Learn what causes a dog’s ear hematoma, or pocket of blood, which results in a swollen ear. In dogs, aural hematomas are treated surgically or with meds.
Is your dog’s ear suddenly swollen like a balloon and deep red in color? It’s possible that your dog has an aural hematoma, a pocket of blood that accumulates between the ear’s cartilage and the skin.
Ear hematomas do require prompt veterinary treatment. If left untreated, the dog’s ear may become permanently deformed due to the formation of scar tissue and/or infection.
Symptoms of an Aural Hematoma
In dogs, aural hematomas are fairly easy to diagnose. The following signs are typically observed:
- Ear swelling and balloon-like appearance to the ear flap;
- Head tilting;
- Repeated head shaking or pawing at the ear;
- Warm ear flap; and
- Deep red or purple color to the inflamed part of the ear.
The hematoma is a pocket filled with blood and fluid; it’s basically a severe bruise.
During the draining process, you may note a slight odor of iron (attributed to the blood). If the aural hematoma is actually an abscess, the ear will be filled with foul-smelling pus that’s blood-tinged yellow, white or even green in color.
What Causes a Dog’s Aural Hematoma?
In dogs, aural hematomas are frequently associated with ear infections or ear mites. An infection or mite infestation will cause increased head shaking and scratching at the ear. But this is not always the cause; some dogs’ ear hematomas form during play or other typical activities that involve vigorous head shaking.
Trauma can also lead to the formation of a hematoma. For instance, a dog bite to the ear can break blood vessels, causing the ear to fill up with blood. In cases where the skin is broken, there’s a chance that the aural hematoma is actually an abscess — a pocket of infection. This requires immediate veterinary attention. The vet will make a small incision to drain the ear and a drain will be put into place. The dog will be placed on oral antibiotics to treat the infection.
How to Treat a Dog’s Ear Hematoma
When a dog’ ear swells with blood, leading to the formation of an aural hematoma, a prompt visit to the veterinary clinic is in order. Small hematomas frequently grow in size, so the ear will need to be treated as soon as possible.
Once at the vet clinic, the veterinarian will examine the pet’s ears to look for signs of ear infection, bite wounds, ear mites and other ailments that may have led to the formation of the dog’s hematoma. These underlying problems require treatment.
According to Dr. Michael Levine, DVM, the vet will disinfect the ear flap with rubbing alcohol and the vet may apply a local anesthetic to numb the ear. The vet will lance the hematoma with a sterile needle that will be inserted into the pocket of blood. The fluid will be sucked out of the ear with a syringe. The vet will make a small incision and a small plastic tube will be placed into the pocket that was created by the aural hematoma. It will be secured in place with a suture. The drain will remain in place for approximately two to three weeks, allowing the fluid to drain away as the ear heals.
This method does not require general anesthesia. A local anesthetic is typically sufficient, though some pets may require a mild sedative too.
Alternatively, the vet may place the pet under general anesthesia to drain away the fluid, insert a drain and several stitches will be placed in the ear, to hold the pocket closed while the ear heals.
Dr. Levine indicated that in some instances, the vet may prescribe prednisone, a steroid that serves to reduce swelling. The dog will be prescribed prednisone for at least one week beyond the point when the dog’s hematoma disappears, thereby allowing for complete healing.
First Aid for Treating a Dog’s Ear Hematoma at Home
If you cannot get your pet to the vet immediately due to a holiday or weekend, the pocket of blood can be drained at home to prevent enlargement. This is not a cure, but a temporary measure to prevent the pet’s ear hematoma from growing in size.
To drain the dog’s aural hematoma at home, sterilize a needle in rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for two full minutes. Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap and don latex gloves. Disinfect the dog’s ear flap with a cotton pad, soaked with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and lance the pocket of blood with the sterile needle. Gently manipulate the ear to promote drainage; do not squeeze the ear, as this may enlarge the hematoma. Once the blood has been drained away, swab the ear flap again with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol and apply a small dab of antibiotic ointment to the area where the ear was lanced.
Draining the dog’s hematoma at home is not a treatment or permanent fix, but it can prevent it from growing larger. The dog will be less apt to shake his head or paw at the ear when the hematoma is drained, though the pocket of blood will re-form within a matter of several hours.
Alternatively, pet owners may opt to wrap the ear to prevent additional injury from scratching and head shaking. Place the ear flat against the side of the dog’s head, and wrap a bit of gauze or an ace bandage around the pet’s head to hold the ear in place. The wrapping should be just tight enough to stay wrapped around the dog’s head; it should not be uncomfortably tight. The dog must be supervised while his head is wrapped, in the event that it slides down around his neck. If the dog will not tolerate wrapping, it can be beneficial to simply supervise the dog to limit head shaking and scratching.