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My dog’s ear is swollen––what gives?! Waking up and seeing a dog ear swollen and tender can be painful for canines and scary for pet parents. Our canine companions may experience a swollen ear for various reasons, and understanding the underlying factors is crucial for their well-being. 

Together we’ll cover the six primary reasons for a swollen dog ear and I’ll share insights, advice, and preventive measures that can keep your canine’s ears healthy and happy.

6 reasons your dog has a swollen ear

On a dog, swollen ear flaps can be scary––but knowing the cause can help you avoid trouble in the future. 

Your dog’s ear flap, also called the pinnae, consists of delicate skin, cartilage, blood vessels, and fur. When it’s swollen, it can look like the ear has a bubble or inflated area under the fur. You want to avoid pinching or bumping the area, since it will likely be extremely tender and painful for your dog.

If you see a swollen ear flap, it could be due to a number of causes. Take a look at the most common reasons why your dog has a swollen ear:

Your Dog Has An Ear Infection

A common culprit for a dog's swollen ear is an ear infection. These infections can be triggered by bacteria, yeast, or parasites, causing inflammation and discomfort. If your canine companion frequently scratches their ear or exhibits signs of pain, consult your veterinarian right away. Timely treatment can alleviate the issue and prevent further complications.

Seasonal Allergies or Allergic Reaction

Seasonal allergies or allergic reactions can manifest in various ways, one being a dog’s swollen ear. Pollens, dust, or certain foods may trigger allergic responses in dogs, leading to ear swelling. Your vet can provide guidance on identifying and addressing the allergen, and can teach you how to manage your pet’s allergies to keep them comfortable.

ear mites

Tiny yet troublesome, ear mites are microscopic parasites that can infest a dog's ears, causing irritation and swelling. If your furry friend frequently shakes their head or scratches their ears excessively, ear mites might be to blame. Consult with your vet for a proper diagnosis and effective treatment to eliminate these pesky intruders.

ear hematomas

Injuries or trauma to the ear can result in blood collecting between the layers of the ear flap, leading to a condition known as an ear hematoma or aural hematoma. This can cause significant puffy dog ear swelling. 

Ear hematomas cannot be treated at home, so you’ll need prompt veterinary intervention to address the underlying cause and prevent complications, such as infection or deformity. If left untreated, ear hematomas can result in tissue necrosis (death of the skin) due to lack of blood supply.

Earwax Buildup or Discharge

Accumulation of earwax or abnormal discharge can contribute to a dog's swollen ear. Regular ear cleaning is essential for preventing wax buildup, and any unusual discharge should be promptly investigated by a vet as this may indicate an ear infection is present. Maintaining ear hygiene is a key factor in preventing ear-related issues in your canine.

Physical Contact or Trauma

Accidental bumps, bites, or rough play can result in physical trauma to your dog's ears, leading to swelling. Monitoring your pet's interactions with other animals and providing a safe physical environment can help prevent such incidents. If trauma occurs, seek veterinary advice to address the swelling and any potential injuries.

Most common reasons your dog's ear is swollen

Understanding the common reasons for a swollen dog ear is important, but lifestyle factors can also contribute to this issue. Changes in activity levels, exposure to water, or prolonged time in dirty environments may exacerbate ear swelling. 

Dogs living in a multi-pet household may also be at a higher risk for ear trauma. Biting and pawing that can happen during playtime or over behavioral disputes raises your dog’s risk for injury to the ear flap. 

Being mindful of the factors above can help you take proactive measures to prevent ear-related problems in your canine companion.

How to prevent ear issues

A dog ear swollen with fluid can cause undue stress and worry for pet parents, and it can be super painful for your pet. To avoid the distress caused by a swollen ear, there are a few hygienic routines you can adopt, in addition to adjustments to your dog’s lifestyle. 


Regular Ear Cleaning

Maintaining a routine for cleaning your dog's ears is crucial in preventing issues like a dog’s swollen ear. Use vet-approved ear cleaners and follow proper cleaning techniques to remove excess wax and debris. Regular cleaning can help minimize the risk of infections and other ear-related problems. Never use harsh products like rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide in the ears, as this could result in damage to the eardrum. 

Avoid Exposure To Unclean Dogs or Dirty Environments

Limiting your dog's exposure to unclean dogs or dirty environments can significantly reduce the risk of ear issues. Regular grooming, including cleaning paws and wiping down ears, can prevent the accumulation of dirt and bacteria that may contribute to ear swelling.

Don't Let Them Play Too Rough With Other Dogs

While play is essential for a dog's well-being, rough play can lead to injuries and ear trauma. Supervise interactions with other dogs, especially if they tend to play rough. Preventing unnecessary roughness can go a long way in maintaining your pet's ear health and safety.

Regular Vet Exams

Scheduled veterinary check-ups can help you catch any potential ear issues in your dog before they become serious. Regular examinations allow your vet to assess your dog's overall health, including the ears. Early detection of any signs of swelling or infection enables prompt intervention, ensuring your pet stays happy and healthy.

What to do when your dog's ear is swollen 

If you notice that a swollen dog ear is bothering your canine, take immediate action. Gently inspect the ear for signs of infection, discharge, odor, or injuries. If you notice waxy build up inside the ear, you can try using a vet-recommended ear cleaning solution to gently remove the debris. Avoid inserting objects into the ear canal, including cotton swabs. 

If the swelling is painful or accompanied by other concerning symptoms like discharge, oozing, severe puffiness of the ear flap, or foul odor, seek prompt veterinary attention for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.

Final thoughts on swollen dog ears

In conclusion, being attentive to your dog's ears is vital for their overall well-being. Regular cleaning, preventive measures, and prompt action in case of swelling are key aspects of responsible pet ownership. By understanding the various reasons behind a swollen dog ear, you empower yourself to provide the best care for your furry friend. Keep those tails wagging and ears healthy for a joyful life together.

Remember, a swollen ear on dogs doesn't have to be a cause for panic. With knowledge and care, you can ensure your pet enjoys a life free from ear-related discomfort. If you ever find yourself wondering, "why is my dog's ear swollen?" just refer back to this guide for insights and solutions to keep your canine companion in the best of health!

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Written By a Vetnique Vet

Veterinarian Dr. Hillary Wolfe smiling and holding a little dog.

Dr. Hillary Wolfe, DVM, CVFT

Dr. Wolfe is a traveling veterinarian and the owner of Tula Veterinary Nutrition. She is passionate about enhancing pet health and longevity through food, with a strong focus on natural nutrition and homemade diets.

Small Animal Veterinarian & Certified Food Therapist 

St. Petersburg, FL 

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