We cannot manage to clean our cat's ears
February 7, 2019 8:01 PM   Subscribe

We are brand new pet owners. Complete novices. Our new cat's ears need to be cleaned twice a day for two weeks. It's been three days and we have not managed to do it a single time. This is AP pet ownership and I am totally out of my depth.

We adopted an alley cat who kept wanting to come inside. Great! She's a sweet little thing. She has been an inside cat with us for a couple of weeks. So we took her to the vet. The vet gave us a bottle of ear rinsing fluid and a separate bottle of ear medicine. Our instructions are to flush both of her ears with the rinser, massage each ear, wipe them with cotton gauze, then measure four drops of medicine into each ear canal. ...Twice a day, for two weeks. These instructions were given to us three days ago. We have tried repeatedly and we have not succeeded a single time.

We've tried holding the cat down, with and without a towel to wrap her in. She is very good at telling when we are getting ready to hold her down. (It was enough of a struggle just getting her into the crate to go to the vet in the first place.) When we do manage to hold her down tightly enough, she twists her head and flattens her ears. This makes it impossible to measure out four drops accurately. She has been starting to trust us, but I am afraid that doing this (poorly) for two straight weeks is going to erode that trust.

This is what is going to have to happen: we are going to have to physically immobilize her, and I mean *completely* immobilize her (not on her side but belly down to give access to both ears), including pinning her head in place, pulling each ear back in turn, and doing the whole squirt/massage/wipe/dropper routine. ...Twice a day, for two weeks.

Even when my partner and I are doing this together, we just can't seem to get it right. We don't know if there is any other recourse. What the heck do we do?
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Honestly, you should go back to your vet with the cat, and get the vet to show you how to do it. They can show you where to hold the cat to control the head/ears, how to do it without causing a ton of distress, etc. You should leave the vet's office having done it successfully. Don't just take an instruction sheet, get the vet to instruct you and make sure you actually do it.
posted by Jairus at 8:12 PM on February 7, 2019 [33 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding that you should go back to the vet, let them show you how to do it but also see what's the least amount of this you can possibly do. Like which is the most important part, which could maybe be skipped or do less often, are there any alternatives, or what's the worst case scenario in waiting a little while to treat this until she's more comfortable.
posted by bleep at 8:16 PM on February 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

You will be tempted to try to sneak up on the cat to capture her for this treatment. I'd caution against that; a cat who thinks you randomly do terrible things to her is a cat who won't learn to trust you.

When I had to do something unpleasant to a cat who wasn't 100% sure of me (few cats are ever sure of any person), I always put a towel up on the dining table, then got the cat and put her on the towel. Not only did this give her a little signal that something un-fun was happening, it made her not want to climb up on the table at other times.

What you _can_ do is block hiding places before you put the towel (or other signal) out. Then, gently talk to the cat while you do what you need to do. Talking helps; you seem less like a predator if you're making conversational noises.

Finally, Feliway might help if she's still nervous in general.

If the cat is so wild that she's panicking every time, though, you'll have to do things a little differently. This advice is for cats that kind of trust you most of the time.
posted by amtho at 10:09 PM on February 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

This won’t help you the first time, but when we have to squirt liquid into our pets’ ears we keep the bottle in our pockets for a half an hour or so before administering it; body-temperature ear medicine is much less upsetting to them and greatly increases the chances they’ll let you do it again.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 11:19 PM on February 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

Talk to your vet, he will have ideas.

Find out how important the ear rinse part is before anything else as that is the hardest part and if you can remove it your life will be way easier. This part may be more ideal practice but you didn't say what your cat s condition is for anyone to tell you either way.

In addition Ask how important is it that it is four exact drops. If you get three is that okay? If you squeeze to hard and a bunch comes out is that detrimental? It could be not a big deal. It might be a big deal. It would be good to know and means you can try different methods the less exact you have to be.

You may be able to clean the ears a little bit with 'accidental scritches' where you keep a moist cotton ball around. Pet cat as normal and get a few very brief swipes in while continuing to pet as if you weren't doing anything different than normal. That doesn't solve your whole problem but may be more than you were accomplishing. If the kitty leaves, don't follow just let her be.

