Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 6, 2023 by Crystal Uys


Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr is a 1991 graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and founder of Dezi & Roo, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells solution-based products that enhance the lives of cats and their owners. She volunteers at numerous animal-related charities and causes and serves on the Fear Free Advisory Board, the Parliamentarian of the Society of Veterinary Medical Ethics, the Cat Committee of the Pet Professional Guild, and the Alley Cat Allies’ Feline Forward Task Force.

Dr. Bahr is co-author of the book Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their World, which is available since April 2022.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Please note that Dr. Bahr will take a two-month break from our column. She will answer any questions left on this post in January.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr? Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in January’s column.

How to clean a cat’s ears

Hi. Recently, my cat had an ear infection. As part of helping with that infection, I was told by my vet to clean her ears 2x a week using an Oticetic Flush, which I did. However, I’m confused as to whether I was doing it right in the first place.

  1. The first vet nurse told me to squeeze the liquid onto a cotton ball and then squeeze the cotton ball so the liquid goes into the ear. Then I had to use q-tips to clean some of the debris in the ear.

They did say not to put the q-tip all the way into ear. The most the q-tip can go in is half the cotton swab. The other half of the cotton part should be sticking out of the ear. I would clean as much of the inside of the ear that I could or as much as Sophie would let me.

  1. When I went for a re-check, another vet nurse told me to add the drops to the cotton ball, put in the ear, and massage the ear so the liquid goes into the ear, not as aggressively as squeezing the liquid from the cotton ball as I was told initially.

Everything else is the same in regards to the qtips.

  1. After the infection cleared, they recommended that I do an ear cleaning 1 to 2 times a week.

So I bought an ear cleanser, but this is where I’m confused. The instructions says to add the drops inside the ear, rub the base of the ear and then wipe with a cotton ball moistened by more of the ear cleanser. And under no circumstances to use cotton swabs.

I’m not sure what’s the correct way. I’m leaning towards the second option, but the whole ‘do not use cotton swabs’ is throwing me off. – Abby

Hi Abby,

I am happy to hear that your cat’s ear infection has been resolved. That means you did a fantastic job of cleaning her ears despite whatever method you used. Bravo and congratulations!

While ear cleansing is beneficial, I typically recommend owners do so 1-2 x’s a month at most once any infections have been resolved. More than that is generally unnecessary, not to mention difficult and possibly unpleasant for both pet parents and their kitties.

As you have discovered, there are several different techniques used to clean ears and I recommend you continue to work with the one that caused the least discomfort for your cat and was the easiest for you to administer. Don’t change what works for you.

Whenever possible, I try things out on myself first before I do so on my own cats. So, after instilling solution into my own ear, using the different methods you described, I found that I preferred the feeling of a soaked cotton ball and massage to having liquid poured or squeezed into the canal. It was less shocking and more comfortable with the soaked cotton ball and the massage was pleasant.

It is also helpful to instill a warmed solution into the ear canal because it feels so much better than cold liquid. You can do that by placing the bottle in a warm water bath for a few minutes prior to use. This is a little trick I use often that makes the entire procedure more pleasing for the cat.

With regards to using a Q-tip, there is less danger of inserting it too far into a cat’s ear canal (because it is shaped like the letter L) than into a human’s ear canal. That is because humans have a very short ear canal while cats have longer, narrower canals that make almost a 90-degree bend as it travels to the deeper parts of the ear. So, you really don’t have to worry about inserting it too far.

The primary reason why some suggest never using Q-tips, and the reason you need to be concerned about them, is the Q-tip could push wax and/or debris further down the canal. Technique is important and unless you know how to use the Q-tip properly to scoop matter out, instead of pushing it deeper down, you probably shouldn’t use one. Instead, let your cat shake her head to dislodge the liquid cleanser, cotton ball and wax on her own. This is what I do most of the time. But, beware, because this method does tend to create a mess so make sure you are dressed accordingly and keep a towel close by.

Thank you for wanting to be the bet cat parent pawsible and for your concern over doing the best thing for your girl. Let me know how else I can help.

Hyperthyroid cat is losing hair

My 13 yr old female with hyperthyroidism (taking methimazole BID) is losing hair. If it were spring I might think she was thinning her coat for the warmer weather. But it’s fall and cooler here now. When she gets up from a spot where she’s been lying down, it’s not unusual for me to find a couple of clumps of her hair left behind. She’s also bringing up hairballs with unusual frequency.
I’ve found a Greenies treat with fiber which is supposed to help with hairballs. She loves it, so it’s easy to give it to her daily. I brush and comb her as much as she will allow, once / day but not for too long. I will take her to see her vet, but not immediately as I am in the throes of major dental work I can’t pause right now. Any suggestions? – Cheri Collins

Hi Cheri,

I am sorry to hear about your cat’s hair loss, as well as your own major dental problems. Hopefully, both will be resolved soon.

There are many possible reasons to explain why your cat is experiencing an increased loss of fur and without more information it would be difficult for me to formulate a root cause or give any suggestions for a resolution. However, I would highly recommend that you have her thyroid levels checked to make sure that she is well controlled, especially if she hasn’t had them looked at within the past 6-9 months. Loss of fur due to hormonal abnormalities is not uncommon and bloodwork will go a long way in helping you discover what the problem is.

