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Equine Health Resource

Swollen Ear

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

    Tumors, trauma, frostbite, insects, external parasite irritation, skin infections and many other conditions can all affect the tissues of the ear and result in swelling.

    Traumatic injury usually results from either a bite from another horse or an injury, often from getting a head caught between the bars of fences or stall walls. Some irritating conditions cause a horse to damage the ear from rubbing or scratching.

    In some cases, the cartilage structure of the ear can be damaged, resulting in a folded or flopped over ear. Sometimes, part of the ear may even lose its blood supply and slough off.


    Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). If your horse yields to pressure on the halter and will allow you to examine their ear, gently examine it.

    Look at the inner surface of the ear with a good light. Look for bleeding on the inner surface that could be caused by biting midges or external parasites. Look for parasites and small flies. Do you notice drainage? Is the ear cocked or the head tilted? Look for signs of traumatic injury. Compare the appearance of the affected ear to the other ear. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.


    Your vet assesses the ear to determine the cause of the swelling; trauma versus other underlying disorders. Most traumatic injuries to the ears heal with time and without a great deal of treatment. However, in many cases, prompt vet treatment improves the outcome for a variety of ear disorders.

    What Not To Do

    Do not try to examine your horse's ear if they resist. Horse ears are very sensitive. Horses with painful ears are very guarded and can be difficult to examine and treat.

    In many cases it is not worth the struggle to evaluate a painful ear. That said, you have to determine whether it is possible for you to safely perform this skill on your horse without causing undue stress or injury (see the related Skill for more details).

    When in doubt, wait for your vet to examine the ear.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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