All Ears

Retailers can simultaneously boost sales and promote pet health by supplying a strong assortment of ear-care products and raising customer awareness on the subject.


As with so many pet grooming product categories, ear care products can be good moneymakers for retailers, while ensuring pets are getting the best possible care. All it takes is a little effort from sales staff to educate pet owners on the importance of a good ear-care routine.

Although many pet owners only think about it once there is a problem, ear care should be a regular part of owning a pet. If nothing else, cleaning ears once a week provides the opportunity to check them carefully to see if there are any issues that need further attention. All breeds—and cats too—should have their external ear canal cleaned regularly, and dogs with heavy ear leathers covered with fur should be checked and cleaned more often. Lack of air circulation provides an ideally moist, warm environment to harbor bacteria and yeast that cause ear infections. Dogs with allergies may need extra help as well; allergies tend to manifest differently in dogs than in humans, and in pets, they show up in the ears and skin. 

Some dogs have hair growing in the ear canal, and there is controversy over whether this should be removed or not. Some contend that the hair should be removed regularly because it encourages moisture and an ideal environment for infections. Others maintain that pulling the hair out leaves openings in the skin that, however tiny, can allow bacteria and fungi to get a foothold.

Middle of the roaders suggest that if the animal is in a lot of pain from having the hair removed, tends to get infections right afterwards or is uncomfortable for more than a few minutes after the hair is removed, don’t do it. On the other hand, they say dogs that get infections when they have excess hair in the ear and don’t mind having it removed, should have it plucked.

For those customers who do want to pluck the hair, retailers should make sure they are equipped with ear powder. The powder serves both to dry the area and provide grip to make it the plucking process easier on the pet.

One thing everyone should be able to agree on is that there are many dogs that should have their ears cleaned routinely. Yet, while cleaning a dog’s ears might seem pretty straightforward, there is controversy on how to do that as well, even among veterinarians. Cleaner can be put directly into the ear canal—either in drops or more generously. Or, the cleaner can be put on a cotton ball and used to wipe just the external ear canal. Either way, retailers should supply a well-rounded assortment of cleaners for customers to choose from.

Formulation Matters
When stocking the ear-care section, retailers will have to take note of the ingredients these products contain. There are many kinds of ear cleaner available, and most will work by one means or another. Most have something astringent, or drying, in them, whether it is alcohol or something gentler. Many rely on natural or even organic ingredients, while others use more unusual ingredients that work differently. Retailers need to consider their customer demographics. If customers are buying organic homemade treats, they may be interested in organic ear cleaner. If high-tech solutions sell, take that into account when selecting ear products and their ingredients.

Naomi Kirby, DVM MS, manager of technical services at Pet King Brands—manufacturer of Zymox products—says it generally isn’t necessary to clean healthy ears.  However, pets with allergies or those that are prone to otitis externa may need ear cleansing more than others. “It is difficult for pets to clean their ears themselves, and they rely on us for maintenance and prevention of ear infections,” she says. To clean normal ears, choose a mild cleanser such as Zymox Ear Cleanser. Don’t use vinegar, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, as these substances can be irritating.”

Zymox Ear Cleanser contains gentle plant-based surfactants and the patented LP3 Enzyme System, which provides mild microbe control. Kirby recommends squirting the product into the ear, gently massaging and allowing the pet to shake its head. The outside of the ear can be wiped. For ears with an active infection, Zymox Enzymatic Ear Solution is recommended—a more potent formulation of the LP3 Enzyme System. 

Debbie Guardian, founder of Opie & Dixie’s Wholesome Pet Solutions, uses organic ingredients in all formulations, including the Ear Wash for Dogs. It contains spring water, organic peppermint, organic spearmint, organic lemon eucalyptus, organic tea tree and organic rosemary—the mints provide powerful antiseptic properties. “I recommend lifting the dog’s ear flap and dispensing a few shallow drops—do not pour—into the ear canal and gently massaging below the ear opening. Then, use a cotton ball or cotton pad to wipe away dirt, debris and wax,” says Guardian.  “Alternatively, just squeeze a few drops directly onto the cotton ball and wipe their ears clean that way, without pouring any liquid into the ear canal itself.”

Bio-Groom is another company that offers an array of ear-care products, along with a convenient display for retailers. Fitting neatly into the display are Bio-Groom’s cleaner and powder, along with easy-to-use ear care pads and an ear-mite treatment.

Dr. Nancy Crowley, owner of the Beverly Animal Natural Health Center in Beverly, Mass., points out that each breed has its own tendency for ear issues. “These can be exacerbated by food or seasonal allergies, humidity and activities such as swimming,” she says. “A visual evaluation of the ear should be done routinely by gently lifting up the dog’s pinnae [ear flap] or taking a look down the canal for dogs with upright ears. It is helpful to do this weekly, especially if you have a predisposed breed.” 

If there is any debris seen, it should be gently cleaned with an ear cleaner. Crowley does not recommend squirting the solution into the ear, as it may be uncomfortable for the dog and make it dislike the process. She uses a soft cottonball with cleanser on it and cautions that pet owners should seek a veterinarian care if there is redness, pain or swelling. Meanwhile, some dogs just produce a lot of wax and debris, which just means they need to have their ears cleaned regularly.

Retailers should be alert for opportunities to sell ear-care products; any customer looking for foods or skin products to combat allergies should be asked if their dog has any ear odor or trouble with their ears. Retailers should also be sure to address the issue with owners of breeds with hanging ears, especially those with a lot of hair, such as Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Goldens, Goldendoodles and similar, or dogs that are that are likely to swim, like Labradors and Portuguese Water Dogs. A few strategic questions can lead to excellent ear-care product sales.

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.

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