Cleaning Cat Ears: How to clean your beloved cat's ears?

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Like humans, your cat should have ears that are as clean as possible. Cleaning cat ears is not a question of aesthetics but good health. Several factors can trigger diseases at this level in your feline. They should be prevented by anticipating them. This is done through a relatively easy and quick maneuver.

You must regularly inspect your cat's ear canal to prevent it from developing bothersome diseases and is sometimes urgent to treat. First, however, you must be careful in cleaning the ears. In particular, the duct is in a different shape from the human one (vertical L shape leading to a right angle).

cleaning cat ears
Cleaning cat ears: Why?

As in humans, impurities can stagnate in your cat's ears. This can lead to more or less severe infections. Therefore, it is advisable to regularly clean your cat's ears to avoid ear infections and all other disabling pathologies in his daily life.

As the owner, you should be alert to signs suggesting the development of a disease. Thus, an excess of earwax must be removed, parasites may lodge in his pavilion, or a foul odor may emerge from his ears. These are signals to take into account.

If you neglect cleaning cat ears, it can suffer:

Wax plugs,

From a bacterial infection,

Recurrent ear infections,

From a mycosis,

A disease due to the presence of a parasite (acariasis or ear scabies for example),

Of a tumor,

moderate hearing loss,

Total deafness.

Certain signs must put the chip in the ear of the master. This is the case when:

Cat :

frequently and frantically scratches one or both ears

insistently rubs the left or right part of his face,

frequently tilts the head to one side,

shakes his head vigorously.

There is a significant secretion of dark brown or greenish and particularly thick earwax,

The animal does not seem to hear its master calling it,

An unpleasant odor emanates from one ear,

A loss of balance,

A lump in one ear.

It is essential to clean your cat's ears because severe problems due to insufficient hygiene can affect the middle ear as well as the inner ear.

When to clean the ears?

Cat ears must be cleaned regularly, especially when you notice the presence of dirt. In this case, it is a question of anticipating a possible infection. An otitis or any ear disease should bring you to the vet.

How to clean the ears?

Your cat shouldn't be stressed or anxious about having its ear inspected. You must relax him by making him believe it's a game because his hatches won't clean them. You must place your cat at height.

Before any intervention, you must inspect your cat's ear canal. You can leave your feline alone if you don't see any dirt. Otherwise, you must proceed as follows:

You clean the auricle with a cotton ball soaked in a lotion from your veterinarian.

You can also instill a small amount of solution prescribed by your veterinarian in his ear and massage gently with your fingers so that the product is distributed correctly.

Your cat should shake its head, indicating that the cleaning is complete.

To ensure the cleanliness of the duct, pass dry cotton as if to wipe your cat's ear.

cleaning cat ears
Care of the cat's ears: cotton swabs prohibited!

Despite everything, you can read here or there, using a cotton swab is strictly not recommended! It is a tool of torture for the ears because it only pushes earwax and dirt deeper into the duct. In addition, there is a risk of damaging the eardrum or even perforating it by inserting a cotton swab too deeply.

A sickness?

If your cat's ears don't smell like roses, if you observe your feline touching her ears frequently, you need to see a veterinarian immediately. This is the sign of an infection that will only pass with appropriate drug treatment. Only your veterinarian will know what to do.

Cleaning cat ears should be done every 2 weeks or so if you notice dirt. The process is simple since it only requires a cotton ball and a special lotion indicated by your veterinarian. However, an infection must necessarily lead to a consultation to treat the disease that can make your animal suffer as quickly as possible.

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Diseases in the ears

Most animals can suffer from ear diseases, and cats are no exception. Most people are familiar with “otitis”, but this term does not refer to a specific disease but encompasses any ear problems. A correct diagnosis is necessary. It is essential to know the ear's anatomy to understand some of these problems.

Ears are often thought of only as the two visible appendages on either side of the head surrounding a hole that disappears into some mysterious cavity in the skull. Still, in reality, these visible parts are the least important. The ear is divided into three portions: outer, middle, and inner.

cleaning cat ears
External ear

It includes the parts of the ear between the tip of the ear and the eardrum or tympanic membrane. The auricle (pinna) is generally erect in the cat, comprising a cartilaginous plate that is slightly convex on the outside and concaves on the inside; this cartilage is covered by skin provided with short hair on the outer surface and on the inside by a delicate skin firmly adherent to the cartilage, with hair only on the periphery.

The normal vertical canal has very little hair and pale pink color. Usually, no wax or dirt is visible, and its appearance is shiny but not wet. However, the wax is dark brown, and if there is a lot of it, it can easily be mistaken by the owner for dried blood.

