My Dog Has a Swollen Ear

Your dog's ears are a very sensitive part of his anatomy. Not only do they provide him with a constant source of valuable auditory information, but they also serve as a way to dissipate body heat, detect air currents and temperature changes, and convey changes in attitude and mood. Because your dog's ears are so sensitive, if they are swollen or irritated they will certainly become a preoccupation to him. As a result, it is critical that a swollen ear be accurately diagnosed and correctly treated to avoid symptom progression.

What to Look For

Start by observing the way your dog carries the affected ear when he is still. Try to evaluate whether the ear seems enlarged throughout its length or just at the base, tip, front, or back. Next, carefully grasp the base of the healthy ear and run the length of it through your hand, between the palm of your hand and your thumb. Note its thickness, weight, and flexibility. Now repeat the process on the swollen ear, noting any differences. Finally, check inside both ears, looking for evidence of irritation or infection.

What to Do

Answering these questions should help you figure out what to do next:

  • Did you detect any signs of infection inside the affected ear? Evidence of pus or excessive wax might be consistent with, and a possible reason for, the swelling. If, from past experience, you know how to treat the type of infection you notice, proceed with that treatment in the hope that your efforts may again solve the problem. If they don't, get your vet's help.
  • Is the swelling superficial and confined to one well-defined area? These types of swellings are often the result of some sort of insect bite, sting, or the site of a recent tick attachment. Such swellings can be treated safely with a simple disinfectant (hydrogen peroxide) and topical antibiotic (Bacitracin) therapy.
  • Does the swelling seem to be creating a balloon-like effect with the ear? This usually means that your dog is suffering from something known as an aural hematoma. This results when a blood vessel within the ear begins to ooze, filling the hollow structure of the ear flap with blood. This is very uncomfortable for dogs and will often cause them to shake their heads repeatedly, exacerbating the symptoms.

If left alone, the pressure inside the ear may eventually cause the bleeding to stop, but the blood inside the ear will take time to congeal, and only some of it will be resorbed. It will eventually heal, but the result will be a thickened, heavy, wrinkled “cauliflower” ear.

A better solution is to seek your veterinarian's help. There is a surgical procedure that will correct the problem with much more attractive results.

  • Did the swelling seem to occur spontaneously? If it seems to have happened rapidly and doesn't have that balloon-like appearance, it is probably allergic in nature. Try following the directions for the use of antihistamines in “How to Treat Your Dog's Allergic Symptoms” [not available online].