Giving Pets an Earful

Retailers have much to gain by making sure their customers understand exactly how to keep their pets' ears clean and healthy.






While it is obvious to pet professionals that a pet’s ears should be regularly cared for, it is not necessarily apparent to the pet owner. In fact, it doesn’t occur to many dog or cat caretakers to look into their pets’ ears until there is a noticeable problem—odor, discharge or clear indications of discomfort. However, retailers and groomers can help customers prevent these problems by educating them on when, why, how and what to use to provide optimum health care for animals’ ears.

The majority of dogs should have their ears cleaned regularly, so ear cleaners are a must-have for retailers’ shelves. However, ear medications, powder, ear wipes and ear-mite control products all have their place in this category as well—and the more you know about them, the more you can sell.


One of the most important points to convey to pet owners is that even if an animal does not have problems, its ears should be checked and cleaned. Regular maintenance provides an opportunity to make sure there are no medical issues and acclimates the pet to having its ears’ handled and cleaned. It isn’t ideal to introduce the process when a pet is in discomfort or pain, yet that is what often happens.

Dr. Bennett Arble, of Little River Veterinary Hospital in Northport, Maine, suggests cleaning dogs’ ears—including those with chronic problems—only once or twice a week. “More often than that can be irritating, and irritation can cause more exudate or ear gunk, defeating the purpose of cleaning,” she says.

She also cautions against using straight alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. “Although any cleaner that is removing some of the exudate and wax—which yeast or bacteria can use as food—is helpful, full-strength alcohol can burn and irritate, and hydrogen peroxide is neurotoxic—if there is any damage present to the ear drum, it can cause permanent harm. Plus, your pet may learn to hate having his ears cleaned.”

Fortunately, there are several safe products on the market. Zymox offers an ear cleanser for routine use and an ear solution for managing infections. Both use bio-active enzymes to provide gentle, non-irritating control of ear problems, which means that they can even be used long term for dogs with chronic issues. “Retailers like carrying Zymox ear products because customers quickly find that they work and return for more,” says Deirdre Putman, marketing manager for Zymox. 

While manufacturers are doing their part to provide effective cleansers and treatments, the category may never reach its potential in a pet store without proper product placement and merchandising. Retailers need to ensure that customers know about the products and place them where they can easily be found.

Putman recommends placing ear-care products in the grooming section and, if possible, developing a dermatology section. “There’s a whole opportunity for retailers to create a section for skin and wound care,” she says. For example, a retailer can place hypoallergenic diets next to shampoos designed to help with skin irritation.
Manufacturers agree that cross-merchandising ear-care items with like products is the best strategy

—whether the tie-in is natural, first aid, or skin and wound. Elizabeth Fella, marketing manager at Fetch…for Pets!, which debuted the Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care Products line this past spring, suggests placing ear cleaners near other first-aid products. “Our Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care Ear Cleaner features natural ingredients like witch hazel to cleanse the ear and remove excess oil, and peppermint oil to soothe the affected area,” she says.

Some retailers may opt to build a “healthy-treatment section” for ear care, advises Lisa Jordan, sales and marketing director at Espree, which uses human-grade ingredients in its line of pet products. “Products should be separated for dogs and cats, natural ingredients or not, type of product such as liquid or wipes or finger mitts,” she adds.
Carlos Zamora, marketing coordinator for SynergyLabs, which offers Dr. Gold’s Ear Therapy, however, cautions against letting a product of fairly small size get lost in the store. “Instead of including it in the dog section, why not create a separate section for medicated products and include ear therapy formulas? This type of mentality has worked great for the organic product market.”

Aside from putting ear-care products where customers are sure to notice them, retailers need to know and be able to convey to customers why ear care is important. Of course, some dogs are more prone to problem ears than others, most notably any dog with ears that hang down and are fairly heavily coated. The Gold Medal Pets line, made by Cardinal Pet Care, offers a solution. Clean & Dry Ears goes on as a thick liquid and dries to a powder, keeping the ear canal dry to reduce or eliminate bacteria growth. The line also includes ear wipes, ear powder, ear mite control and, of course, an ear cleaner.

Barbara Denzer, vice president of marketing at Cardinal, says, “Our ear cleaner contains a cleanser that softens the ear wax, attracts moisture to the tissue in the ear canal and, when combined with other ingredients, creates reaction like carbonation. The dog will hear a popping or crackling sensation. That’s the ear cleaner breaking apart the wax, dust and dirt. The dog wants to get that out of his ear, so he shakes his head, and anything that’s clogged in his ears gets dislodged.”

The best method for cleaning ears, according to Brian A. Crook, DVM, president of Vital Animal Health—the manufacturer of Vet Essentials and CalmCoat—is to “simply squirt the product in your pet’s ear, massage the base of the ear, and then use a cotton ball to remove the excess cleanser and dirt.”

Since most ear infections that veterinarians see are yeast based, some cleaners, including CalmCoat Ear Cleanse, also contain ingredients to help acidify the ear canal, creating an environment that discourages yeast growth.

As informed as retailers often are, it is sometimes best to seek professional help. Ear problems have many causes, and a visit to the veterinarian will determine the right course of treatment. “Anytime the ears seem painful, inflamed or have a lot of exudates, the dog could certainly benefit from a consultation with a veterinarian,” says Arble.

Lastly, if you aren’t sure you have enough information to help your customers choose the right products for their needs, ask manufacturers. They will all be happy to tell you about the science behind their products. Also, carry as many brands as you need to provide solutions for all your four-legged clients’ needs. 

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.





Advanced Ear Care


Dr. Gold’s Ear Therapy, by SynergyLabs (, has been reformulated to include ketoconazole and aloe vera. Dr. Gold’s Ear Therapy is safe for dogs, cats and small animals.

Dr. Gold’s Ear Therapy’s formula discontinued using tea tree oil, an ingredient that is not safe for cats. New ingredients include ketoconazole and aloe vera. Ketoconazole is an antifungal ingredient effective against fungus of the lymph nodes, skin, nails, respiratory system, bone and other parts of a pet’s body.



Bio-Groom ( also offers a range of ear care products. The line includes: Bio-Groom Ear Care Pads, 100-percent cotton pads  saturated with a veterinary preparation of boric acid, salicylic acid and eucalyptol; Bio-Groom Ear Fresh, which contains boric acid and has special tight-grip properties for removing hair from the ear canals of a dog; Bio-Groom’s Ear Care Cleaner, fortified with boric and salicylic acid to dissolve ear wax build up in one easy application; and Bio-Groom Ear Mite Treatment, which kills ear mites and ear ticks.





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