A hematoma is a pool of blood that forms outside of blood vessels and is usually found under the skin. Commonly found in dogs, an ear hematoma, also referred to as an aural hematoma, is a blood-filled pocket on the inside of the ear flap. An ear hematoma is extremely painful for a dog, and the intense swelling can be alarming. If left untreated, a hematoma will heal on its own, but that can mean weeks of discomfort.
Signs and Symptoms of an Ear Hematoma in Dogs
One of the most common signs of an ear hematoma is the appearance of the ear. As a result of the lump or fluid-filled pocket, the ear may appear thicker in size, taking on an inflated look, sometimes referred to as “cauliflower ear.” The swelling can be firm to the touch, or soft and fluctuant.
Here are the indicators to look for:
- All or part of the ear flap filled with fluid
- Tilting of the head sideways
These signs and symptoms are not only indicators your dog may have an aural hematoma – they may also indicate that there is an underlying condition causing the hematoma that needs to be diagnosed and treated.
If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, they should immediately be checked out. This condition is extremely painful, so you will want to quickly determine the best course of treatment.
How Did My Dog Get an Ear Hematoma?
An ear hematoma in dogs can be caused by aggressive head-shaking and/or scratching. The tissue of the ear flap (or “pinna”) is very thin, and when it’s injured, the blood vessels can break. The space between the ear cartilage and skin fills up with blood and fluid, causing the ear to swell rather quickly, and forming a balloon-like nodule on the dog’s ear.
Any breed of dog can develop ear hematomas, but those with larger ear flaps are more susceptible, because the ear flaps slap against the skull when the head is shaking.
But what triggered the head-shaking and scratching, which in turn caused the hematoma to form? There are a number of underlying conditions that could be the culprit:
- Yeast infection or another type of bacterial infection
- Blood-clotting disorder
- Immune disorder
- Skin diseases
- Trauma to the pinna (i.e. a bite to the ear)
- Ear mites (very rare in dogs)
The vast majority of aural hematomas are caused by infection or allergies.
Diagnosing an Ear Hematoma in Dogs
The hematoma itself is easily identifiable and not difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose by visual examination. What’s more important when determining treatment is understanding what caused the hematoma in the first place.
So the next step after a physical exam is to focus on the reason behind the head-shaking and/or scratching. The initial evaluation may include, but is not limited to, the following tests:
- Needle aspiration, which will confirm that the fluid in the pocket is blood.
- Routine blood work
- Urine test
- Examination of the ear canal to check for signs of infection, parasites, and/or foreign bodies lodged in the ear canal. This exam will include taking a swab from the ear canal and looking under a microscope for bacteria and yeast (which is referred to as cytology).
- Food trials/skin tests to identify food or other allergies that can cause discomfort. This can be a bit trickier than simply examining samples under a microscope; some trial and error may be required to identify the allergen. Additional allergy testing may need to be conducted.
Treating Your Dog for an Ear Hematoma
An ear hematoma is painful for a dog, so it’s important to have it examined as soon as possible.
There’s always the chance that a small hematoma might not need to be treated; they can resolve on their own as the blood becomes reabsorbed. But hematomas should still be checked out. Even a small hematoma can be painful, and while the swelling will eventually subside, the ear may permanently appear thicker and take on a cauliflower appearance where the hematoma was located.
In order to treat the hematoma, your vet will most likely try to treat the underlying cause first, to prevent the possibility of another hematoma forming on the same or opposite ear.
Many veterinarians will recommend conservative care, using at-home warm compresses and/or anti-inflammatories or other pain medications. But other possible treatments include the following:
- Needle aspiration: A simple and relatively inexpensive treatment that involves the insertion of a thin needle into the hematoma to drain the fluid. A steroid may be injected into the ear to reduce inflammation, swelling, and itchiness, along with medicine to combat any infection. The process will be repeated a week later.
- Placing a drain inside the ear: In larger breeds, placing a drain inside the ear flap may be an option if the ear is large enough to accommodate the drain and the dog is willing to tolerate it. This method allows the fluid to drain continuously for a week or more, rather than fill up again rapidly as often occurs with aspiration. However, drains are very rarely used to treat hematomas.
- Surgery: Surgery requires general anesthesia. A small incision is made in the affected ear to drain out the fluid and any blood clots that are present. Next, the veterinarian will suture two cartilage layers together in the ear flap, with a small incision remaining open for drainage purposes. This incision will eventually heal on its own. For larger-eared dogs, the ear may need to be secured to the head with a bandage to protect the blood vessels in the event of any head-shaking during the recovery period. Post-surgery, your dog may also need to wear a cone to prevent scratching in the area. The sutures usually remain in place for a few weeks while the incision is left open. While this surgery is not a major one, it’s important to remember that all surgeries and applications of general anesthesia carry inherent risks and the potential for complications.
Is There a Cure for Ear Hematoma in Dogs?
Ear hematomas may resolve on their own or may require treatment by a vet. But because they form as the result of an underlying cause, the root of the problem needs to be treated first. Ear infections and ear mites are completely treatable; allergies can be managed but rarely cured.
Is Ear Hematoma Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?
The hematoma itself is not contagious to other animals or humans. However, the underlying reason for the ear hematoma may in some cases be contagious. For instance, ear mites, which cause irritation and scratching and can lead to the development of a hematoma, are contagious to other animals. (Humans are seldom affected by ear mites, although it is possible for a person to develop a mild skin rash on their hands, arms, or legs if exposed.)
What Is the Cost of Treating an Ear Hematoma?
The cost to treat an ear hematoma can depend on several factors. The severity of the hematoma; your veterinarian’s office and testing fees; and where you live (the cost of living is generally higher in cities) all play a part in determining the cost.
In some cases, the procedure to treat an ear hematoma can be performed in a veterinarian’s office with minimal anesthesia on an outpatient basis. For severe cases, the cost will be higher. If the hematoma is large, it might be preferable to completely anesthetize the dog before treating, because draining the wound can be painful.
If surgery is needed, costs will be higher due to the need for anesthetic drugs, use of the operating room, and multiple medical personnel. Your veterinarian may request blood work to determine if your dog is healthy enough for surgery.
All told, treatment for ear hematomas can cost anywhere between $300 and $2,500. Additional expenses can include lab tests, pain medication, and follow-up visits.
Recovery and Management of an Ear Hematoma in Dogs
If the hematoma is treated with needle aspiration, your veterinarian will provide you with medications and instructions for at-home care.
If surgery is required, you’ll receive a set of specific instructions regarding postoperative care. These recommendations may include:
- Cleaning, drying, and treating the ear canal with appropriate medication.
- Cleaning the incision and massaging out any small pockets of fluid that may accumulate after surgery.
- Keeping a cone on your dog until sutures are removed and the hematoma has completely healed.
Proper follow-up care and close monitoring are important to prevent not only a recurrence but the potential for a hematoma to develop in the other ear.
Preventing an Ear Hematoma in Dogs
It can be difficult to prevent an ear hematoma from developing, but preventing or successfully treating the underlying problems that cause head-shaking/itching will help reduce the risk.
Is There a Vaccine for Ear Hematomas?
There is no vaccine for an ear hematoma, or for the majority of the underlying issues that can lead to one.
Ear hematomas form when blood pools under the skin of the ear, following scratching or head shaking. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of aural hematomas; prompt treatment is advised since they can be painful for your dog. Your veterinarian will advise you on how to provide postoperative care as needed. Prevention of ear hematomas relies on fostering good overall health, hygiene, and awareness.