Dog Ear Swelling: Causes and Treatment


In this Article

  • Common Causes and Treatments of Dog Ear Swelling
  • Quick Tips for Applying Ear Medication
  • Prevent Ear Problems: Taking Care of Your Dog’s Ears

From dog bites to ear mites, there’s a lot that can cause ear swelling in your dog.

To keep your canine companion healthy, it helps to know the signs of a dog’s ear problems, what to do when they happen, and how you can prevent them.

Common Causes and Treatments of Dog Ear Swelling

Swelling is just one sign of ear problems in dogs. Other symptoms include scratching or wiping the ear against things, head shaking or tilting, odor, discharge, redness, scabs or crust, balance problems, walking in circles, odd eye movements, and hair loss around the ear.

The most common causes of ear swelling in dogs include:

Ear mites. Microscopic parasites that feed on the wax and oils inside your dog’s ear, mites are behind most ear problems in puppies and young dogs, though they can happen to any dog, regardless of age.

A serious mite infestation can completely block your dog’s ear canal with the coffee-grounds-like debris of the mites. Complications may include ear hematomas — in which blood vessels in the ear flap rupture from intense scratching and head shaking — or serious infection.

To treat ear mites, your dog may need a gentle ear cleaning, prescription medication, or insecticidal eardrops. Since ear mites are contagious between cats and dogs, all the pets in your household should be treated. Follow your vet’s instructions about how long to treat and when to recheck.

Ear hematomas. These are firm, swollen masses on the inside of your dog’s ear flap. They occur when a blood vessel within the ear flap ruptures and bleeding occurs between the tissue layers. Sometimes caused by head shaking or scratching because of ear mites or an infection, hematomas can also be the result something foreign stuck inside your dog’s ear.

Treatment for an ear hematoma includes a veterinary exam to find out the cause of the hematoma and draining of the blood to prevent ear deformity and scarring. Surgery is usually necessary to prevent the ear flap from filling up with blood again.

Inner or outer ear infections. These can also cause ear swelling in dogs, as well as discharge, odor, and discomfort. Infections can be the result of a dog bite, a foreign object in your dog’s ear, polyps, allergies, water in the ear, and other problems.

Left untreated, an outer ear infection (otitis externa) can progress to an inner ear infection (otitis interna), which is painful enough to prevent a dog from willingly opening its mouth and may result in hearing loss or difficulties with balance. Treating ear infections may require oral or topical antibiotics or antifungals, flushing the ear, ear cleaning, or an ear-drying solution. If the problem is chronic, surgery could be necessary.

Avoid the temptation to diagnose your dog’s ear swelling yourself. Because the symptoms of one ear problem can sometimes mimic another, it’s important to bring your dog to the veterinarian to get the correct diagnosis — and the right treatment.


Quick Tips for Applying Ear Medication

If treating your dog’s ear swelling requires eardrops, you can make their application a little easier with these quick tips:

  1. With the drops close by, gently hold your dog’s head still. Lift its ear and clean easy-to-reach wax with a cotton ball and ear solution. Be careful not to dig too deep or to pack wax into the eardrum.
  2. Maintain your grip and place the nozzle of the ear dropper at the opening of your dog’s ear canal, angled toward the nose. Squirt in the correct number of drops.
  3. Keep hold of your dog’s head to prevent them from shaking out the medication. To spread the drops, fold your dog’s ear down and massage the cartilage at the base of the ear for 30 seconds.

Prevent Ear Problems: Taking Care of Your Dog’s Ears

Any dog can get an ear infection, something stuck in their ear canal, or ear mites, but dogs with drooping ears (poodles, cocker spaniels, and basset hounds, for example) can be especially prone.

To prevent ear problems in your dog before they start, it helps if you get to know how your dog’s ears look when they’re healthy. The insides of a healthy ear should be pink and clean, and also odor free. If your dog’s ears are swollen, red, smelly, or have any kind of discharge, something’s wrong and it’s time to talk to your vet.

Routine care to keep your dog’s ears healthy includes:

  • Regular exams by your vet, especially if your dog’s ears are very hairy inside or prone to wax buildup
  • Cleaning with a cotton ball dampened with an ear cleaner recommended by your vet if the ears are dirty inside. Since dogs’ ears are delicate, ask your vet for tips on cleaning, and never insert anything into your dog’s ear canal beyond where you can see.
  • If your dog is in the water a lot (or gets bathed often), water can collect inside the ears, leading to a painful infection. When bathing, put cotton balls in your dog’s ears (remember to take out the same number of cotton balls that you put in), and after water activities dry your dog’s ears out carefully. If your pooch is prone to ear infections, ask your vet if an ear drying solution might help.


Show Sources

Fogle, B. Caring for Your Dog: The Complete Canine Home Reference. DK Publishing, Inc. 2002.
Giffin, J. Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 3rd edition, Howell Book House, 2000.

ASPCA: “Ear Mites;” “Ear Infections;” and “Ear Care.”
Utah Veterinary Clinic: “Ear Hematomas.”
Gerstenfeld, S. ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet. Chronicle Books, 1999.

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