You might get lucky and be able to administer ear drops when kitty is asleep provided she sleeps in an accessible place. But you end up getting one side at a time that way and need to remember what side you did. Your cat may not notice at all (I've had a cat like this) or feel very annoyed with you. Both are just as possible. This doesn't solve the ear rinse issue.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:48 AM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

This works best if you can take some time to get kitty relaxed and purry in your lap first, rather than just going for it. Once her eyes are half-closed and she is blissfully making biscuits on your leg, she will be much more malleable. It will also help a lot if you warm the medicine against your body before administering it, so that she doesn't take it as a shock when it goes in.

Your vet can also advise you, or even demonstrate for you if necessary.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:14 AM on February 8, 2019

Give her a treat afterwards. They learn after a few days that this is how a treat happens and struggle a bit less.
posted by Kalatraz at 5:01 AM on February 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is not medical advice, but I would agree with the suggestion that this is probably not a critical issue, and you will be fine with holding off on this for a little while. I'm assuming this is for ear mites, which can develop into a serious infection, but it may also just be a minor inconvenience. Double check with your vet and get an idea of how serious an issue this is. I'd also just keep the rinse, gauze and meds as handy as possible, and just get a quick swipe in anytime the cat is chilling out nearby. If it is a more serious issue, there may be oral or other systemic meds that will be easier for you to administer.

Sometimes a strip of masking tape stroked into place from the back of the neck or use a large document-clip on the scruff

I would not consider that acceptable cat restraint under any circumstances.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:51 AM on February 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

or use a large document-clip on the scruff

Please don't do this. If you do it incorrectly (as complete cat novices, you just might), you could hurt her. Plus, it doesn't work on 100% of cats; yours might be one it doesn't work on and then she'd trust you even less.
posted by cooker girl at 5:51 AM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would talk to the vet too. This does not seem like a good way to bond with your new cat.

If this is for ear mites, one dose of ivermectin or revolution would fix this. It's much easier to clean a cats ears when they aren't itchy and miserable.
posted by Bistyfrass at 6:18 AM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Kalatraz: "Give her a treat afterwards. They learn after a few days that this is how a treat happens and struggle a bit less."

Yes! I had to do this for my cat, who came home with an ear infection, and he gradually started to be calmer once he knew he was going to get a treat. Also, it definitely took more than three days for him to get used to it. Even at the end, he still hated it and would start to hide from me, which was really sad, but he was back to trusting and snuggly very quickly afterwards. I found a thick fleece blanket was much better than a bath towel for burrito-ing him.
posted by capricorn at 6:29 AM on February 8, 2019

Also, on re-reading your OP, my boyfriend and I did manage to get it to work with one person baby-carrying the cat; we didn't have to immobilize him facedown. Person A holds the cat in their arms with both hands, Person B uses one hand to pull the cat's ear back and the other hand to squirt the rinse into the ear, then hold the ear shut for a few seconds. Then cat is let free to shake out (give a treat), which helps the rinse fully wash the ear canal, then you pick the cat back up again and do the drops (give a treat again).
posted by capricorn at 6:34 AM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you can do the cleaning step while otherwise petting, as AlexiaSky says, that might help a lot. I have known several kitties that wouldn't let me go straight for the ear, but once they're warmed up and purring, are SUPER into having their ears cleaned out with a Kleenex. I'm sure it feels as good as when I use a Q-tip inappropriately in my ear canal.

And seconding the warm drops rec -- I put the bottle in my cleavage (!) to warm it up. No one likes a cold ear drop or eye drop.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:00 AM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Kneel over the cat (this position, you don't have to pray, at least not immediately), with the cat between your legs. Make sure you cross your feet behind you, as the cat will try to back out of there. Now you have the cat immobilized and you should have both hands free. Fold the ear up and twist the head slightly one hand, you can now use the other hand to administer medicine / clean out the ear.
This position works great for pill popping too!
posted by Dotty at 7:06 AM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recently had to give our cat who most hates pills 3 pills each morning and 1 in the evening. I had the least bad time while making the cat burrito with a towel.

