A cat's ears are self-cleaning, kind of like the cat itself. In most cases, you generally won't pay any attention to them—unless they're folded straight back, then you'd better keep away from kitty's pointy ends. They may occasionally need cleaning, which you can do with simple household materials.
Symptoms of a Dirty Ear
Cats are notoriously independent, and typically will not respond when you call them or tell them for the hundredth time to get off the counter. This total disregard for your orders isn't necessarily an indication of an ear problem, just a well-honed talent. Signs that your cat's ears are bothering him include increased shaking of his head, usually accompanied by frantic scratching. His ear may also be red or slightly warmer to the touch than normal. You may also notice more wax or brownish residue gathered inside.
How to Clean
Your cat makes a great attempt at cleaning his own ears, or a friend may do it for him if you have more than one. If he needs help, you can use a few household items to give him a hand. A vinegar solution, one part vinegar mixed with two parts water, will clean excess ear wax and additional dirt. A few drops of cooking oil in each ear will help lubricate and clean it effectively. Add a few drops of your chosen cleaning solution to each ear, massage the base of the ear to loosen the built-up dirt, and use a cotton ball to wipe it clean.
Your cat's ear is sensitive, especially if it's dirty and bothering him already, so poking around in there with a cotton swab is only going to annoy him. When your cat's annoyed, he doesn't sit well and may end up getting hurt—or hurting you in a not-so-subtle attempt to get you to stop. Use a cotton ball to only clean the visible part of the inside of your cat's ear to avoid hurting him.
When to See a Veterinarian
The yowling, fighting and hissing your cat may exhibit during your attempt at cleaning his ears could be a normal display of his annoyance at being manhandled, or it could be a sign that he's in more pain than he admits. Dirty ears on a cat can be a symptom of other health issues such as ear mites and yeast infections. While homemade remedies may eliminate mites, a yeast infection requires medication from your veterinarian to clear up. If your cat's ears don't seem to clear up after a few days of cleaning, or if they seem redder or more irritated, see your veterinarian to get a professional opinion.
Jane Williams began her writing career in 2000 as the writer and editor of a nationwide marketing company. Her articles have appeared on various websites. Williams briefly attended college for a degree in administration before embarking on her writing career.