Even the most dedicated cat parents, who trim claws, groom coats and apply flea treatments, may not realize that a feline’s delicate ears need regular care, too. Take a good look at her ears and get acquainted with how they work and what you’ll need to do to help keep them clean and healthy. (Surprise fact: no Q-tips involved!)
That pointed, standing-up part, is the ear flap, and is called the pinna. The outside should be covered with fur, with no balding or scaly patches. The pinna’s inside should be a very light shell-pink, clean and smooth. If you gently curl back the outside of the ear, you can check the inner ear, looking down into the ear canal. This should be pale pink and ideally, should have no, or very little, light brown ear wax visible.
By examining your cat’s ears regularly, you can clean away the dirt and wax buildup, which will keep infections away. Ear mites, those tiny pesky parasites, are very common in cats, and nearly all kittens, and are the cause of fungal or bacterial infections. Ear mites are simple to spot: you’ll see brownish debris that looks like old coffee grounds. If you see these, and your cat frequently shakes her head, scratches or paws at her ears and keeps itching, ear mites are definitely in residence, and your vet will need to flush them out right away.
If you notice swelling or redness, a yellowish or blackish discharge or bleeding, if your cat seems disoriented, she needs immediate medical attention as she is suffering from an ear infection. Untreated, a feline ear infection can result in the loss of hearing.
You can avoid emergency vet trips and ear infections or ear mite invasions by learning to routinely clean your cat’s ears, a process that’s simpler than you might think. Once your vet shows you the basics, collect the supplies you’ll need. Never use cotton swabs like Q-tips because any probing with these will rupture a cat’s fragile eardrums. Clean cotton balls and feline ear cleaning fluid (find it at your vet’s or pet supply stores) are all you need.
Placing your cat on a smooth surface or your lap, lightly hold the tip of one ear and roll it very gently to expose the underside. Saturate a cotton ball with a small amount of cleaning fluid, then use it to wipe away the dirt and wax. Be sure to lift it off rather than rubbing it into the ear. Keep using fresh cotton balls until all the visible dirt is gone. Repeat with the other ear, softly speaking to your cat and praising her during the process. Do not attempt to clean the ear canal itself; your vet needs to do this because it can easily be damaged.
Peek into your cat’s ears once a week, cleaning as necessary. Your cat may resist but patience and reassurance will bring her around, keeping her ears perky and alert.
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