Your poodle's long, floppy ears may be one of the things that drew you to him in the first place, but this trait also has its drawbacks. Poodles are among a select group of breeds, which also includes cocker spaniels and golden retrievers, that are especially prone to ear infections.
The Poodle's Ear
Poodles have a deep and moist ear canal, which provides a good environment for the growth of diseases and parasites. Allergens, like pollen, as well as bacteria and yeast can develop on the rarely-exposed inside of your dog's ears. Ticks, fleas and other parasites will also make themselves at home in the dark corners of your dog's spacious ears. Even if your pup diligently cleans himself, a trait not shared by all dogs, its practically impossible for him to reach the inside of his ears to clean them.
What Causes Infections?
All sorts of irritants and pathogens can potentially lead to an ear infection, although most reported incidents are the result of bacterial or yeast growth, according to the ASPCA. These microscopic organisms grow in colonies that can become visible to the naked eye, usually as a dark or tan sponge-like mass. Pockets of water and foreign objects can become lodged in the poodle's ear, increasing the risk of infection. Some poodles have particularly long ear hair, which can make the problem worse by trapping pathogens and providing a secure hiding place for parasites.
If your pup is constantly whining, scratching as his ears or shaking his head, then you would be right to think that he may have an ear infection. If your dog's ears smell bad, or if you see dark or greenish discharge, then your suspicions are confirmed. Don't be too surprised if you find a plant growing out of your dog's ear either. If your poodle's ears are dirty enough, small foxtail shards can become lodged firmly in the cavity. Don't attempt to remove a lodged foxtail spike, get your veterinarian to do it for you.
Treat minor ear infections at home with a few basic chemicals, but always contact a veterinarian before you administer any solution. A mixture of even parts vinegar, rubbing alcohol and water is an effective cleansing solution to reverse mild ear infections, according to Versatility in Poodles. Your veterinarian may ask you to bring your dog if the symptoms you describe indicate a serious ear infection. Your vet will prescribe a topical or oral treatment and recommend regular cleaning in the future. In some cases, minor surgery is required to remove abnormal growth or fix a structural deformity.
Consistent and thorough attention to your puppy's hygiene is enough to prevent the vast majority of ear infections. Talk to your vet about what type of cleaning solution is appropriate for your dog. Dampen durable cotton swabs (avoid cotton balls that easily break apart during use) with the cleaning solution and clean your dog's ears out every day. It may not be the most fun you and your dog have ever had, but it will make him feel much better in the long run. Make sure your dry your dog's ears with a clean towel after he's been in the water. You can also ask your vet about ear-safe solutions that encourage dryness to prevent moisture from building up inside the ear canal.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.