There are lots of things we should be doing routinely to take care of our cats’ health, but cleaning their ears is not one of them. That’s because most of the causes of “dirty” ears — mite infestation, wax buildup, allergies, and foreign objects that get stuck in the ear canal — should be addressed by a vet. You could injure your cat and even adversely affect her hearing by taking on ear cleaning at home. For instance, using a cotton swab like a Q-tip to remove debris could end up pushing it further into the ear and make it harder for the doctor to dislodge.
Your role, rather, is to notice whether your cat’s ears are bothering her or if something looks amiss. “If you happen to see some visible debris, it is safe to use a tissue and your finger to wipe it out,” says Tufts veterinary internist Michael Stone, DVM. But if your cat is persistently scratching or swatting one or both ears — or if you notice ear swelling, discharge, discoloration, or ongoing accumulation of dirt — take her in for a consultation.