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Once your pet understands that their treatment station is a place where good things happen and they are comfortable communicating a desire to stay or a need to leave, it is time to start using the station to teach your pet about treatments.

Medicating and cleaning ears and eyes are procedures that many pets will need at some point in their lives. While it is beneficial to start with a young pet or one that has never experienced these treatments before, you can work with a pet that has. If possible, teach these skills when your pet does not have an active medical concern requiring treatment. If they are being treated, you can use the same steps, just monitor your pet’s body language.

Person introducing medication bottle to pet

Show your pet what you are doing so they have the chance to opt-out. The eye drop bottle is presented, followed by a reward. This cat is shown the bottle containing eye drops and given space and time to understand what is going on. Image courtesy Barb Deg, RVT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CSAT

Before beginning, you will need:

  • Treats your pet really likes.
  • The ear or eye medications you are working with and any other necessary supplies (e.g., cotton for wiping out ears after cleaning).
  • If your pet is not currently being treated for an active condition, ask your veterinary team if there are safe products you can use for training (you can still go through most of the skills with closed bottles).
  • A container of warm water to warm up ear treatments (consult with your veterinary team to ensure the product can be gently warmed).

Ear and eye treatments follow a similar approach but may vary based on your pet’s learning history and any other conditions they may have.

  • Set up your treatment station with everything you need before calling your pet over. Be honest, and don’t hide any part of the process. 
  • Ask your pet to come to the station and reward them when they do.
  • Using food as a distraction during training is acceptable as long as your pet is aware of the procedure and has the option to leave and still receive their reward.
  • Remember your pet can opt-out at any time and pay them appropriately if they choose to leave. This is particularly important if your pet has had a difficult experience in the past. Avoid coercion or putting your pet in a situation of motivational conflict where they must make a choice between discomfort and wanting the reward.
  • When your pet is comfortably positioned at their station, show them the treatment bottle and reward them. If they show any sign of anxiety, toss the reward away from the station to allow them to retrieve it. When they return, start with the bottle a little further away.
  • When your pet is comfortable with the sight of the bottle, ensure they are comfortable with handling around the ear or eye (including bending into your pet’s space). Without the bottle in your hand, gently touch the area, then reward. If they show discomfort, still give a reward, but do not proceed with touching. Always give the reward, even if they say no.
  • Once your pet is comfortable with both the sight of the bottle in your hand and your touch, it is time to put it all together. Approach with the bottle as if you are going to administer it, get close without applying, stop, and reward. Monitor their reaction closely at every step. 
  • Once your pet is consistently comfortable with this approach, proceed with the treatment.

Woman in blue shirt administers ear medication to a black dog

When your pet is comfortable with all the steps leading up to applying ear medication, the actual medication administration does not have to be a fight. This dog is comfortable receiving his ear medication as he understands the process. Image courtesy Barb Deg, RVT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CSAT

Some Alternatives That May Be Helpful

  • For medium to large dogs, teach them to sit between your legs with their head raised, making administering eye medications easier.
  • Cats can lick a tasty food paste above their head continuously to make it easier to administer eye medications.
  • For ear cleaning, alternatively apply the ear cleaner to a clean cotton pad or gauze. Use the soaked cotton to gently clean inside the ear. Ask your veterinary team how deeply to clean safely.

Woman in blue shirt administers eye medication to a liver-and-white colored dog

A medium to large dog may be more comfortable receiving eye treatment from a trained position between your legs. Image courtesy Barb Deg, RVT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, CSAT

If your pet does not currently need treatment, completing all the training in one session is unnecessary. Allow for flexibility in the training schedule. You can have play breaks in between steps, especially if your pet seems more reluctant or resistant.  Break the session into smaller, manageable steps to help your pet succeed and to make the training process more effective and pleasant for both of you.