Ear Swelling in Dogs - Causes and Treatment for Swollen Ears

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Tan dog scratching behind right ear

Tan dog scratching behind right ear

Why are my dog’s ears swollen?

Swollen ears in dogs can indicate several potential causes, including wounds, inflammation, infections, allergies, mites, and ear hematomas. Symptoms that may accompany swollen ears in dogs include head shaking, scabbing, redness, and ear discharge. If the inner part of the ear is swollen and filled with fluid, it is likely an ear hematoma. Ear hematoma can occur when capillaries burst and blood pools due to scratching or shaking the head from itchiness or pain. Itchiness and pain in the ear can be caused by various issues as well, such as otitis externa, wounds, and infections. If the ear hematoma is small and painless, it may heal on its own, but if left untreated, it may lead to deformation.

Common causes for ear swelling in dogs

Common causes of swollen ears in dogs include:

  • Ear hematoma

    Repeated scratching or shaking of the head due to itchiness caused by ear mites, wounds, foreign bodies, allergies, or infections can cause ear hematomas as the capillaries inside the ears burst.

  • Ear mites are a common cause of ear disease and infections. They are highly contagious and can affect pets of all ages, but young puppies are particularly susceptible. Symptoms of an infection may include ear scratching or head shaking, as well as an increase in ear discharge.

  • Trauma

    abrasions, bites, etc.

  • Allergies

    Atopy, contact dermatitis, an allergic response to insect bites, seasonal allergies, environmental allergies (dust, smoke, cleaning products, etc.), and food allergies can cause swelling in the ears and other parts of the body.

  • Infection

    Bacterial and fungal infections, caused by ear mites, wounds, and foreign bodies, can lead to inflammation in the ear, which may result in swelling. This is typically accompanied by symptoms such as discharge and odor.

Common symptoms that accompany ear swelling in dogs

Edema of the ear is usually accompanied by itchiness and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Head shaking or scratching
  • Redness
  • Crusting
  • Pain
  • Thickening of the skin around the ears
  • Hair loss around the ears
  • Bad smell around the ears
  • Ear discharge

When to see a vet for swollen ears in dogs

The risk of swollen ears in dogs depends on the severity of the itchiness and pain, as well as the size of the swelling. Causes of swollen ears in dogs, such as mites, allergies, and infections, are often difficult to recover from independently. If a dog continues to scratch or shakes its head due to discomfort, the capillaries in the ear may burst, causing ear hematoma. Small hematomas may heal naturally on their own, but if the primary cause is not accurately diagnosed and treated, edema may continue to recur. That is why symptoms that surround a dog’s eyes or ears are best addressed as soon as possible by a vet for accurate diagnosis and treatment for the best prognosis.

How to deal with swollen ears in dogs at home

If the size of the swelling is not large and does not appear to cause the dog any pain, you can try hygiene management first. Tidy up the hair around the ears and, if the ear lobes and the inside of the ears are dirty, use a pet ear cleaner to clean them. After adding enough ear cleaner and massaging the cartilage under the ear for 20 to 30 seconds, gently wipe it with a cotton pad or cotton ball. If the symptoms persist or worsen, or if swelling is accompanied by other symptoms such as discharge, you should visit the hospital for further examination.

How is ear swelling in dogs diagnosed?

closeup of tan dogs ear

Diagnosing swollen ears in dogs can include the following tests:

  • Physical examination

    To determine the severity of the symptoms, a visual assessment of the size of the swelling is performed. Then physical palpation determines if the lesion is hard or soft, which will help distinguish between swelling and tumor.

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA)

    If a tumor is suspected, a veterinarian can confirm the type of tumor through fine needle aspiration.

  • Ear swab

    Can collect samples to help identify the cause of irritation from either bacteria or fungus.

  • Allergy test
  • Otoscopy

    The inside of the ear canal is checked to evaluate the condition of the ear, including the presence of ear mites, redness, swelling, earwax, and damage to the eardrum.

  • Tests to check for other endocrine disorders

    Endocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, can be tested for using various methods including blood tests, urine tests, ultrasound, and a CT scan. The veterinarian will choose the most appropriate method for the individual’s case.

What is the treatment process like for swollen ears in dogs?

For cases of ear hematoma, small hematomas may not require treatment if left alone, as the blood inside the hematoma will eventually be reabsorbed. However, it is important to have a veterinarian evaluate the hematoma medically, as the reabsorption process can result in scarring or deformities.

Depending on the cause of the swelling in the dog’s ears, the following treatments may be applied:

  • Draining

    Draining the fluid using a syringe and needle. This may help relieve symptoms in a short period of time, but the swelling may return.

  • Surgery

    Through a small incision, the fluid and blood clots present inside are drained.

  • Antibiotics and antifungals

    A veterinarian may prescribe topical medications, antibiotics, or antifungals if an infection is present.

  • Professional ear wash

    If otitis externa is present, the ear can be washed and a local ointment prescription can be administered. In the case of otitis media and otitis interna, it is also possible to wash the inside of the eardrum through an ear endoscope after administering anesthesia.

In addition, painkillers for pain relief and medications to manage itching can be prescribed together.

How to prevent swollen ears in dogs?

Swollen ears are often caused by problems in hygiene or the accumulation of foreign bodies. Therefore, paying attention to your dog’s ear hygiene can help prevent swelling to some extent. Dogs with large, drooping ears, such as poodles, Cocker Spaniels, and basset hounds, may be more prone to ear problems and may require extra attention.

  • Periodic ear cleaning

    Use a dog-specific ear cleaner to manage their ear hygiene regularly. It is generally recommended to wash the ears once every 1-2 weeks, as excessive care can also cause ear irritation.

  • Make sure to keep your dog’s ear dry

    After bathing or playing in water, make sure to dry your dog's ears thoroughly until they are completely dry in order to prevent an environment that can easily harbor and grow bacteria.

  • External parasite management

    Periodic antiparasitic maintenance is required to prevent ear mites.

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