by Amanda Critchfield, DVM

In the spirit of Halloween, here are some tricks with treats you can try to make home health care tasks for your dog and cat—and you!—a little easier. We’ve been using some of these techniques at the clinic and have found that it really helps to relax the patients, making the procedures both rewarding for them and successful for us.

When regularly using positive reinforcement and distraction techniques, the tasks will take less time and become easier for you.

Spread a sticky treat such as peanut butter, cream cheese or spray cheese on a paper plate, then tape it to a wall. While your dog spends their time licking the treat, you can more easily trim nails, clean ears and administer ear medication. We’ve even used this technique for giving vaccines and drawing blood samples in the exam rooms.


For nail trims, remember to trim only the tips of the nails to avoid getting close to the sensitive “quick”. It’s better to trim a short amount of the nails more frequently, every few weeks, than to wait months and try to trim them short. Your dog will become more accustomed to the trims, more tolerant and hopefully excited for the paper plate to come out!

For eye medications, try placing the plate a little higher so that your pet will have to elevate their nose. Let them start to lick the treat, apply the medication and return to the treat again. In general, it is easier to apply eye meds by approaching the top of their heads from behind them rather than coming toward them.


If you have some assistance at home, then you can have your helper hold a spatula with the treat of choice.


For ear cleanings, first warm up the bottle of cleanser in a bowl with warm water. This will avoid startling your pet with cold, room temperature cleanser. Once warm and you have your sticky treat ready to go, fill the ear up with the cleanser and massage the ear. This will help to break up the debris which they’ll shake out. Swab out the ear using a cotton ball, cotton round or gauze.

A quick trick when applying topical medications is to do so when they are eating a treat or canned food meal.


When using a reward and distraction technique, there are many other home care tasks you can accomplish like cleaning paws, grooming and administering injections.

We’d love to hear any other tricks you’ve come up with while helping your pet at home. Next time you’re in, be sure to share them with us.

Happy Halloween!


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Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is a locally-owned animal hospital operating for over 90 years in Ann Arbor, MI.