Chicago Cat Friendly Practice: Guest Blogger On What's Up in the Cats' Ears


Guest blog by Colleen Currigan, DVM at a cat friendly practice in Chicago and president of Board of Directors Tree House Humane Society, Chicago, IL

Knowing that the cat hates it when ear cleaning solution is put into her ears? Should a cat owner try to remove all that waxy ‘gunk’ in her cat’s ears?

First and foremost, see your veterinarian so that you know why your cat is accumulating debris in her ears, and especially if her ears are itchy.   She could have ear mites, allergies (food or inhalant allergies such as pollens, molds, grass) or, less commonly, a bacterial infection.  Cats should never be given ear medications without a diagnosis and an appropriate reason – and if you read on, you’ll see that many cats don’t do well with ear medications anyway.

Fortunately for the cat, unless your cat has a specific condition for which ear medications may be useful, ear medications may not be recommended for cats.  Even in some cases of ear mite or true bacterial infections, treatment options other than owner-administered ‘ear drops’, such as oral or injectable medication, one time in-clinic topical treatments, cold laser treatment, acupuncture, etc. may be more appropriate, and much more agreeable to the cat.

According to many dermatologists, including Dr. Robert Kennis, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology, ‘One of the most common predisposing causes of feline otitis (inflammation of the ear canal) is the use of a cotton swab (or Q-tip) to remove normal ear canal excretions.

Some cats have excessively waxy ears and should actually be left alone.  One of the most important, yet least discussed factors is the allergic or irritant reaction that occurs after application of topical (in the ear) medications’.   That means that sometimes the best treatment for itchy ears is to actually stop all ear medications!

In Dr. Kennis’ opinion, and I am in agreement, topical medications should be avoided whenever possible in treating cats.  Although ear medications are the mainstay of success in treating dogs with ear issues, cats tend to develop reactions to topical medications (that actually increase itchiness and discomfort) much more often than do dogs – and as most of us who have given these medications to our cats already know, cats hate topical medications.

As many of us in the veterinary field strive to become more ‘cat friendly’ in all that we do with cats – from cat-friendlier ways of transporting them into our hospitals, cat-friendlier ways of performing  physical examinations and obtaining laboratory samples, to cat-friendlier ways of approaching how to best hospitalize them when that needs to happen. Perhaps a further step for cat owners and veterinarians is to rethink the use of topical ear medications for cats.  They often don’t work, they can be difficult for owners to administer, and the poor cats feel horribly violated to boot (i.e. not cat friendly!).

So if your cat is not itching at her ears, and your veterinarian has not recommended topical ear medications for a specific condition – suffice it to say that it is very possible that the waxy ‘gunk’ in your cat’s ears bothers you more than it does your kitty.  In that case please leave those ears alone!