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Dog Ear Flap Issues: Cysts, Lumps & Bumps [With Pictures]

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This article was updated on May 18th, 2023

It can be extremely alarming to notice something different about our dog’s ears, whether it be a swelling, a lump or a sore inside or outside their ear flaps. Many of us have experienced ear pain ourselves and we worry about whether their ear flap problem may be painful or if it may cause lasting hearing problems. As a vet we see a range of different ear flap conditions, many of which can be quite dramatic, but that are mostly treatable.

This article will cover the most common ear flap lumps and bumps (inside or outside the ear flap) and advise on what to do about them.

1. Ear flap hematomas

The most common ear flap condition is a hematoma, also known as an aural haematoma or an othaematoma. Aural haematomas are characterized by a swelling in the ear flap itself that may involve the entire ear flap or just a portion of it. It will feel as though the ear flap is a very thickened and it may feel a little bit like a water balloon. Sometimes the ear flap can be quite hot and painful and the dog may shake and scratch at their ears too.

hematoma symptoms on dog's ear

What causes ear flap haematomas?

The aural hematoma is caused by burst blood vessels between the layers of cartilage in the ear flap. These blood vessels burst when a dog flaps their ears, scratches at the ear or after other trauma. In many cases the dog will have an underlying ear infection that is irritating them and causing them to shake their heads. Foreign bodies (such as grass seeds) in the ear canal can also result in severe head shaking and aural hematomas.

Are ear flap hematomas dangerous?

Ear flap hematomas can be dramatic and painful but they are not generally life threatening. Treatment by a veterinarian is advised to decrease the dog’s pain and to prevent the ear flap from crumpling and resulting in a ‘cauliflower ear’. According to this study, if the cartilage in the ear flap crumples this can cause the ear flap to block the ear canal resulting in chronic ear problems at a later stage.

Aural haematomas are often as a result of an underlying ear infection which may cause the dog severe pain and discomfort and they require prompt treatment.

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Tests and treatments

Firstly, the vet will check for any underlying ear infections and foreign bodies in the ear canal and treat those appropriately. Smaller aural haematomas can sometimes be drained using a needle and then the ear flap is bandaged for a few days. Larger aural haematomas will require surgical drainage and treatment.

hematoma wrap

2. Ear flap Abscesses

Ear flap abscesses can look very similar to aural hematomas. Often there a thickening of the ear flap – either just a portion, or the entire ear flap. The ear flap will be hot, red, and very sensitive or painful to the touch. An abscess is an area of infection, and this may result in your pet being unwell. They may be feverish or refuse to eat their food.

What causes ear flap abscesses?

They are generally caused by trauma. Most cases that I have seen have been as a result of a dog or cat bite or an injury by a sharp object (e.g. a thorn). This trauma will often cause a small wound on the ear flap and if left untreated the entire ear flap can become infected and form an abscess.

Are ear flap abscesses dangerous?

If left untreated, abscesses can spread infection to the rest of the body resulting in septicemia and this can be life threatening to the dog. They are also extremely painful.

Tests and treatments

The vet will often take a sample using a needle to confirm that the swelling on the ear flap is an abscess. Depending on the extent of the abscess they dog will need antibiotic treatment. If they are very unwell they may need hospitalisation and more intensive treatment. Sometimes, surgery may be needed to flush the ear flap and repair any underlying trauma.

3. Cysts on the ear flap

What do ear flap cysts look like? A cyst is a liquid filled swelling that develops in the skin. They are formed when either the sweat glands or the sebaceous glands in the skin become blocked and then fluid builds up in the gland or if the ear flap has been injured in some way. They can vary in size from a few millimeters to about an inch in size. They are generally not painful, and they can sometimes ooze a liquid substance. Learn more with our vet article about 6 types of cysts in dogs.

cyst on dog skin

Tests and treatments for cysts

Cysts and tumors can look very similar. Thus, it is essential to have any bump on your dog’s ear flap checked by a vet to determine exactly what it is. If the lump is a cyst then it can sometimes be drained quite easily with a needle or it can be left and monitored. If it is causing the patient discomfort or is become infected, then the vet may recommend removing the cyst completely.

4. Tumors on the ear flap

The ear flap of a dog is made up of layers of cartilage covered in skin. Any skin tumor may affect the ear flap too. Many of these tumors may be benign but there are a few types of tumors that may be malignant. Due to the location of the dog’s ear on the dog’s head it is critical to have any lump checked by a vet as soon as possible because it may be difficult to safely and effectively remove a tumor on the ear flap if it becomes too large.

What do ear flap tumors look like?

Tumors will mostly start as a small, rounded, swelling on the ear flap. It may be hard or soft, and located on the inside or outside of the ear flap. Sometimes they will be the same color as the surrounding skin but some of them may be red-pink, white or black. They may still have a hair cover or they may lose their hair covering. If they become larger or if the dog traumatises it in some way it may bleed or become infected.


Young dogs may develop histiocytomas on their ear flaps. Histiocytomas are rapidly developing, raised, often-reddish lumps that develop on the ear flap. They can be quite alarming because they can develop almost overnight.

Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.

histiocytoma on a black dog's skin

Below is a picture of a histiocytoma inside a dog’s ear flap:

histiocytoma on a dog's ear flap
Photo by our dermatologist Ian Spiegel VMD, DACVD

Papillomas (warts)

Papillomas are often whitish in color and sometimes have a cauliflower like appearance.

close up picture of a wart on a dog

Below are two pictures showing several warts inside a dog’s ear flap:

 warts on a dog's ear flap
warts on ear flap
Photos by our dermatologist Ian Spiegel VMD, DACVD

Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cell tumors can also develop on the ear flaps. These tumors can vary in appearance – from a small colorless bump to a large, ulcerated and oozing mass. They can be particularly aggressive and need to be identified and treated promptly.

Tests and treatments

The vet will generally take a small sample from the ear flap lump using a needle and analyse the sample under the microscope. This is generally a painless and quick test. This analysis will get the  vet an indication of what type of growth  this is and whether it is benign or malignant. Sometimes they may need to get a slightly larger sample by doing a biopsy.

The vet will take the type of tumor, dog’s age and general health into account when deciding whether surgical removal of the tumor is an option. This may involve a small surgery if the tumor is small and in an easy to remove location. If the tumor affects a large portion of the ear flap then the entire ear flap may need to be removed. This is also known as an ear flap amputation. If the tumor is malignant then the vet may suggest other treatments after surgery including radiation and chemotherapy.

ear flap missing

Histiocytomas can be monitored because they will often disappear on their own in a few weeks. But if they are large or causing discomfort, then they can be surgically removed.

Papillomas are caused by a virus and are most common in younger animals. They can often be crushed under light sedation to release some of the virus into the bloodstream and then the dog’s own immune system will mount a response against the virus and the papillomas will resolve. If they occur in older animals then the vet will need to do further tests to make sure that the animal doesn’t have an underlying condition that is suppressing their immune system. If the papillomas are extensive, then the dog may need anti-viral medication.

5. Infections of the ear flap

There are a variety of different infections that may cause scabs on ears. These can cause extreme irritation and the dog will often try to scratch and paw at the ear to relieve the irritation.

Parasitic infections

The scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) often infects the tip and edges of the ear flap causing hair loss, reddening of the skin and extreme itchiness. This mite is highly contagious to other animals as well as to humans. A vet will diagnose this mite by doing a skin scraping of the affected ear and then examining the sample under the microscope.

If the dog is positive for the sarcoptic mange mite, the vet will recommend a specific parasiticide (anti-parasite medication) to treat the dog. The other animals in the household may also need to be treated.

Fungal infections

Dogs may develop fungal infections on the ear flap. Sometimes these areas will be roundish and will be red and crusty. They can be extremely itchy and irritating to the dog. Fungal infections are diagnosed by the vet by examining the ears with a UV lamp or by taking a small sample and submitting it to the laboratory for culture and further analysis. Some fungal infections are contagious to other animals and humans. In small numbers of cases, the fungal infections can spread to other parts of the body and they can be quite serious.

Treatment involves anti-fungal medication which may be applied directly to the ear flap if the area is small. If the affected area is large, or if there are other areas in the body that are affected then oral medication will be prescribed.

Other infections

Dogs may develop other infections on the ear flap which can result in white bumps, sores or swellings. Infections will cause a swollen, reddish, warm and painful area on the ear. Sometimes there may be a bloody or pus-like discharge or a foul smell coming from the ear. If any of these symptoms are noticed, a vet visit and the appropriate medication is recommended.

Some infections will spread from an infection inside the ear canal. Infections inside the ear canal can be extremely painful to the dog and can affect their hearing. These ear infections need prompt veterinary treatment.

ear treatment at the vet

6. Wounds on the ear flap

The ear flap as a phenomenal blood supply and even the smallest wound on the ear flap will bleed profusely. This can be very alarming to a dog owner. View our veterinarian articles about how to help a dog wound heal faster or the stages of wound healing in dogs.

wound at the top of a dog's ear flap

What should I do if my dog is bleeding from the ear flap?

If you notice any bleeding from your dog’s ear flap, take cotton wool or a clean cloth and apply pressure to the dog’s ear for at least 2 minutes. This should slow the bleeding quite significantly. After the bleeding has slowed, assess the size of the wound. If it is smaller than an eighth of an inch (approx. 4-5mm) and you can stop the bleeding then you will most likely not need a vet visit. Clean the wound gently with warm soapy water and monitor it.

If the wound is larger than an eighth of an inch (4-5mm), then you pet may need to have the wound on the ear stitched up. Flap the ear against the dog’s head and apply a light bandage to prevent further bleeding and shaking of the head. Make sure the bandage is not too tight so that you don’t obstruct the dog’s breathing and get the dog to the vet immediately for assessment.

7. Allergies

Allergies can cause swelling and redness inside the ear flap. This can result in severe discomfort and the dog will respond by scratching at the ear or flapping the head. The allergies may be because of a bee sting or something similar. In this case the swelling and redness will develop very quickly and can be quite alarming. It is recommended that you seek veterinary attention if you notice any swelling or redness that happens very quickly.

Chronic skin allergies can also affect the ear. If left untreated it can result in ear infections, abscesses or aural hematomas.

Ear flap conditions can be extremely alarming and dramatic. They are also very common. Due to the wide range of causes, any change to your dog’s ear flap warrants a visit to the vet for the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.


  • Dr. Winnie, Veterinarian

    Dr. Winnie earned a Master in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria's Veterinary School. She is a full-time Veterinarian specializing in internal medicine for companion animals.

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