Contrary to some dog breeds, cat breeders have not selected breeds with abnormal ear placement (except for the Scottish Fold); the ear pinnae are erect so that the problems derived, for example, from poor ventilation, do not occur in the cat. In addition, the eardrum is about 1 cm from the end of the vertical canal, so it is unlikely to be damaged by normal cleaning methods. However, for the same reason, drainage is poor, and secretions can accumulate and require surgery for treatment in a small percentage of cats.

The regular lining of the pinna is simply an extension of the skin, including a few hair follicles and sebaceous glands. In addition, some ceruminous glands sometimes increase their secretion, which can lead to problems. This skin is firmly attached to the underlying cartilage and has only a thin layer of tissue, although it can become very thick in chronic diseases.

The next part is the ear canal, which is vertical when it leaves the pinna, is about 1.5 cm long, and is usually covered by thin, almost hairless skin, which has a waxy appearance. It has numerous folds and grooves, especially in its upper part, which play an essential role when external ear disease occurs. The deepest part of the external auditory canal becomes a tubular structure. It forms almost a right angle to become the horizontal auditory canal (between 0.75 and 1 cm), ending in the eardrum. This is the limit of the external ear.

cleaning cat ears

Middle ear

It includes the tympanic cavity, externally limited by the eardrum, which contains the chain of tiny bones with the suggestive names of stirrup, incus, and malleus.

Inner ear

The inner ear is embedded in the temporal petrosal bone and contains the delicate organs of hearing and balance, including the semicircular canals (balance) and the organ of Corti (hearing). It is the latter that is defective in the congenital deafness of some white cats.

Ear problems

Only the vertical portion of the external auditory canal can be examined visually, although the more profound amount can be visualized with the aid of an otoscope. The horizontal canal and the tympanum can typically only be seen under anesthesia, the angles being modified by traction on the pavilion; This should be done exclusively by the veterinarian.

In felines, the most common ear diseases are those of the external ear.

Ear pinnae

Wounds: Most occur from bites from other cats and are almost always infected. Although sometimes they heal spontaneously, we recommend consulting the veterinarian since, in most cases, treatment with antibiotics is recommended. In addition, because wounds through or near cartilage can take time to heal, treatment as early as possible is recommended.

Hematoma: A hematoma is a blood-filled blister caused by the rupture of a small blood vessel resulting in bleeding between the skin and cartilage, usually in the inner concave area of ​​the ear. This rupture is generally due to violent scratching, for example, when the cat is very itchy due to an infection by the ear mite, Otodectes.

The lesion is detected acutely and has developed very quickly. The swelling of the ear and the discomfort of the cat are evident, not at all satisfied with the new weight of its previously light ear; the head may be tilted and the ear droopy, and the animal may shake its head and throw its ear back, and may even tilt its head to the affected side; more than painful, it is a very annoying injury for the animal.

Regarding treatment, both the hematoma and the underlying cause must be identified and treated. If no intervention is made, the blood will separate into serum and clot and disappear within ten days to 6 weeks. Unfortunately, the healing process leads to the deformation of the pinna, resulting in a cauliflower-shaped ear. Various surgical techniques can be tried to remove the blood from the clot, but they are not always successful.

Solar dermatitis: It is due to exposure to the sun and almost always occurs in cats with white or very light-colored ears. At first, it may appear simply red and scaly, but as the disease progresses, ulcers and crusts appear, especially on the tips of the ears. The cat is bothered by it and may shake its head and bleed. A malignant tumor (squamous cell carcinoma) may develop in the area in severe cases. The best prevention is to avoid the sun during hours of maximum intensity. Once the disease develops, the treatment of choice is surgical amputation. The final result is aesthetically acceptable and has no adverse effects on the cat.

Sarcoptic mange: It can cause hair loss on the convex surface of the pinna and surrounding areas and is usually very itchy. He needs veterinary treatment.

Other parasites that affect the ears: The crop mite, Trombicula autumnalis, can be a seasonal problem, with autumn being the time when the larva infests the cat. The larva is visible as an orange pinpoint on the affected cats' ears, faces, and paws. It causes localized irritation. Treatment consists of an antiparasitic spray; if itching is severe, a short course of glucocorticoids can be given.

The rabbit flea, Spilopsyllus cuniculi, has also been found in the ears of cats - an unexpected trophy after a hunting raid! 

Autoimmune skin disease: This is a rare disease that causes crusty lesions on the ears and foot pads. Ask your vet for advice.

