How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears

Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Michael T. Robbins, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/13/20242-4 minutes
person cleaning a cat's ear

If you’re wondering how to clean cat ears, the good news is it can be a straightforward task you do at home. (Of course, you can also leave the job to a professional groomer.) 

In terms of supplies, cleaning cat ears only requires a few items from around the house along with some cat-ear cleaning solution. 

The trickier part may be getting your feline companion to hold still. But with some love, positive reinforcement and yes—cat treats, you can increase the chances that the activity goes smoothly. 

Read on to learn more about how to clean cat ears, including tips for getting started, step-by-step instructions, and how to tell the difference between cat ear wax and ear mites. 

Should I Clean My Cat’s Ears?

Your cat may likely benefit from having their ears cleaned. Ear cleaning can be important as it removes dirt and can help prevent infections. Along with brushing, nail-trimming and the occasional bath, ear cleaning is a crucial part of your feline’s overall grooming routine. 

What Do Healthy Cat Ears Look Like?

Typically, healthy cat ears are light pink, free of debris and inflammation, and odorless. A little cat ear wax, which is usually light brown, is normal. 

Cat Ear Mites vs. Wax

When looking inside cat ears, make sure to check for signs of an infection before you begin cleaning. The most common cause of ear infections in cats is ear mites

If you’re unsure about the difference in appearance between ear mites and ear wax, mites are usually dark and resemble coffee grounds. Other symptoms include a foul odor and intense itching and head shaking by your cat. 

By contrast, cat ear wax is light brown and has no smell. 

When & How Often You Should Clean Your Cat’s Ears

Knowing when to clean your cat’s ears depends on your individual pet. Indoor cats likely need to be cleansed less often, while outdoor cats may need more regular cleaning. 

If you brush your pet regularly, this is a convenient time to check for signs of healthy cat ears as they’re likely already in your lap. 

Remember, don’t overclean. This can cause irritation or damage to the ear canal. 

If you’re not sure how often to clean your cat’s ears, ask your veterinarian or a professional groomer for guidance. 

What to Use to Clean Cats’ Ears

Before you start cleaning dirty cat ears, here are some basic tools you’ll need:  

  • Damp cloth or cotton rounds 
  • Cat-ear cleaning solution (ask your veterinarian for a recommendation) 
  • Clean towel 
  • Help from a family member or friend to keep your cat calm 
  • Treats and praise for encouragement and good behavior 

Note that it’s not recommended to use cotton swabs in your cat’s ears unless instructed by your veterinarian. It’s easy to insert them too deep into the ear canal, which can cause damage. 

how to clean a cat’s ears step-by-step infographic

How to Clean Cat Ears – Step-By-Step Instructions

  1. Get your cat comfortable. Once they seem relaxed, lift their ear, holding it between your thumb and forefinger so you can check inside of the ear.  
  2. Examine the ear. Look for signs of infection: inflammation, discharge, excess cat ear wax, or a bad odor. If you notice these symptoms, contact your veterinarian.  
  3. Wipe the entrance of the ear. Provided there are no signs of infection, use a damp cloth to remove any debris or excess wax.  
  4. Offer praise and pets. Before using your cat-ear cleaner, continue to make your pet feel comfortable and happy. If you have someone who can assist you, they should prepare to help as you use the solution.  
  5. Apply the solution. Insert the tip of your cat-ear cleaning solution into the ear canal. Be careful not to push in too far. Squeeze the bottle to release solution into the ear. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer on how much solution to apply. Note, your cat is likely going to shake their head after the solution is applied.   
  6. Massage the base of the ear. This helps the solution flow into the ear canal. It’s okay if some of the solution flows onto your hands.   
  7. Wipe off excess solution with the towel.  
  8. Continue to offer treats and praise. Before switching to the other ear, make sure your cat is calm. It’s okay if you have to take a break. 
  9. Repeat on the other ear.  
  10. If necessary, apply medicated ear drops. If provided by your veterinarian, use medicated ear drops soon after the cat-ear cleaning solution. This helps the medicine enter the ear and be absorbed in a debris-free ear canal. 

 What to Avoid When Cleaning a Cat’s Ears

If you’re wondering how to clean cat ears without solution, or are curious about a natural substance like vinegar, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian first. They can advise you on what’s appropriate for your feline. 

Additionally, avoid using a hydrogen peroxide cat-ear solution, as it can be harmful to your pet and irritate healthy skin cells. 

Remember, for cats who become overly stressed while you clean their ears, don’t force it. Perhaps you can clean one ear at a time, several days apart. 

If you want to know how to clean cat ears, you may be able to do it at home as the steps are fairly simple. If you have any questions, you can always ask your veterinarian or outsource the job to a professional groomer.  

Want more expert tips on grooming your cat? Explore our library of cat routine care articles.  

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