I noticed my dog’s ear flap has filled up with fluid like a balloon. Is this a hematoma?
A hematoma of the ear flap is commonly referred to as an aural hematoma. This happens when a blood vessel inside the ear flap is broken, and the ear flap fills with blood. This usually occurs with some form of trauma to the ear, such as excessive head shaking due to an ear canal infection, allergies, or blunt trauma. This condition occurs most commonly in dogs, but can affect cats also.
If this happens to your pet, your veterinarian will want to check for ear canal infections, etc. and correct those first. As for that swollen ear flap, there are multiple options to correct that. One of the most sure ways to correct it is with surgery, which would require anesthesia. The inside of the ear flap is incised, and the blood and clots cleaned out. It is then sutured in a variety of ways to promote both continual drainage and proper healing.
Another option is to lance the hematoma, and place a special drain in it for 2-3 weeks. This procedure does not require anesthesia, but will take longer to drain than in the surgical procedure. This way is generally successful, but I have seen some of these return on occasion.
Some veterinarians will just simply use a syringe to aspirate the blood out, but it usually fills right back up and may need this done several times to get it healed properly. Also, each time a needle is used, infection may be introduced.
But what if you do nothing at all except treat a possible ear canal infection? The body will eventually re-absorb the blood. However, the hematoma may get larger before it gets better, and this may take several months to resolve. This also results in a less cosmetic heal, because the ear flap scars down tight and creates a “cauliflower” ear. Also, this big ear flap can be very uncomfortable to your pet during this long period of treatment.
And last but not least, there is some newer research out there that reports the use of anti-inflammatories such as Prednisone may help too.
So which is best for your pet? That is best determined by your veterinarian. A veterinarian will discuss things with you like severity, age, cosmetics, cost, and risks to come up with the best option for you and your pet.
Thomas Schaeberle, VMD