What is commonly referred to as "cauliflower ear" in dogs is a deformity of the ear that results from an untreated aural hematoma. The fluid-filled swelling of the hematoma becomes firm and thickened over time, resulting in the cauliflower ear. An aural hematoma occurs when blood accumulates within the cartilage layers of the ear. The condition is most common in dogs with long, floppy ears, such as setters, spaniels and hounds.
The most visible symptom of an ear hematoma is the swelling that occurs in the ear. Your dog will likely scratch at the swollen ear and may try to rub it on the ground or rub it with her paw. The ear is generally painful for the dog and hot to the touch. The dog may shake her head often to try to alleviate the discomfort associated with the hematoma. If your dog has a light complexion and a short coat, you may notice the ear has taken on a bright pink or red color.
The condition occurs most frequently in dogs with long ears because these types of dogs are more prone to ear infections. These types of dogs are also likely to have parasites or a foreign object in their ear that goes unnoticed, because the ear hides them. The condition occurs when the dog shakes its head to try to relieve itching or discomfort of the ear. The violent shaking of the head causes blood vessels within the ear to break, resulting in a hematoma.
Treatment of the ear hematoma begins by identifying and treating the underlying condition--such as ear infection or mites--that caused the swelling. The hematoma will then be reduced using needle aspiration. However, with only needle aspiration, the condition is likely to return. In most instances, the veterinarian must perform surgery on the ear to ensure the hematoma does not come back. The surgery generally involves making an S-shaped incision on the surface of the ear and flushing out the blood and clots that caused the swelling.
Preventing ear hematomas is not always possible. Practicing strict parasite control, however, by using a product such as Frontline, Advantage or Revolution is a good first step. These products are all available from your veterinarian. It's also important for you to examine your dog's ears regularly to ensure she doesn't have an ear mite infestation. Dry the insides of your dog's ears if she has been swimming, had a bath or been out in the rain. Cleaning the ears regularly can also help prevent the an ear mite infestation.
For dogs with floppy ears, such as basset hounds, turning the ears inside out to air dry them may help to prevent ear infections and keep the ears clean. It's a good idea to clean your dog's ears each week. Wiping the dog's ear with a dry cotton ball or one that is slightly moistened with mineral oil is about all it requires in healthy ears. If the dog's ear is dirty, wiping it with a cotton ball dipped in mineral oil is a good way to start. Wrap the cotton ball around your finger and insert your finger as deeply into the canal as you can, but do not poke down into the ear. It may take several cotton balls to get the ear clean.