Aural hematoma

Ear issues have always been a common problem faced by pet owners. Besides the typical reasons for ear infections in pets, such as allergies, hormonal imbalance etc, another very common reason for sudden ear ache and head shaking in this season is spear grass penetration.  Unfortunately on top of the ear infection, another abnormal outcome that can arise is a sudden swelling of the ear flap, which is known as Aural hematoma.

The ear flap consists of cartilage, small blood vessels, covered by skin and fur. When the ear is irritated, a normal reaction by pets is head shaking. When the pet shakes its head vigorously, it can often snap one or more of the blood vessels supplying the ear flap (pinna). As a result of the blood vessel breakage, blood accumulates under the ear flap skin. This pocket of blood in medical terms is called Aural hematoma.

Aural hematoma can occur in both dogs and cats, but significantly more common in dogs. Aural hematoma is typically characterized by a warm, painful swelling on the inner side of the ear cartilage. Depending on its size, the swelling can be either soft or hard. The swelling typically appears acutely (all of the sudden and not in a gradual manner).

Aural hematoma can only seldom heal on its own without medical intervention. It is not recommended to leave the hematoma untreated due to a few reasons.

The blood pocket itself can be a perfect medium for bacteria to overgrow, spread and cause a severe infection. The blood in the pocket tends to clot and its ability to dissolve and get reabsorbed into the body is very limited to non existent. Last but not least, it is important to remember that Aural hematoma in the vast majority of cases is secondary to a primary problem in the ear that caused the initial vigorous head shaking and scratching. If the primary ear problem is not addressed and treated the problem will recur.

There are a few medical possibilities to treat Aural hematoma. If the hematoma is addressed very close to its formation, it may be resolved by simple aspiration. However, unfortunately in most instances a short surgical procedure is required in order to treat the problem and reduce the likelihood of recurrence.   

Beside surgical drainage, the ear canal is tested for the presence of infection, foreign bodies or any other irritant that led to the head shaking. Very commonly, an oral antibiotic is prescribed to treat and prevent infection along with pain control medication and anti-inflammatory medication.

Sometimes the ear cartilage does not go back to its original shape and scar tissue in the form of wrinkling occurs. Treating the hematoma as close as possible to its formation reduces the chances of any secondary complication that may arise. Being diligent and addressing any ear issues that may manifest by repeated scratching, and/or head shaking, before the hematoma even forms can save both you and your pet a lot of grief.

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About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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