What Is That Swelling On Your Dog's Ear?

If your dog has an ear infection or allergies that are making them scratch their ears and shake their head, you'll want to find out the root cause. Although ear infections and itchy ears are conditions that should always be looked at and treated by a veterinarian, they are not considered emergencies. However, head shaking and ear scratching can cause a condition that requires prompt attention to mitigate its long-term effects. The condition is called a hematoma of the ear, and if your regular veterinary professional is unavailable, a call to the nearest emergency vet is your and your dog's best option.

What is a hematoma?

A hematoma is a pooling of blood in between the outer and inner layers of skin—basically, a blood blister. It is caused when blood leaks into the tissues when a vein or artery ruptures, most often due to an injury or trauma such as a bruise, cut, or surgery. It is usually soft and spongy to the touch and is often visible as a lump or bubble under the skin.

What's an aural hematoma?

Aural pertains to the ear, so an aural hematoma is one that is on a dog's ear. It most often occurs on the pinna or ear flap and is usually due to trauma, such as scratching or shaking of the head because of an ear infection or allergy. It can also be caused when a dog tries to dislodge a foreign body within the ear canal.

How do you treat an aural hematoma?

In some cases, a hematoma will heal itself and reabsorb the blood, reducing the swelling. But more often that's not the case, which is why you should seek the advice of a veterinary professional when you first notice the swelling or head shaking.

The most common way to treat an aural hematoma is to use a scalpel to cut a small incision in the hematoma to let the blood drain. This typically is done while the dog is under a general anesthetic. The incision is then stitched up and a bandage is applied that fastens the ear to the dog's head to prevent head shaking which can cause another hematoma. Your vet will likely use a plastic cone or similar device to prevent your pup from scratching and re-injuring the ear.

Another solution, if the hematoma is discovered early, is for your vet to simply use a syringe to draw the blood out and then insert a drain or wick that drains any blood that still is leaking from the injured vessels.  In a week or so, your vet will remove the stitches or the drain, and your dog's ear should return to normal.

Although an aural hematoma is not generally life-threatening, the sooner you get it treated the less likelihood of complications. Early treatment can also reduce scarring or other damage to the ear flap and will save your pup from a lot of pain and irritation. If you first notice the swelling when your regular vet is not available, don't hesitate to take your dog to the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinarian.

Contact a local pet hospital, such as South Seattle Veterinary Hospital, to learn more.