Cleaning your cat’s ears may not be top of mind. It’s not on the typical cat grooming list along with trimming claws and brushing their fur. But cleaning your cat’s ears is sometimes necessary.
Cats are great self groomers and tend to keep their ears in tip-top shape, but—just like humans—they could develop ear wax and buildup.
To clean your cat’s ears at home, a cat ear cleaner is necessary. And we’ve rounded up some top picks recommended by veterinarians.
Do Cats Need Their Ears Cleaned?
A cat’s ears could get dirty, have buildup and develop wax. Dr. Michelle Burch, a vet from Paramount Pet Health, recommends cleaning your cat’s ears if they’re prone to wax or ear infections.
“Cats with an ear infection can have a foul odor coming from their ear canal, redness of the canal, inflammation of the ear canal or shaking of their head,” she adds.
While most cats do a pretty good job of keeping their own ears clean, you’ll know you’ll need to step in as a cat parent if you notice these signs:
- Head shaking
- Black or brown discharge
- A foul odor coming from your cat’s ears
- A cat who is scratching their ears more than normal
Such clues may mean there’s excessive wax buildup or loose hair in their ears that may need tending to. You should consult with your veterinarian for some expert guidance if you’re not sure.
Cat Ear Cleaner: 6 Veterinarian-Recommended Picks
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Burch recommends choosing a cat ear cleaner you trust from the pet store or one that is prescribed by your veterinarian. Here are some vet-preferred products:
Best Overall Cat Ear Cleaner
Our Pick: Great Pet Great Ears Multi-Symptom Cat Ear Cleaner
Keep your cat’s ears healthy with a preventative cleaning product like this one. We love the plant-based Great Pet Great Ears Multi-Symptom Cat Ear Cleaner because it is made in the U.S. and is meant to clean, dry, and deodorize your feline’s ears . Made of coconut, this product moisturizes and is gentle enough to use on a regular basis to prevent dirt and wax buildup.
- Made by a small business in the United States
- Also deodorizes and minimizes yucky odors
- Will soothe minor skin irritations
Things to Consider
- This cleaner is on the watery side (not a gel), so be careful when applying it.
Vet’s Favorite Cat Ear Cleaner
Our Pick: Virbac Epi-OticAdvanced Ear Cleaner
Burch recommends this highly rated ear cleaner for cats. With over 10,000 reviews on Amazon and an average rating of 4 1/2 stars, this ear cleaner prevents microbial ear issues, as well as eliminates ear canal odor. If used properly, it can move ear debris and wax and is often a first choice of veterinarians.
- Great for chronic otitis externa, an inflammation of the external ear canal
- Also good for routine cleanings of sensitive ears
- Made for both cats and dogs
Things to Consider
- For topical use only
- Don’t use in ears with ruptured eardrums
Best Ear Cleaner for Multi-Cat Households
Our Pick: Vetoquinol Ear Cleansing Solution
Burch also recommends this ear solution that works for both cats and dogs. It comes in a variety of sizes, making it ideal for multi-cat and multi-pet households. This ear cleaner aims to deodorize and clean the external ear canal with alcohol and lactic acid and moisturizes the skin with soothing aloe.
- Made by a family-owned company
- Comes in various bottle sizes
- Has a scent, but it’s not overpowering
- Affordable price point
Things to Consider
- On the liquid-y side, so be careful when you are using it
Best Cat Ear Cleaner for Fungus
Our Pick: ZYMOX Enzymatic Ear Cleanser
When it comes to cats who are dealing with fungal and yeast infections, Burch recommends Zymox Enzymatic Ear Cleanser to manage the symptoms. It comes equipped with the Patented LP3 Enzyme System, which aims to treat ears gently while working hard to keep them smelling fresh. It also contains 0.5% Hydrocortisone to soothe itchy cat ears.
- Made in the United States
- Cruelty-free product
- Can help control symptoms of fungal and yeast infections
- Has Hydrocortisone to help alleviate itching
Things to Consider
- On the expensive side compared to some other cat ear cleaners on our list
Best Affordable Cat Ear Cleaner
Our Pick: TropiClean OxyMed Ear Cleaner for Cats
Coming in at under $10 for a 4-oz. bottle, this affordable cat ear cleaner from Tropiclean is gentle enough to use on a regular basis and won’t hurt your wallet. Not only will this formula help remove wax and debris, but it helps to get rid of odors and leaves behind a light, fresh scent. If you happen to have canines in your household, this affordable pet ear cleaner can be used for both cats and dogs.
