Swollen ear flap (othematoma)
If the inner surface of the ear (usually, but not always, one side only) of your dog suddenly becomes swollen, then 99 times out of 100 it is because small blood vessels in the ear flap have ruptured and the blood has oozed out. After a while, there is an accumulation of serum and coagulated (clotted) blood within the ear flap. Since this mass cannot drain off, the ear flap just keeps getting larger. It feels like a ripe abscess (soft fluctuating swelling), except that an abscess takes a relatively long time to develop – whereas the othematoma develops within hours.
The ear haematoma must be seen as a symptom. There would have been some other underlying cause that resulted in the burst blood vessels of the ear. For example, ear mites in the ear canal (see Pet Corner July 19, 2015) will precipitate a violent shaking of the head. The centrifugal force (especially in dogs with large ear flaps) created as the dog shakes his head is enough to burst small blood vessels within the ear. Similarly, the banging of the ear flap against a wall, or scratching of the irritated ear in order to relieve an itch or any such discomfort could create this mini-haemorrhage. Also, I have encountered ear haematomas after dog fights (bites) where the ears have become involved.
The treatment should first and foremost be directed at the removal of the origin of the problem. If ticks or ear mites are the agents that are precipitating the scratching and shaking of the ear, then we must use the remedies suggested in previous articles (see Pet Corner July 26 and July 19, 2015). If there is an ear infection of the middle ear, then your vet has to advise on the course of action – whether just a simple cleansing of the ear would suffice, or more radical action (even surgery) is needed. I should mention that although I have seen (rarely) swollen ears in cats, usually the cause is a mechanical trauma (a hit, severe scratching due to ear mites, a bite as a result of tom cat fights, etc) of some sort.
The consideration described in the previous paragraph is only part of the solution. We still have to remove the clotted blood and the serum. I have seen some persons try to suck off the coagulated mass with a syringe and a large bore needle. Similarly, some might try to make a small incision into the swelling and squeeze out the blood clot. Well, that is not the course of action that I would propose. Definitely not if the swelling encompasses a large portion of the ear. The small incision or the hole made by the needle will heal closed within hours, and the swelling will re-emerge. Really, the only method that should be considered is surgery. The vet will anaesthetize the dog and then excise a small piece of skin from the inner part of the ear flap.
Some professionals advise bandaging the ear. I don’t usually do this, unless it is really necessary. In that case, one must firmly bandage the ear to the top of the dog’s head.
Post operation, it may be necessary to place the dog on sedation and/or on anti-itch medication. ‘Elizabethan Collars’ may also be introduced to prevent the dog from scratching the ear. The important thing to recognize is that once the cause (ear mites, infection, etc) of the scratching and the ear banging is removed, the dog/cat will not create a mechanical trauma to its own ear(s).
For me, one important consideration relative to this ear haematoma problem, is the speed with which the owner should act after noticing the swollen ear (remember: swollen ear = blood inside the swelling). The swelling will not go away on its own. It is necessary to perform the surgery immediately, if one does not want the ear to be deformed.
If left alone or if the surgery is performed too late, the ear flap becomes all shriveled up, scarred and deformed. Well, I wanted to deal with some other ear flap ailments like Fly-bite Dermatitis, Ear-Flap Fissures, Oily Ear, and perhaps allergies as reflected in ear flap reactions. But the Ear Haematoma developed into more writing than expected.
We’ll wait until next week then, for ‘another exciting epis-ode in this true life drama’ of ear ailments. Same time, same place.