Aural (ear) hematoma refers to a collection of blood that occurs between the skin and the cartilage in the pinna (the “flap”) of the ear. This can happen in response to trauma, such as hitting the ear on something, from a bite wound, from a foreign object in the ear canal or from an ear infection, causing the dog to consistently shake his/her head and scratch his/her ear. What happens is that a blood vessel ruptures and causes blood to leak into the pinna; this leads to a swollen, and often hot to the touch, ear. The ear may also feel soft and filled with fluid when touched; a bit like a balloon. This condition is very uncomfortable for the dog and help by a veterinarian should be sought right away.
An aural hematoma is typically diagnosed solely by clinical appearance. To treat this condition, your veterinarian may suggest a few methods. The first is to put the dog under general anesthesia and insert a drain; this way, when the ear tries to fill back up, the fluid will drain out instead of accumulating. The second is a procedure called “tacking.” This is also done under general anesthesia and consists of making several dime-size holes on the pinna and “tacking” the top and bottom layer of the ear together so blood is unable to accumulate. The third option is to do nothing. That would cause discomfort in the dog for a longer period of time and results in what is known as “cauliflower ear,” in which the ear has a shriveled appearance. This is more noticeable in dogs whose ears stand up. You should consult with your veterinarian before deciding not to treat the hematoma as it could be large enough to occlude the ear canal, causing an ear infection or exacerbating one already present. Very commonly, the ear will feel thick due to the scarring that results from the surgical procedures.
The easiest way to prevent an aural hematoma in your dog is to prevent ear infections. After taking your dog swimming or giving him/her a bath, use an ear cleaner specific to dogs from your veterinarian that dries out the ear and prevents excess water sitting in the ear canal and causing infection. If you notice your dog shaking his/her head and scratching at the ears, make an appointment with your veterinarian to check for foreign bodies (such as cheatgrass or large pieces of wax) or to check for and treat infection.
Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.