- Great price point
- Gentle enough for regular use
- Helps control ear odors in cats
- Can be used on both cats and dogs
- TropiClean is a family-owned business
Things to Consider
- Not recommended for yeast or fungal infections
- Should not be used on cats younger than 12 weeks old
Best Cat Ear Wipes
Our Pick: Pet MD Advanced Cat Ear Cleaner Wipes
This jar of cat ear wipes comes with 100 alcohol-free ear-cleaning wipes. We love how easy it is to use. Some ingredients in this product include (but are not limited to): salicylic acid, aloe vera leaf extract, sodium hydroxide, glycerine, water and more. While it’s not like the other ear cleaners we’ve mentioned—which are essentially liquid—these wipes may still cause your cat’s head to shake after application.
- Made with soothing aloe vera
- 100 wipes per jar is a nice value
- Has a pleasant scent
- Good for on-the-go use
Things to Consider
- If your cat’s ears are excessively dirty, you may have to apply this product 2 to 3 times a day for several days for efficacy
- May not be efficient for deep cleaning
Cat Ear Cleaner Buyer’s Guide
As you shop for ear cleaners for your cat, the veterinarian we spoke to said many of the products on the market do essentially the same things: they clean the external ear, they dry out the ear to remove debris and wax and they strive to eliminate odors emanating from your cat’s ears. And, that is what you should be looking for in an effective cleaner.
Some cat ear cleaning products will list additional benefits like special scents to control odor and aloe for moisturizing purposes. While those factors don’t help clean the ear, they are added bonuses, so pick what is important to you if any.
Here are a few more things to consider when shopping for a cat ear cleaner:
Think about your cat’s needs. Some cat ear cleaners may be better used for regular cleaning and grooming, while others are designed to specifically help alleviate symptoms associated with yeast or fungal infections. Not all ear cleaners are designed to treat symptoms, so read the labels carefully and discuss your cat’s needs with your vet.
Use your vet as a resource. Talk to your veterinarian to get guidance on any recommended products.Have your veterinarian check on any potential medical issues to ensure you’re doing all of the right things for your pet.
Make sure it’s formulated for cats. Many cat ear cleaners are also good for dog use. When you buy, just make sure the cat ear cleaner you choose is, in fact, formulated for cats. If it says “for dogs or cats” on the label, it is fine to use, according to our vet source.
Read customer reviews. Before buying a product, read reviews—and thoughtful ones at that. Consider both positive and negative reviews.Choose products that are not only highly-rated, but those that have hundreds if not thousands of ratings.
Consider the formula. Cat ear cleaners usually come in liquid or gel formulas. Gel formulas may be less messy and won’t drip as easily as liquid, but they may not penetrate as well. Wipes are another option and may be convenient for easy maintenance or on-the-go cleaning.
Cat Ear Cleaner FAQs
How often should we use cat ear cleaners?
Burch suggests that cat ear cleaners can be used once or twice a month for preventative care. If your cat is prone to yeast or fungal infections and wax buildup, your veterinarian may recommend more frequent cleaning.
Can I use dog ear cleaner on a cat?
Many cat ear cleaners are safe to use for both dogs and cats, but it’s important that you review the label of your dog ear cleaner carefully and make sure it says that it can be used on cats. If it does not say it is safe for cats anywhere on the label, it’s best to avoid using it and seek out a cat-specific ear cleaner.
Are there any safe home remedies for cat ear cleaning?
“I do not recommend using apple cider vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide to clean the ears,” Burch cautions. “These products can cause more harm to the ear canal and ear drum than benefit.”
Can cat ear cleaner expire?
Yes, cat ear cleaners can expire. The solutions can dry out, decrease in efficacy, or develop bacteria. Review best by dates on packaging and throw out expired products.
Cat Ear Cleaning Tips
If you need to clean your cat’s ears, your feline family member may not enjoy the experience. Here are a few tips to make the cleaning process straightforward and hassle-free for you and your cat.
Enlist help. If you have a family member in the home, ask them to gently hold and comfort your cat during ear-cleaning sessions. This will make it easier for you to place the cleaning solution in your cat’s ears.
Let your cat shake it out. Don’t be too quick to wipe away the ear cleaning solution. Fill your cat’s ear canal, massage the cleaner in, and let your cat shake their head afterwards. This will loosen debris and wax. You can then wipe the ear clean with a cotton ball or tissue.
Don’s use a Q-tip for cleaning. Burch says not to use cotton tip applicators or to push other objects down into your cat’s ear canal. “Only clean the parts of the ear you can see,” she warns. “You can impact wax or cause infection by using a cotton tip applicator.”
Use your veterinarian as a resource. “Damage to the ear canal or eardrum can easily occur if improper cleaning is performed,” says Burch, adding that a cat may lose hearing, develop a head tilt, lose coordination, or develop abnormal eye movement if the wrong solution is used or cleaning isn’t performed properly. It’s important to speak with your veterinarian about cleaning your cat’s ears if you’re uncomfortable or uncertain about the process.
Reward your cat afterwards. Don’t forget to offer your cat tasty treats during and after at-home ear cleanings. This may help them stay calm and not fret as much about future cleanings, too.