1) I was always able to coax him onto the towel with a combination of treats and brushing.

2) Definitely improve your cat burrito skills. Going to the vet for their tips can help, especially about how to hold a cat head to mostly immobilize it while not potentially getting bit. youtube tought me the magic of cat burrito towel wrapping. If it's down well, the cat's body can buck a bit (so I hold it down with one leg), and the head can move. That's it. If the paws are *any* consideration, or the cat can move a tiny bit forward/backward within the towel, you're not doing it right.

Our cat figured out that if he tensed up/extended his paws while I was wrapping him up, it later gave him room to struggle. So I figured out that I need to do an initial wrap, then re-wrap to get him snug. Occasionally a 3rd or 4th attempt was required. The main point is I needed to have the towel wrapped around him pretty tight to keep his limbs stuck against his body.

3) Upon release, he always got some extra treats and 5+ minutes of brushing (which he loves). If instead I let him run off, 1) would likely have gotten progressively harder. Instead he became a little bit accepting of 2) over time, looking forward to the treats at the end.

I remember when young needing to do an ear rinse for my new kitten, and we weren't taught to use towels (I.E. we got heavily scratched up). But we persevered, and it got easier with time as the cat realized that while what was happening was unpleasant, it wasn't getting worse, and was of limited duration.

If the cat is winning, and getting away, it's only going to encourage her to fight harder. You need to either persevere, or decide that you're not going to attempt to do this until after a few more months of bonding/domestication.
posted by nobeagle at 7:34 AM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

As an owner of a dog with some fear issues that were seriously exacerbated by forcing scary-to-him medical treatment very soon after adoption: as important as proper medical care is, it's an even bigger problem if administering it destroys your relationship with the animal altogether & creates long-term dangers/issues/distrust between you and your kitty. For my dog, simply restraining him long enough to put topical steroids on a foot lesion every day for a week led to a dynamic that took years to fully undo. Even though the lesion was important to treat, I so wish we had found a different workaround that didn't teach him to be so afraid of us.

If this continues to be a severe struggle for her (& maybe it won't with the other tips, in which case disregard this!), consider finding a way to have someone else be the "bad guy" (like hiring a cat-sitter to come do it, or even taking her into the vet to have a tech do it 2x/day) so that she doesn't associate it with you too much. If you end up with a kitty who learns that you approaching or (even worse!) sitting in your lap equals terrible trauma, that may be difficult or impossible for her to to unlearn. At the very least, try to associate ear-drop time with something else that she really enjoys (five minute toy/treat party right afterwards, maybe?) so that it's not solely a scary thing.

If you need resources to help find the right approach for treatment, consider finding a vet or vet tech associated with the fear free pets initiative.
posted by mosst at 8:20 AM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

You say you’re holding the cat down while she’s wrapped in the towel. I’ve found that if you do the burrito wrap well, it’s easier to pick up the cat and hold her in my lap kind of like a baby and then do what I need. Even better if you can hold and your partner can do the business.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:41 AM on February 8, 2019

When giving my cats eyedrops, I use the kneeling/cat between legs method. I use treats as incentive: treat before, treat after with petting and praise. I also do it right before feeding time so the cat will have an incentive not to run and hide, and so there will be a pleasant activity to erase the memory of the unpleasant one.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:29 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

A lot depends on the individual cat.

I've used the two-human baby carry, also a variant two-human cross-legged facing lap cuddle.

I've had success with Dr. Uri Burstyn's "squishing" method. All his videos are helpful and worth a watch. And his voice is so soothing.

I have NOT used the scruffclamp, but I have used what I call "scruffulation" - a gentle massage of the scruff with one hand combined with soothing talk. Generally, this works best with a cat who has been scruffulated since youth.

I always follow up with treats and as many scritches as permitted (from a position where I am not towering over cat).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:08 PM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

« Older Are productivity techniques copyrighted or...   |   Using the extra buttons on a Japanese keyboard Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.