Vertical channel

Parasitic Otitis: This is the most common ear disease and can affect any cat, regardless of how well cared for it is. The causative parasite is Otodectes cynotis, a scabies mite, and they are visible to the naked eye as tiny whitish dots, often actively moving. These parasites are found in large numbers in the ears, even in kittens. The cycle lasts about 3 weeks and takes place in the ear from the laying of the eggs to the death of the adults. The parasites are thought to live 10-20 days outside the host. Therefore, knowing the cycle of the parasite well is essential to be able to treat it properly.

Otodectes is a particularly difficult mite to eliminate. In its treatment, it is necessary to use a product that kills the parasite quickly and, not least, that does not damage or irritate the host's tissues. If left untreated, complications such as secondary infections, hematoma due to scratching, or chronic thickening of the otic epithelium may occur.

The treatment should be aimed at eliminating the mites and regenerating the epithelium.

The ear must be thoroughly cleaned (without forgetting the folds of the vertical canal), but delicately, using cotton swabs or swabs soaked in a specific liquid for this use, to remove parasites and their residues. They may be necessary for between 10 and 12 swabs to deep clean an affected ear. You have to do it gently to avoid damaging the ear. If the owner does not know how to do it or does not dare, it is preferable to take it to the vet so that they can take care of it. As for the cleaning product, it is best to ask the veterinarian for advice.

Daily cleaning is not recommended as it can overly irritate the ear and further injure it; In severe cases, it is advisable to treat it every 4-5 days on 3 or 4 occasions. After that, weekly or every ten days. Mild cases can be treated weekly from the start. The treatment must be carried out for a minimum of 21 days (preferably 28). This treatment guideline ensures the elimination of all the larvae or nymphs that may have hatched from the mite eggs before they reach sexual maturity and can, in turn, reproduce.

Applying an insecticide product to the cat is also recommended to eliminate parasites outside the ear. Some cats salivate (drool?) a lot during the cleaning process (sometimes even before we start cleaning) due to nervousness. The treatment usually causes dryness of the ear, so after its completion, it is advisable to use a specific emollient product weekly, which also seems to have some effect in preventing re-infestation. It is necessary to treat all the animals in the house since mites are very quickly spread.

Suppurative otitis: Purulent bacterial infections can occur in the ears of kittens and adult cats as a primary disease (especially in kittens) and as a secondary complication of Otodectes otitis. In any case, the treatment must be carried out by a veterinarian because it will require antibiotics. Although affected kittens are clinically ill and sad, pus may even come out of the pinna and wet the skin and fur. Primary infection in kittens is excruciating, can be severe, and requires urgent medical attention.

Horizontal channel

The diseases of the vertical canal already mentioned do not necessarily stop at the level of the annular cartilage; they can often exceed it and affect the horizontal portion. Therefore, cleaning this part should not be attempted as knowledge of the area's anatomy is required to do so safely and thoroughly.

There is a tumor-specific to the cat, a carcinoma of the ceruminous glands, which originates at this level (almost always near the eardrum) and can spread to other parts of the body. It can be seen during the otoscopic examination if it protrudes into the vertical portion.

Middle ear disease

Since balance is often affected in cases of middle ear disease, and since the balance organ is located in the inner ear, we should also discuss internal ear disease in this section. It is usually due to bacterial infection and is often associated with external otitis in the dog but not in the cat.

Middle ear disease often occurs in cats with a perfectly normal outer ear, so it should not be ruled out because there is no visible discharge. This situation is known as occult otitis media. It has been suggested that the infection may reach the middle ear through the Eustachian tube, which connects the pharynx and the tympanic bulla, since Pasteurella multocida has been found in some cases of otitis media. This organism can be isolated from 94% of feline throats.

Signs include maintaining balance, body swaying and stumbling, a tendency to walk in circles, and head tilt. In the absence of external signs of infection, it can be challenging to establish a diagnosis since the eardrum is usually intact, and the pus, in any case, is of a semi-solid consistency. Therefore, the radiographic examination may be helpful in diagnosis.

Treatment is complex since applying antibiotics by the usual routes is not always practical. Instead, the bulla must be rinsed and antibiotics introduced, which must be done by a surgeon, and even in cases where treatment is successful, the head may be left permanently cocked.

Ear canal resection

Occasionally it is necessary to perform this operation in cases of external ear disease that has chronically produced a thickening of the canal or in cases of tumors of the horizontal portion. The process is performed to remove cancer, if it is the case, or free the walls of the ear canal from continuous friction and allow drainage.

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