Let me know what you uncover. Good luck.

Radiocat I-131

What do you think if Radiocat Radioiodine (I-131)? – Kimberly

Hi Kimberly,

There are currently only four treatment options available for hyperthyroidism and choosing the right for your kitty depends on several factors (age of cat, co-morbidities, cost, etc). But since you asked about the use of radioactive iodine (I-131) specifically, I will only address this option.

Assuming that a cat is otherwise healthy with few co-morbidities, I often recommend this avenue of treatment for several good reasons. The use of I-131 has a success rate of 95%-98% which is impressive. It is non-invasive and well tolerated by most cats. And it is easier for pet parents to pursue a one-time treatment option as opposed to giving pills or feeding a strict diet for the rest of their cat’s life making I-131 especially helpful for cats that are difficult to handle or medicate.

The major drawback to I-131 treatment is having to hospitalize and be away from your kitty for 4-8 days. This is the hardest part for most pet parents. And many find it difficult to pay a large bill up front, as opposed to paying for pills or food monthly. But, at the end of the day, the cost of I-131 probably works out to be the same or less expensive than the medical or dietary options that remain for the rest of a cat’s life.

It is important to take age and health into consideration before opting for I-131. I probably wouldn’t recommend it for an 18+ old kitty since their remaining lifespan is relatively short and it might be more prudent to pick other options in that scenario. The same would hold true for a cat with co-morbidities that are contraindicated to I-131 treatment.

I always present the four different treatment options to pet parents when their cat has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Every family, every cat, and every case are different and should be treated accordingly. But I do highly recommend I-131 when appropriate.

Hopefully, this information helps you make the best decision for your fur baby. Let me know which option of treatment you end up deciding to purse.

Congestive heart failure

Our Norwegian Forest Cat, Gandolfini, was dx with CHF in May, quite suddenly. After a weekend in ER, we got him into a cardiologist relatively quickly, within 2 wks, and he is on a variety of meds, and is holding his own. What are the best medications for this, food to feed and expected lifespan? Thank you. – Alesha L

Hi Alesha,

It is best to follow the advice and recommendations of Gandolfini’s cardiologist when seeking the best medications and foods to give him. You are lucky to have the option of having a cardiologist treat him and I would defer to their expertise.

Paws crossed his CHF is well controlled and that he does live a long life. Wishing you and Gandolfini the best.

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8 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: How to Clean a Cat’s Ears, Hyperthyroidism, and More

  1. Somewhat disappointed that the HERBAL treatment for hyperthyroidism was not considered for cats… Even WebMD lists BUGLEWEED as a therapy for hyperthyroid [yes for humans] but the capsules are easily opened and added to wet food.. no sweat.

    Sure beats the standard CUT/POISON/BURN OPTIONS…. and involves NO TRAUMATIC HOSPITALIZATION like this I-131 or whatever…… ttyl

    • I’m not aware of any studies on cats that have used bugleweed to treat hyperthyroidism. Just because something MAY work for humans does not mean it will work for cats. The only animal study I’m aware of is one done on rats.

      • Well it’s time some clinicians did it.. I’ve seen it help somewhat a neighbor cat who was coming to our door to eat with some of our cats and he was acting so frantically hungry every time he came, so I took some bugleweed and add it to a nice big helping of ground beef organs and it seemed to have some calming effect for a couple days but that was just one attempt…

        Could you relay the link to the rat study…. as I have also added MSM to our cat refuge’s drinking water as a preventive for various pitfalls because of research showing [confirmed] added life span for rats, mice… as well as therapeutic anti-cancer uses for humans…

        We believe in nutritional and energy medicine and have seen one of our rescuees –paralysed from hips down — return over a few months to fully mobile energetic furball with high dosing with vitamin E and selenium..

        Plus we have seen one black beauty with recurring eye infections, diagnosed as life shortening and never ending, respond fully to codliver oil drops in his eyes..
        Etc, etc…

        TTYL, TIA

        • Hi MJ- this is first time I’ve been on this site. I need to get some info from vets but did see your all natural remedies and other avenues to pursue feline health other than the main stream . Not sure if you are a vet, cat lover or what but I would like to get ur contact email or info if you don’t mind. If you do mind can u recommend a book or website that has a thoughtful amount of these anticdotes for felines? Thank you!
          Lindy Lee Lillard
          Xoxo. [email protected]

  2. My 14.5 yo male Ragdoll is sneezing and coughing. The sneezing is new the spastic coughing has been going on for a year. my vet said it could be an allergy, and to try to eliminate food items. He is now on a limited ingredient Duck (dry) food and has continued coughing/wheezing through the process of changing foods. I have asthma and his cough sounds a lot like mine, one triggers the next and this goes on for 60-70 seconds in a spasm. Is this an upper respiratory infection, if so what can be done? The coughing started at the same time that he had an eye infection, but prescription ointment fix the eyes. The coughing is still here and seems to be triggered by exertion (jumping, the dog bothering him). When he lays on the bed next to me, I can hear moist breathing through his nose. Any ideas? I’ve thrown out a ton of food that didn’t work, wet and dry.

  3. Thank you for the tips on how to clean a cat’s ears better. Miss Kiki always needs hers cleaned and I don’t like upsetting her when I do it.

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