white oriental shorthair cat ears

Best Way to Care for Your Cat’s Amazing Ears

Last Updated on May 10, 2021 by Holly Anne Dustin

Your kitty has amazing ears.  He can move them independently 180 degrees. He flattens them back when angry or annoyed. Our ears only allow us to take in information. Kitty, on the other hand, can communicate with his ears. Watch him when you talk and when he interacts with his environment.

Your cat’s ears let him process and share a lot of information. It is up to us to help Kitty keep his ears healthy.

Great Hearing

Kittens are born deaf.  But once their ears mature at around 3 weeks, they have the most accurate hearing of any animal. The range he can hear is much greater than a human or a dog.  He can locate his prey within 5 degrees. Your furbaby might not be out catching mice, but his amazing ears also hear the rustle of a treat bag or the opening of a can across the house.

Spatial Orientation:

Surely you’ve heard that cats always land on their feet?  Technically, they don’t. Cats have a “righting reflex” that uses the vestibular system in their inner ear to help them orient themselves in space and prepare for a safe landing.  It is also why a cat with an ear infection or a bad case of mites can develop a head tilt or struggle with balance.

Tabby cat ears

Stress Management:

Did you know that your cat’s ears can even tell you something about his stress levels?  Stress hormones impacts the temperature of his right ear. If you monitor his ears in a difficult situation, you’ll know how he is handling it.

What Healthy Cat Ears Look Like:

The pinna, or outer ear flap, should be smooth, straight (unless your cat’s breed has folded or curled ears) and pale pink. Even black cats will have a pale pink or white inner ear flap. It should be clean, without an odor or dirt. Earwax should be minimal.

The outer ear should not have bald spots. The “ear furnishings,” or the fur that grows in Kitty’s ears should be full and clean.  Some breeds of cats will have more ear furnishings than others. Your Persians and forest cats will have a lot more ear furnishings than an Oriental Shorthair.

seal pointed himilayan cat face with close up of ears

How to Care for Your Cat’s Ears

Some cats need more ear care than others; depending on how well they wash their ears and what kind of ear furnishings they have. Some cats are more prone to ear wax and ear issues than others, just like dental and eye issues vary by breed and genetics. Persians, Scottish Folds and the “curl” breeds are more prone to needing help with ear maintenance. Cats with diabetes, immune suppressing issues like FIV, and allergies are all more likely to have problems with their ears.

[bctt tweet=”Cats have a lot of muscle control over their ear,” says Dr. George Strain, “They can use it like a radar unit and turn it toward the source of sound and increase their hearing sensitivity by 15 to 20 percent.” via=”no”]

How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears

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Checking your kitty’s ears out once a week as part of your at-home grooming routine will be enough.  You want to make sure they look healthy and clean, free of dirt, debris, odor, or infection. A simple wipe with a cotton ball or make up pad moistened with commercial ear cleaner will keep an average ear clear of problems.

Apply the drops to Kitty’s ear, and massage the base of the ear for 20-30 seconds, then let him shake his head (and duck, so you don’t get the gunk all over you.)

You don’t want to fish around with a Q-Tip down in the ear canal, let the cleaner do the work.  Cat ear canals are L-shaped and you can really hurt him. It is fine to use a swab in the crevices and folds in the outer ear and the edge of ear canal you can see.

Best Cat Ear Cleaner

I think the best cat ear cleaner that is easily available is Zymox, but there are plenty of others on the market. Pro Ear is one that a lot of groomers use. TropiClean Ear Cleaner is another popular product.  Vinegar, alcohol, and peroxide aren’t recommended because they can sting and further damage an inflamed ear canal.

A Clean Cat is a Happy Cat

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Symptoms of Ear Problems in Cats:

  • Excessive wax buildup
  • Redness or swelling
  • Discharge
  • Debris that looks like coffee grounds
  • Odors
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Poor balance or disorientation
  • Head tilt
  • Excessive scratching or pawing the ears

Most Common Cause of Cat Ear Problems:

  • Mites: Ear mites are the most common ear problem for cats. Most other ear problems result from a mite infestation. Mites are parasitic insects that live in the cat’s ear and live off the ear wax.  The most obvious sign of ear mites is a waxy debris that looks like coffee grounds. Kitty will scratch and shake his head trying to get the mites out.
  • Hematoma or “cauliflower ear”: Similar to a blister, a hematoma is a collection of blood and fluid that collects between the skin and tissue in the ear causing a bubble. An injury or trauma from a fight usually causes your Kitty’s hematoma.  It can also happen if Kitty scratches his ears excessively. The body will eventually absorb the fluid, or you can have a vet lance the bubble, but in either case Kitty’s ear will scar and develop a wrinkled appearance.
  • Bacterial or yeast infections: Ear infections are not as common in cats as they are in dogs. Usually a cat gets an ear infection from allergies or mites. Kitty can also develop an infection if water gets in his ears while grooming.  There are ear cleaners that dry the ears out if that happens. If you suspect an infection has taken hold you should take Kitty in to the vet for antibiotics or an antifungal medication.
  • Foreign bodies: the most common cause of foreign bodies in cat ears is grass seeds. If your cat lives inside it is unlikely this will be a problem.
  • Allergies and environmental irritants: food allergies, environmental allergies, and contact irritants can cause ear problems, usually a yeast problem or contact dermatitis.
Cat profile showing cat's ear

How to Treat Ear Mites:

  • You can get an ear mite treatment at most pet retailers or your vet can prescribe something.  I‘ve used Rx-7 mite treatment in the past.
  • Some people recommend olive oil or coconut oil as home remedies for ear mites. I would not recommend this without direction from your vet.  You could end up making an infection worse.
  • Never use anything with tea tree oil on cats.
  • Clean your Kitty’s ears with a good ear cleaner, depending on what treatment product you get it might include one.
  • Apply the meds as prescribed. Again, apply, massage, and duck while Kitty shakes it out.
  • Wipe the area clean with a dry cotton ball.
  • Treat all your animals so they don’t pass the infestation around.
  • A topical treatment like Revolution will take care of mites and fleas.

Other Conditions that Affect Your Cat’s Ears:


Most cat ear problems are easily treated. However, a cat that spends a lot of time outside in the sun risks getting sunburns and skin cancer. Cats with white or light colored ears are most susceptible.  If your cat hangs out in the sun, ask your vet or pet retailer for a cat-safe sunscreen.

There isn’t a mass market, cat specific sunscreen that I’m aware of, Tufts recommends a human product for babies like Bullfrog or Aveeno. You don’t want to let him ingest it. This Etsy product is formulated for pets. Lumps and bumps are cause for a vet visit.

Frostbite injured a brown tabby cat's ear
Tabby with a frostbitten ear


Frostbite is a concern in the winter.  If it is too cold for you, it is too cold for Kitty.  His paws and ears are the most common areas affected by frostbite.  It’s not uncommon to see feral cats that have lost all or part of their ear pinna to frostbite.

Make ear care part of Kitty’s weekly grooming routine to keep his ears clean and healthy.  If you have any concerns about your baby’s ears be sure to check with your vet.

Jump over onto our Facebook page for more cats!  Always happy to answer any questions you may have over there or here in the comments.


Feline Ear Disorders
Science of cat ears and hearing
How to Clean Your Cat’s Ears

More Life&Cat’s Grooming Guides:

A Guide to Skin and Coat Care
Paw and Claw Care
How to Care for Your Cat’s Eyes
Proper Dental Care

17 thoughts on “Best Way to Care for Your Cat’s Amazing Ears”

  1. Great info! I had no idea kittens were born deaf! Cleaning a cat’s ears is pretty much the same as we do for dogs, and so important. We’ve had so many ear infections here this winter with our Huskies, it’s crazy! And they do not typically get them, but what a year! Thankfully, I have the wash and topical ear medication on hand.

  2. Great article! One of my cats is prone to ear issues. She gets gunk build up quickly, so we have to clean them regularly. She also has a permanent wrinkle in one of her ears from when she got cauliflower ear once. Thanks for this reminder to regularly check my cats’ ears!

  3. My sister’s kitten had ear mites when she found him along the highway, but that was the least of his problems. Fortunately, he is healthy now.

    I’ll be sharing this with her since he is her first cat.

  4. Good tips, even for a dog person. I have never owned a cat. Buffy, being a cocker spaniel with long, heavy floppy ears was prone to ear infections for a long time. I stopped taking her to the beach and getting her head wet, and they went away. I also clean her ears twice a week, which is what my vet recommended.

  5. Hmm interesting post. Great suggestions too. I”ve used that olive oil trick toclean my cats ears with a cotton ball. It worked great. My cats never experienced any ear problms, thank goodness.

    1. I had a cat when I was just out on my own that got cauliflower ear because I didn’t know what I know now. Plush has nasty ears but at least he’s good about letting me take care of them.

  6. Another great post! Chizzy kept getting hematomas and wound up with a cauliflower ear. I thought I’d subscribed but haven’t gotten any emails. I’ll try again.

  7. Those are some ears on that first photo!
    I don’t have any experience with cats but Cookie’s ears need minimum care–they’re doing well. Once in the past she had a mild ear infection but has been problem-free since.

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