Music to Pets’ Ears

Ear care is a critical component of pet hygiene that is often undervalued by pet owners, but retailers can help get the message out.


Ear care tends to be routine for professional groomers, but it is often neglected by consumers. Yet, routine ear care is easy to do at home, and it pays off in reducing the risk of ear-related conditions and ensuring that potential problems are noticed and addressed quickly. Increasing awareness among pet owners about the importance of ear care can also pay off for pet specialty retailers in added sales, as most items in that category will be purchased repeatedly once a customer has found the products that suit their needs. 

What items might be needed for ear care?

Ear cleaner is used for routine cleaning for most breeds of dogs and cats. Ingredients may include those meant to soothe, dissolve ear wax, cleanse and combat bacteria and fungus. Some cleaners contain alcohol and should not be used on an ear that is red or sore, as it will sting, but alcohol is great for healthy ears, as it cleans well and facilitates drying, which helps prevent problems. Most ear cleaners include something to aid drying, especially those advertised as helping with “swimmer’s ear,” or chronic ear infections. Breeds that like to swim and have hanging ear leathers that reduce ear circulation, such as Labs and other sporting breeds, are prone to the condition. Pet owners can clip the inside of the ear leather to increase air flow with an inexpensive battery-driven trimmer, or their groomer will be happy to do it. 

Pet owners who intend to clean their pets’ ears may also need something to apply ear cleaner and remove debris. Groomers often use cotton that comes in long strips, readily available in beauty supply stores. These strips can be used on fingers, wrapped around hair pullers (hemostats) or wrapped around the head of 6-in. cotton-tipped applicators marketed to veterinarians. It is best to use 100 percent cotton, as blends can be abrasive. Popular both in grooming salons and for home use are convenient wipes or pads that pull out of a container with ear cleaner already on them.

If a dog has an ear infection, the best assistance a groomer or retailer can provide is to encourage the pet owner to seek a veterinarian’s advice. However, there are also many products marketed to alleviate chronic ear problems. They may contain ingredients to combat inflammation and antiseptics to combat infection. Some even work by utilizing enzymes to destroy the matter that may be allowing infection to breed.

For those who prefer to remove any hair actually growing out of the ear canal, hair pullers or hemostats and ear powder to increase grip are vital products. Plucking hair out of the ear canals is a subject of great debate among professional groomers and veterinarians, as well as pet owners. Should it be removed or left in? Those who believe it should be removed follow the logic that the hair blocks air flow, causing ears to remain damp and create a perfect breeding ground for fungal, yeast or bacterial infections. Also, if an ear should present with a problem of some kind, it is easier to see, treat and clean with no ear hair blocking the ear canal.

The other side of the argument is that the hair is meant to be there, that it protects against anything entering the ear canal and starting problems, and if you pluck the hair, out you are leaving a tiny hole at the follicle that is vulnerable to germs and causes of ear issues.

Then there’s the middle-of-the-road camp. This one maintains that if the hair growing out of the canal is the dry and wispy sort that with the application of ear powder pops right out with the dog hardly noticing, it’s probably ok to pluck it out. If the dog is objecting violently or vocalizing, clearly in discomfort, and the hair is difficult to remove, it may be best to leave that hair in, as it’s easy to believe that plucking that type might result in compromised skin inside the ear.

Probably the best approach is to consult the pet’s veterinarian and follow their advice, since no one has come up with a definitive science-based answer as of yet.

One more item to offer consumers is ear mite medication. While, along with possible infections, ear mites are best diagnosed by a veterinary professional, many people prefer to treat their pets’ mites on their own. Most ear mite medications contain a mild pesticide to kill the mites, and the ear should be cleaned regularly. Mites are contagious, so every animal in the home should be treated at the same time. Outdoor cats are more likely to harbor ear mites, so they should be checked often. Treating for a week to 10 days, and then repeating the treatment two weeks later, will ensure the entire life cycle has been eradicated.

A full arsenal of appropriate products to help pet owners battle ear problems will lead to satisfied customers, happier dogs and a profitable category for retailers.


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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