is followed by clear water or antiseptic rinses. The clean ear canal is dried with cotton
swabs and appropriate ear medication is instilled. Another method relies on cotton-tipped swabs and the use of an instrument called an ear loop to remove debris.
If you cannot take your cat to a veterinarian, the best way to clean his or her ears at home is to use a cotton swab in the following manner. Grasp the end of the pinna and hold it straight up over the cat’s head. Insert the swab into the ear canal parallel to the side of the head. You cannot damage the eardrum if you keep the swab vertical and parallel to the side of the head, but even if you don’t, cat’s ear canals are so narrow that it would be difficult to reach the eardrum with a cotton-tipped swab unless you were very rough and forceful. Use the swab to clean out debris before you start medication and once daily to remove old medication before instilling the new. Turn the swab gently and try to lift out debris rather than compacting it.
Only a rare cat will allow you to clean the ears with the bulb syringe method without anesthesia. If you try it, warm any solution you use to body temperature and flush the fluids in and out gently until all debris is removed. Do not wedge the syringe into the ear to form a tight seal as the pressure can build up in the ear canal sufficiently to rupture the eardrum.
After flushing the ear dry the canal gently with cotton-tipped swabs.
After your cat’s ears are cleaned you will usually have to instill medication in them at least daily for one or two weeks. Many ear preparations are sold in containers with long nozzles that are placed into the ear canal. Liquids can be dropped into the canal. After the medicine is in the canal, grasp the lower part of the auricular cartilage through the skin and massage it up and down vigorously. If you are doing it properly you will hear the medicine squishing around inside the ear.
This will spread the medication down the length of the ear canal and is a very important part of caring for the ear properly. Once daily before instilling new medication it’s a good idea to partially clean the ear to remove old medication and accumulated debris. Use a cotton swab as described above or wrap your finger in a soft cloth or tissue and clean out the ear as far as covered finger will reach.