Ear hematomas are a relatively common condition in dogs, and can even occur more rarely in cats. An ear hematoma is a blood-filled pocket under the skin on the pinna (floppy part) of the ear. The ear often looks like a balloon and the hematoma can range in size from quite small to large enough to take up the entire pinna. Ear hematomas are usually the result of a dog vigorously itching or scratching their ear and causing a blood vessel to burst- they can also be caused by some sort of trauma to the ear. Blood from the burst vessel then accumulates in a pocket under the skin.
Dogs typically shake their heads when their ears are dirty or infected. Cleaning your dog’s ears every few weeks with a veterinary ear cleaner and cotton balls is important to maintaining the health of your pet- especially those with floppy ears that do not allow for good air circulation. If you find yourself needing to clean your dog’s ears more frequently or that there is a buildup of debris or a foul odor this may be a sign that your dog has an ear infection of some sort. Ear infections can be caused by yeast, bacteria, or mites and are usually itchy and painful. Appropriate treatment of an ear infection by our veterinarian can help to prevent the vigorous itching and shaking that can lead to ear hematomas.
Even the best treatment of ear infections can not always prevent ear hematomas from occurring. If you notice that your dog’s ear is “puffy” he/she should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Surgical correction of ear hematomas is recommended. In the event that surgical correction is not a feasible option most ear hematomas will heal on their own over time. This is not recommended due to the fact that leaving a hematoma intact is uncomfortable for your dog and they will often continue to shake their head, making healing extremely difficult. If ear hematomas do heal on their own they will often leave the ear thickened and deformed.
Surgical correction of ear hematomas is generally a relatively quick procedure. Your dog will be sedated with a fast-acting IV anesthetic that is reversed as soon as the procedure is complete. Surgery usually involves opening the blood-filled pocket and placing several large sutures through the ear to prevent the pocket from filling with blood again. In some (but not all) cases a drain may be placed to encourage the hematoma to continue draining and prevent the continued buildup of blood in the pinna. After the procedure your dog is woken up and will be ready to go home the same day.
After-care for the procedure includes wearing an Elizabethan collar for three weeks to prevent further trauma to the ear. Sutures are also left in place for three weeks and should be removed by the veterinarian at a recheck appointment. Some dogs may be sent home with pain medication and/or oral and topical antibiotics depending upon the severity of the hematoma and duration of the surgical repair. Treating underlying ear infections is also very important in healing and preventing a recurrence of ear hematomas.
If your dog has had ear hematomas in the past or is prone to ear infections it is possible that ear hematomas will be a recurring issue. Making sure that ear infections are addressed as soon as possible and ensuring that they are completely gone before stopping treatment will be helpful in preventing recurring hematomas. Addressing the underlying cause of recurring ear infections such as possible food or environmental allergies is also an important aspect of treating chronic ear conditions of any kind.