How to clean cat ears: A step-by-step guide

1 December 2023 - 3 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Kirsten Ronngren DVM MRCVS on 30 November 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

Cat peering over edge

Cats have a reputation for cleanliness, and love cleaning themselves, but sometimes they need a little help taking care of their ears. Although they’re easy to overlook, cats’ ears can get quite dirty and even become infected or develop ear mites - all of which can mean a visit to the vet down the line. 

Fortunately, you can help your cat out by giving their ears a quick check every now and again and, if they look like they need a clean, you can get the job done yourself in the comfort of your home. To help you get started, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide, including what tools you’ll need to perform the clean, and when you might need to talk to a vet about possible infections.  

Cat ear cleaning: Why and when?

Cats usually do an admirable (and even meticulous) job of keeping themselves clean — and can even take care of the nooks and crannies of their own ears with their paws thanks to their body’s natural flexibility. Over time, however, stubborn wax, dirt and grime can build up in cats’ ears meaning that owners might need to step in to keep their feline friends comfortable. 

How to clean cats’ ears at home

If your cat needs its ears cleaned, you may be able clean them at home with a few easy-to-find tools. That being said, cats are extremely sensitive to ear cleaning, much more so than dogs - and can be prone to some unwanted side effects if the eardrum is affected such as a head tilt and dizziness. For very basic superficial ear cleaning at home, your cat ear cleaning kit should include: 

  • A cat safe ear cleaning solution 

  • Cotton wool or cotton pads/rounds

  • A towel

  • Disposable gloves

  • Cat treats

Cat ear cleaning solutions: Make sure you buy an ear cleaning solution that is specially-made for cats. Do not use an ear cleaner made for dogs or other animals, or one made for humans. You can purchase cat ear cleaners at veterinary practices, supermarkets, pet stores, and online retailers. If you feel overwhelmed or unsure of what is safe to use, consult with your vet and their team.

Cleaning your cat’s ears step-by-step

You’ve got your supplies, you’ve got your cat ready, and it’s time to start cleaning. Follow our step-by-step guide to make the process as quickly and simple as possible: 

  1. Find a comfortable spot where you can sit and hold your cat still - and get easy access to its ears. You could even ask a family member or friend to hold your cat for you to make the process easier.

  2. If you see any redness, irritation, or coloured discharge - or if your cat has been scratching and seems painful/uncomfortable, it’s best to have them examined by your vet prior to doing any cleaning at home. These signs could indicate infection, ear mites, foreign material or other problems that need medical attention.

  3. Gently pull your cat’s ear back and place the nozzle of the ear cleaner in its ear, being careful to go no deeper than the entrance to the ear canal (see the image below).

    Cat ear cleaning

  4.  Squeeze a few drops  of cleaning solution into your cat’s ear. Check the instructions on your cleaner for how much you should use. 

  5. Gently massage the base of  your cat's ear to help the solution loosen up any dirt, debris, or wax. 

  6. Let your cat shake off, and then use cotton wool to dry up any excess solution. Be careful not to push dirt or debris deeper into your cat’s ear, and only wipe the part of the ear you can easily see.

  7. If all has gone well, move onto the next ear and repeat the process. Don’t forget to reward your cat with a treat after you’ve finished the clean!

  8. If you want to err on the side of caution, you can soak a small amount of cleaner on the outside of some cotton wool/a cotton pad and simply wipe out any visible debris. This significantly decreases the risk of going too deep into the canal and causing potential damage. 

  9. DO NOT INSERT COTTON SWABS INTO YOUR PETS EARS. Inserting these risks damage to the ear drum itself.

When to clean your cat's ears

Your cat will normally take care of cleaning its own ears but if for any reason it can’t, you’ll need to step in and help out. In practice, this means you should check on your cat’s ears every now and again to make sure there’s no unusual build up of wax or debris. 

You should also try to observe your cat: if it looks like their ears are irritating them, it’s worth a visit to the vet. 

Cat ear cleaning: When to see a vet

If your cat’s ears seem red or sore, they could be infected and you should get in touch with a vet before you try to clean. Similarly, if your cat suddenly starts to produce more ear wax, they may have a condition which requires vet attention. 

How much does cat ear cleaning cost?

Unlike dogs, taking a cat to a professional groomer isn’t really an option so you’ll have to find and purchase your ear cleaning supplies yourself or schedule an appointment with your veterinary team. You can pick up cat ear cleaning kits from vets, supermarkets, pet stores, and online retailers, with prices ranging from £5 to £20. 

Practising proactive care

Most cats will never need their ears cleaned by their owners but it's good to be prepared. Learning how to clean your cat’s ears, and being able to spot warning signs of infection is a proactive care strategy, and will help you keep them comfortable should issues arise. If you're ever in doubt about your cat's health, the best course of action is to speak to a vet as soon as possible. 

While we're on the subject of helping our feline friends, let’s not forget about their general health and wellbeing. The best way to protect your cat from bumps, scrapes, and illness is to put protection in place before they need it. ManyPets offers insurance for cats, giving you peace of mind that you’ll be able to afford the treatment they need, when they need it. 

Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.