My dog’s ear is swollen: what’s the cause?

My dog’s ear is swollen, red and soft to the touch. What’s causing this?

An othaematoma is the fancy name for a collection of blood in between the two layers of cartilage in the ear. It can usually be seen and felt as a soft to firm swelling of the ear. Dogs with upright ears will suddenly have a droopy ear as it is weighed down. This condition occurs most commonly in dogs but is also found in cats.

My dog’s ear: what causes the swelling?

Trauma, due to shaking of the ears, causes damage to the small arteries in the ear. These arteries can take some time to stop bleeding due to the natural anti-clotting factors of cartilage. This causes more blood to accumulate, which ultimately results in the formation of an othaematoma. It is very important to try to establish the reason for the head shaking. The most common underlying condition is ear infections, although ear mites, flea allergies or foreign objects such as grass seeds may all cause an increase in head shaking, which can lead to an othaematoma. Read more about ear shaking here https://www.ebervet.com/dog-shake-head/

My dog’s ear: what’s the treatment?

An othaematoma should ideally be treated surgically. This involves draining of the accumulated blood, creating a small hole for continued blood and fluid drainage, and quilting the ear. Many techniques for quilting the ear may be used, but in essence it involves placing stitches right through the ear to anchor the two layers of cartilage to each other.

It is vital to also address the underlying condition that caused the head shaking in the first place. This may entail medications for ear infections, removing foreign objects or controlling allergies. Unfortunately, about 30% of othaematomas may come back, particularly if the underlying condition is not addressed.

If the othaematoma is left untreated the blood will eventually be absorbed. However, the ear will also shrivel up and become hard, known as a cauliflower ear. This can cause narrowing of the ear canal, which can lead to a host of problems in itself.