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Haematoma of the ear (aural haematoma) in cats and dogs

A burst blood vessel (haemorrhage) in the ear flap is the most common reason that a dog or cat's ear lobe swells up. Read more about the signs, why it happens and how we treat aural haematoma in dogs and cats here.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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Signs of an aural haematoma

  • A swollen ear flap: the swelling can vary in size, and usually feels firm and fluid-like
  • Discomfort: your cat or dog may tilt their head, often with the sore ear towards the ground. Individuals are affected differently; some may show pain, whilst others may not
  • Inflammation: dirty, hot, red or smelly ear


Causes of an aural haematoma

An aural haematoma is easily recognisable from the description or signs listed above. It is usually assumed, from the clinical examination, that the most likely cause of the swelling in the ear flap is a bleed. If your dog or cat itches their ear, or shakes their head a lot, it can often result in a broken capillary in the skin. The blood that accumulates causes irritation and further head shaking, which exacerbates the bleeding and prevents the blood from clotting. The fluid sits between the two layers of cartilage that form the ear flap, forming a large blood blister. Underlying causes of itching and head shaking include: ear disease, allergies, fleas, ear mites, allergic skin disease (atopic dermatitis), a traumatic injury.


What can I do to help my pet?

  • Regular preventative anti-parasite treatments. We recommend close monitoring for indoor-only pets too
  • Monitor for signs of ear disease and atopic dermatitis. If you are concerned, seek veterinary advice to help you manage these common underlying conditions


Treatment of an aural haematoma

Aural haematomas can be challenging to treat. There are several common approaches that your vet will discuss with you. Firstly, the least invasive approach is to leave the blood ear alone to see if it heals by itself. Unfortunately, the pet may continue to shake their head and healing does not occur. Eventually, some of these cases may heal with a ‘cauliflower-ear’ appearance.

Secondly, the most simple surgical approach is to drain the fluid using a needle and syringe. The ear is often bandaged against the head for several days to prevent the ear flap from filling up again with blood. Anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed by your vet for pain relief.

The third option requires a general anaesthetic. To start with, the fluid is drained. A temporary drain to remove fluid is placed in the ear flap, or small sutures are then placed across the ear flap to encourage the cartilage layers to stick together. A Buster collar or inflatable Buster collar must be worn to protect the ear until it has fully healed. Aural haematomas can also recur, so it is important to identify and treat any underlying causes, such as ear disease and allergies.


When to see your physical vet

  • If you notice any of the signs of an aural haematoma listed above
  • If you cat or dog is persistently shaking their head, or scratching their ear(s) or skin


Still worried?

Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.

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