Swollen Dog Ear: Causes & Treatment [Vet-Approved]

A dog with assymetrical ears which can be one of the signs of swollen dog ear

Swollen dog ears or swollen ear flaps can be concerning for any pet owner. This condition can be uncomfortable for the dog and typically signals an underlying health issue that needs treatment. 

Swollen dog ears can range from mild but visible inflammations to puffy, fluid-filled lumps on the dog’s ear flap

In any case, understanding the causes behind swollen dog ears is crucial for providing appropriate care. If you are observing swelling or inflammation in your dog’s ear, this article covers everything you need to know!

What’s in This Guide?

A dog getting their swollen dog ear examined

Recognizing Swollen Dog Ears (& Other Related Symptoms)

In many cases, swollen dog ears produce visible signs. This is why it’s important for pet parents to regularly check a dog’s ears for any signs of swelling, redness, and other symptoms that may signal a need for treatment. 

So how can a pet parent recognize ear swelling in dogs? Here are signs to watch out for:

  • Visible inflammation and redness — OR large, fluid-filled lumps on the dog’s ear flap
  • Swollen areas that are relatively warmer to the touch
  • Foul odors coming from the ear
  • Pus, blood, dark brown discharge, or dark crumbly debris coming from the ear
  • Sudden behavioral changes (e.g. head shaking, vigorous ear scratching)
  • Other behavioral signs of pain in the dog
  • Increased sensitivity or aversion to having the ear/s handled

Swollen Dog Ears: The Most Common Causes

Before finding the best treatment for swollen dog ear or swollen dog ear flap, it is important to understand the root cause of the swelling. The most common causes for swollen dog ears include the following:

1. Bacterial Ear Infections in Dogs

If a dog’s ear infection affects their outer ear canal, visible redness and inflammation may be observable. However, canine ear infections affecting the middle or inner ear canal may NOT be as visible. Other symptoms linked to bacterial ear infections in dogs include foul-smelling discharge (which can be yellow or greenish) and excessive ear scratching.

2. Ear Mites in Dogs

Ear mites are tiny, contagious parasites that can infest a dog's ear canal. Once there, ear mites can cause irritation and slightly swollen dog ears. 

Besides swelling, symptoms may also include intense itching and head shaking. Another telltale symptom to look for is a dark discharge with crumbly dark debris.

3. Allergic Reactions in Dogs

Dogs, like humans, can have allergic reactions to certain substances. Allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or certain foods can trigger allergies in dogs, resulting in itching, increased shedding, and skin inflammation.

Skin inflammation can also affect the skin on the ears, resulting in slightly swollen dog ears. In addition, constant exposure to allergens (whether environmental or food), can increase the dog’s risk of having ear infections.

4. Trauma or Injury

Physical trauma or injury to the ears can also result in a swollen dog ear flap. This could be due to accidents or fights with other animals. In such cases, it's essential to examine the ears carefully for any signs of injury and seek veterinary assistance if needed.

5. Dog Ear Hematomas

A dog ear hematoma occurs when blood accumulates between the layers of tissue in the ear flap, leading to swelling. Dog ear hematomas often happen due to physical trauma — OR vigorous shaking and excessive ear scratching due to itchiness in the ear due to ear infections, ear mites, and so on. 

Dog ear hematomas are typically inflamed and puffy like a balloon, leading to a swollen dog ear flap that may look asymmetrical to an unaffected ear. Dog ear hematomas vary in size, depending on their extent. They are usually painful for dogs.

A dog with a dog swollen ear being cleaned as part of home care for swollen dog ear flap

How Do You Treat a Dog’s Swollen or Inflamed Ear?

The treatment needed for a swollen dog ear depends on the cause of the swelling. In any case, the first step is to get the dog examined by a licensed veterinarian.

1. Veterinary Examination

A veterinary checkup for swollen dog ear involves a thorough examination of the dog’s ear using an otoscope. If needed, veterinarians may also administer an ear lavage, a process that removes earwax, discharge, and debris, clearing the dog’s ear canal for a more thorough examination. An ear lavage may also be necessary to allow any needed medication to be delivered to the affected area.

2. Treatment for Swollen Dog Ear

Treatment for swollen dog ears may include a mix of the following. This is because swollen dog ears can have primary and secondary causes. For example, an ear infection may result from recurrent allergic reactions. Likewise, a dog ear hematoma (puffy ear swelling) may result from excessive scratching due to an ear infection.

a. Medication for Ear Infection

Veterinarians would recommend the appropriate medication for ear infections after doing an ear lavage. They may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs for inflammation,  antibiotics for bacterial infections, or antiparasitic treatment for ear mites.

b. Dog Ear Hematoma Treatment

Ear hematomas, a common cause of puffy dog swollen ear flaps, can be treated with needle aspiration. Veterinarians would carefully drain the blood and inject a safe steroid to help reduce inflammation.

c. Allergy Management 

In some cases, a dog’s allergic reaction to certain foods, pollen, and so on could be the root cause of inflamed ears or recurrent ear infections. If this is the case, the veterinarian would also give recommendations on allergy management. 

Note: Only a certified veterinarian can perform allergy testing on dogs to identify the substances that are causing the dog’s allergic reaction.

d. Home Care for Swollen Dog Ears

Your veterinarian may also recommend home care techniques to alleviate swelling and discomfort for the next few days after the veterinary checkup. This may include applying prescribed ear drops, keeping your dog's ears dry, and avoiding potential allergens.

Primary & Urgent Vet Care for Dogs

This wraps up our guide on how to treat swollen dog ears and ear hematomas. If you’re looking for same-day urgent veterinary care, Sploot Vets is here to help. 

Sploot Veterinary Care is a primary & urgent pet care provider with vet clinics in Chicago and Denver. Our vet clinics operate on extended hours, 365 days a year (including holidays). Whether you need a routine wellness exam, pet vaccinations, or an urgent treatment for swollen dog ears (and other pet emergencies), we’re here to help!

Easily book an appointment online or through the Sploot Vets app! Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!