A pool of blood in the skin of a pet’s external ear is called a “hematoma.” Here’s what causes them and what to do if your pet has one.
Q: My cat has been scratching at his ear and the vet says he has a hematoma. What is that, and how did my cat get one?
A: The word hematoma is basically a fancy Greek name for a bruise. Hematomas are seen more often in dogs, but cats may get them from shaking their head forcefully or scratching aggressively at the ear in response to itching caused by an ear mite infection, allergic skin disease or a foreign body lodged in the ear. The trauma causes blood to seep out of the blood vessels and pool between the skin and the cartilage of the earflap.
The result is a swollen, fluid-filled area that can be inside the ear canal or on the ear tip. Depending on the size and where in the ear the hematoma is located, it might feel firm or soft.
Don’t assume that a hematoma will resolve on its own. It’s a painful condition and can cause lasting damage to ear tissues. Hematomas can be treated several ways, but surgery is typically the most effective solution. While the cat is anesthetized, the surgeon removes the fluid and blood clots and sutures the inner part of the ear to the outer part so it lies smooth and prevents lumpy scar tissue from forming. An incision is made that remains open so any remaining fluid can drain. Most important is treating the underlying condition so the hematoma doesn’t return.
No matter which route you go, your cat will likely need to wear an Elizabethan collar, one of those lampshade-looking devices that keeps him from scratching at his ear, while it heals. For greater comfort, look for a soft fabric or inflatable E-collar instead of a hard plastic one.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.