Primer On Ear Hematomas In Dogs

Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS

he·ma·to·ma - a localized swelling that is filled with blood caused by a break in the wall of a blood vessel
Ear hematoma in dogs are not uncommon.

Dog ears come in many sizes and shapes.  Some are big and floppy, others are smaller and pointy.  One thing they all have in common is the potential for an ear hematoma to develop.

Although ear hematomas can occur in any dog or even in cats, they are most common in dogs with floppy ears.

Dogs often shake their heads, especially when they are wet or when the ear is irritated, such as with an ear infection.

As the ears are shaken back and forth, tiny blood vessels in the ear flap can rupture, causing bleeding under the skin.  

Bleeding can also start if a dog strikes an ear flap against something (eg, a coffee table) while shaking.  The bleeding in the ear flap is irritating, which causes your pet to shake its head even more, setting up a vicious cycle.  Blood and other fluid can continue to accumulate in the ear flap, and the swelling can reach the size of a lemon in some cases.  Sometimes, the hematoma will rupture during a shake, spewing blood in all directions.

Any swelling in the ear flap is suspicious of a hematoma.  

The swollen area usually feels warm and squishy, like a bag of fluid.  Your veterinarian will examine the ears for signs of any problems that may have set off head shaking, such as an ear infection or a bite wound.

If an ear hematoma is not treated, the ear flap can eventually scar up, resulting in a deformed ear that may be prone to infections.
Although your vet can drain the fluid out of an ear hematoma with a syringe, the problem almost always returns and more extensive treatment is needed.  Many treatments are used, including surgery to open the hematoma and to insert a temporary drain that will continue to allow fluid to escape.  Often, the ear flap is bandaged alongside the head to allow it to heal.  Your vet will discuss the various treatment options and what is best for your pet.


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  1. Thanks for the info. We just adopted Brooks, an 11 year old golden retriever. He came to us with itchy skin and severe hematomas in both ears. The vet said they will always be like that (hard and bumpy). I hope it's not still painful for him.

    1. Poor Brooks. I don't imagine that it would be painful when not "active". What are you using for the itchy skin, what is behind it?

  2. Buddy had severe hematomas in both ears (one ear at a time.) We tried immobilizing the first ear for weeks with draining at the vet before we had them do surgery on it. The idea was for it to resolve on its own but eventually we gave up on it. It was just so uncomfortable for him. They drained it and stitched the ear like a quilt so it would scar and not be able to fill up again. IIRC, I believe it did fill a little before the scarring was hard enough but after that we didn't have any more trouble with that ear. Later, the other ear blew up but we were better at keeping it immobilized and it never got as big. He got the shrunken "cauliflower ear" effect on that one. (Neither ear was very noticeable once scarred up unless you were touching it.)

    The best immobilization for the ears, we found, was snugly (but carefully) wrapping his head with two ace bandages. We left the unaffected ear free and sort of alternated whether the bad ear was up or down. (Must be careful when it's up, as having it creased up like that will get sore.)

    He looked like a little old lady in a head scarf, and he really didn't like wearing it. He got pretty good at rubbing the wrap off right after I put it on. I sewed a little head bonnet to go over it! We also sometimes used a soft Elizabethan collar. (The black fabric kind.) Eventually he got to where he only needed to wear the gear when he wasn't being directly supervised.

    I am sort of lucky that I had previous experience with wrapping, from doing horses. Tension is very important, especially wrapping the head like this. I always double, triple, quadruple checked how tight it was around his jaw and throat. It needs to be tight enough to be durable, and an ace bandage usually has more give than you'd think, but the tension you have while you're wrapping is usually not the tension it settles to. Every wrap needs to be checked every few hours, and by that I mean removed, rested, and re-wrapped. A wrap should not be straight overlapped... it must go in a spiral. Otherwise it will be constricting. Up, down, around... the wrap needs to go in a slanted direction the whole time. (This goes for vet wrap, medical tape, anything.) I also used safety pins instead of the bandage hooks because it was safer. I used the kind you use on baby diapers.

    Whoo! Wrote an essay here. And for other's curiosity, Buddy's ears did not hurt once the scarring was hard and finished settling, and the swelling was gone. This goes for the ear with surgery and the ear that resolved into "cauliflower" pattern.

    1. So glad you found a way. Wow, so interesting. Since you already wrote this much, would you like to add a bit and then we can make it into a post so everybody can find it?


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