Monday, April 13, 2015

How often should you clean cat ears?

Black cat sleeping on the stereo

For the most part, cats are self-cleaning creatures. They can handle basic grooming, and if they live in colonies, they can call on their feline counterparts to clean the spots they can't quite reach with their own barbed tongues. That means the average cat needs very little human grooming.

But ears are really hard for cats to keep clean. And some shelter rescues (including Troy) come into their new homes with all sorts of deep ear problems.

I chalk Troy's ear problems up to stress. When Troy lived in the shelter, he had visitors coming and going, and he tried to impress every single person he met. He didn't eat very much, and he certainly didn't do a lot of grooming. His coat was downright greasy when I got him home.

And his ears? They were a total mess. He shook and shook and shook that little head of his, and on an examination, my veterinarian mentioned that Troy's ears were just packed with old wax. It needed to come out, and since Troy can't reach his ears with his tongue, he would need my help.

Troy was trying to tell me his ears were bad. When cats shake their heads or dig at their ears, it's a clear sign that something unusual is happening in the canal. Any cat doing that needs a cleaning.

But how often should cats get ear cleanings on a routine basis, so they don't get clumps?

As it turns out, there are no easy answers to that question.

Cats living in a low-stress environment have more time to handle grooming tasks, so they might be less likely to let the little things slide. They're less likely to fight with roomies, too, so they might get help with ear cleanings. Maggie and Lucy, for example, only need ear cleanings twice a year or so. They can handle keeping things clean.

But there are some cats that just seem to produce a lot of ear wax. Sometimes, that's due to an underlying healing process. Cats with a history of an ear infection, for example, can experience a rapid buildup of ear wax, my vet tells me, and that increased production can persist for months after the infection has been cleared.

And, cats eating a low-quality diet can also have an increase in wax buildup, especially if the cats are somehow allergic to the ingredients inside the foods they eat. That localized irritation can make the ear wax rise like magic.

The ASPCA recommends checking a cat's ears periodically, looking deep down in the canal for wax or irritation. Big or new issues might send you scurrying to the vet's office, but simple wax is easy to remove with a standard pet ear cleaner. I pop a few drops of fluid inside the ears, and then stand back as the kitties shake their ears free. Any dirt in there comes flying out with the shakes. (I wrote about that technique in detail here.)

I clean on demand, applying the drops when my cats are having difficulties. There's no real schedule I follow, as each cat is different. But everybody gets a weekly ear check. And that's not always easy to do, as some cats are sensitive to an ear check. Troy certainly is. Thankfully, there are ways to help a skittish cat.

Troy the cat sleeping on the floor

When Troy is asleep like this (isn't he a flat sleeper?!?!?), his ears are wide open. I use a penlight to look inside his ears without waking him up. I don't have to touch him to do a check; I can see pretty clearly without poking and prodding.

Sniff tests also work well. When I pick Troy up, I give those ears a little sniff. Any yeast smell could be a sign of infection that I'll need a vet's help with. No scent is a good thing.

How often do you clean your cat's ears? I'd love to know. Shoot me a note in the comments section.

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