Your pet’s ears may be your favorite place to pat — but if you notice any swelling, stop stroking and listen up. It could be a hematoma, a collection of blood outside of a blood vessel that can occur just about anywhere in the body. For instance, the bruise you notice after an injury is actually a hematoma — the bluish mark is blood that has spilled from a broken blood vessel into the surrounding tissue.
In the case of an aural (or ear) hematoma, blood from broken blood vessels pools in the ear flap.
Aural hematomas usually form because a pet has been persistently and vigorously shaking her head, which she may do in an attempt to alleviate an itch. Sometimes, an insect bite or sting is the cause of the itch, but more commonly, an ear infection is to blame. Aural hematomas occur in both dogs and cats, but they are more common in dogs, who tend to have larger ears.
not so swell
Aural hematomas are easy to spot — your pet’s ear flap will be swollen from being filled with blood. Upon further inspection, you may notice ear drainage or odor typical of an ear infection. Hematomas coupled with ear infections are uncomfortable, so you may notice your pet pawing at the affected ear.
There are multiple options for treating aural hematomas, but the main goal of most therapies is to alleviate the swelling and prevent recurrence of the hematoma, while minimizing scarring of the ear.
Naturally, in order to alleviate the swelling, the pocket of fluid needs to be drained. Once the fluid has been drained, your vet will recommend therapy that is either medical or surgical:
Dropping In: Non-surgical treatment options for hematomas usually involve administering liquid steroids into the ear flap. Sometimes this needs to be done daily for a few days, and sometimes one treatment is sufficient. If your veterinarian recommends this course of treatment, your pet may also be sent home on a daily oral steroid to combat inflammation.
Down the Drain: Most surgical treatments involve removing the fluid from the hematoma and then placing a drain in the ear to catch excess fluid until the tiny broken vessels in the ear flap have healed. Your pet may come home with his ear bandaged, and will also likely be wearing an e-collar. Because the hematoma will continue to drain for several days, you’ll want to be sure to keep your post-op patient confined to an area of the house that will allow for easy clean up. Often these patients still want to shake their heads, and you can imagine the mess this would make on your favorite rug!
If your pet’s hematoma is a result of an ear infection, your veterinarian will also thoroughly clean your pet’s ear prior to sending him home, and topical medications will need to be used to combat the infection.
If you suspect that your pet has a hematoma, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can. While aural hematomas are not emergencies in the strict sense of the word, the earlier they are treated, the better they will respond to non-surgical therapy.