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9 Clinical Facts You Need to Know About Dog Ear Hematomas

Dog ear hematomas are surprisingly easy to get and occur because of damage to the cartilage in the ear.  The one thing I’ve learned from taking my dogs swimming at the lake, is to move out of the way fast when they climb out of the water. There’s a millisecond pause and then both dogs shake every ounce of water out of their fur. It sprays everywhere! I usually end up getting wet.

Unfortunately, if you take your dog swimming a lot in the summer, he/she might end up with a dog ear hematoma from all the head-shaking.

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Keep reading! I’m going to explain dog ear hematomas, and how the veterinarian deals with them. By the time you’re finished with this post, you’ll have a better understanding of why surgery is the best option for treating dog ear hematomas, and the complications they can cause if left untreated.

A dog ear hematoma is a fluid filled sack that develops in the pinna (ear flap) of your dog. Long-eared dogs are especially prone to this.  Dogs typically shake their heads to disperse water from their fur, or because of an intense itch. Itching is typically caused from allergies or parasites.  Ear infections will cause your dog to shake his head as well. He or she may rub his ears up against objects, or dig at the ear flap with his paw.

From Outpatients to the Operating Room.  Why Your Veterinarian Prefers surgery for Dog-Ear Hematomas.

I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but surgery is usually the treatment option that veterinarians choose. There are good reasons for surgery as opposed to lancing or manually draining the fluid.

  • The Last Thing You Want is Your Living Room to Look Like a Murder Scene.

If you notice your dog has a squishy lump between the skin on his ear flaps (pinna), it’s very likely a hematoma. Your dog’s ear flaps have cartilage in them, and that cartilage is easily damaged. Because of this damage, blood seeps into the tissues which is what causes the swelling.

Once a hematoma develops, it’s likely to get bigger within the next couple of days. Unfortunately, they can grow big enough that they actually begin to block the ear canal. Do not attempt to drain it yourself! If not done properly, fluid will quickly seep back in and you will be right back where you started from.

Consider this:

If you blow up a balloon past its breaking point, it is going to explode. The same thing is true for a dog-ear hematomas. Explode might be a dramatic term to use, but eventually it will break open. This usually happens in the midst of a good head shaking. When it breaks, all of the blood and fluid sprays out and ends up on your walls, furniture, ceiling, and floor.  It’s not a pretty sight.

  • Nix the Needles!

Surgery is a more expensive procedure than a simple needle aspiration, but the benefits far outweigh the cons. When a veterinarian aspirates the ear flap (meaning he/she draws the fluid out with a very fine needle), it leaves an empty space behind. That space usually refills with blood and fluid within 24 hours. In other words, it might bring temporary relief to dog ear hematomas, but it isn’t a cure.

  • Snip It and Stitch It Like a Quilt.

When surgery is performed, the veterinarian drains the fluid completely and then stitches the ear up (straight through one side to the other) in a way that blocks fluids from backing up into the wound again. If you think about what a quilt looks like, with the intricate stitching…it looks something like that.

After surgery, your dog will require a cone (Elizabethan Collar) to avoid harming the ear. The stitches (or sutures) will remain for up to 3 weeks to ensure good healing.

  • The Drawback of Ear Dimpling

There are always risks associated with surgery. In the case of surgical removal of a dog-ear hematomas, the risk is scar tissue. Some scarring will occur, and it will leave some of your dog’s ear with crinkling, like a bit of scrunched up newspaper.

In some cases, the scarring is minimal; in other cases, scarring can cause the entire ear to crinkle and appear disfigured.

  • Revealing The Reasons

Hematomas develop from trauma to the cartilage in the ear pinna (ear flap) of your dog. It usually only happens on one side, although it can happen to both sides simultaneously.

Severe head shaking is usually because of intense itching and irritation. Causes include:

  • Allergies
  • Mites
  • Fleas
  • Dog bite
  • Foreign body
  • Ear infection
  • Yeast buildup
  • Two Problems; One Priority

Dog-ear hematomas are actually a symptom of an underlying problem. It’s fine to treat the hematoma, but unless the underlying problem is addressed, the problem will only get worse.

Unless the problem is obvious to the naked eye, the veterinarian will want to drain the ear canal to view the discharge under a microscope.  This will reveal the presence of bacteria or over-abundance of yeast.  Mites will also be visible beneath the microscope if they are present.

  • Don’t Scratch That Itch!

You know what it’s like to be holding things in both arms only to realize you have an itch that you can’t scratch? It probably feels that way to your dog, especially right after surgery.

It’s really important to make sure your dog keeps an Elizabethan collar on to prevent further injury. Your dog’s ear will be sensitive for a while, but the stitches need time to do their magic.

The stitches will be removed in two to three weeks, but until then, you’re going to have to keep your dog from clawing at the site.

I know from personal experience that keeping a collar on a dog is not an easy thing. My dog always manages to squeeze out of it. There are alternatives to the “cone of shame”, including:

  • Inflatable, veterinarian approved, collars that protect the head and ears but don’t obstruct vision. Results using this type of protective cone are good.
  • Look for bite-resistant fabric and choose the appropriate size.

NOTE: With this type of collar, you may need to order one size smaller for the perfect fit.

  • A cloth wrap that fits around your dog’s ears and secures in the back. Check with your veterinarian to see if this one is a good choice. If your dog wants to scratch his ears, he might pull the fabric right off and expose the stitches.

Some veterinarians will loan you an Elizabethan collar, or might sell them at a discounted price.  Before you buy one, make sure it’s appropriate for the dog’s condition. Some people have used t-shirts (for larger dogs), and that works to protect the dog’s trunk. Unfortunately, that idea isn’t going to work to protect the head and ears.

  • Preventing a Relapse

Once the underlying condition has been treated, you can reduce the chances of another hematoma occurring by:

  • Using a monthly flea preventative medication prescribed by the veterinarian.
  • Keep your dog’s ears dry and clean.
  • Make sure your dog is treated for mites. Some topical flea medications also treat mites.
  • Manage any underlying allergies.
  • If the hematoma was caused by a dog bite, take precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen again by removing your dog from danger.

Dog-ear hematomas are not life-threatening, but they do have to be treated. Left on their own, the hematoma will grow and the larger it becomes, the more likelihood of scar tissue or a recurrence.

If you notice any soft, jelly-like lumps in your dog’s ears, the best thing to do is have the veterinarian take a look. The faster it is repaired, the fewer complications.  Dog allergies and parasites are easy to treat if you know the basics. For more information on treating dog allergies, parasites, worms, and dermatitis, follow the links.

Thanks for reading this post! I hope you were able to find the information you were looking for. If not, please let me know! Go ahead and email me here: [email protected]

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PLEASE NOTE:  I am not a veterinarian or a pet-care clinician. My research is carefully conducted using peer-reviewed articles, scholarly reports, studies, statistics, and books. I do my best to provide accurate and timely information and will never knowingly suggest anything that might put your dog in harm’s way. Please do me a favor, check with your veterinarian before trying anything you read on the Internet…including this site. 🙂

Dog Ear Infection Remedy - Infographic