What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Swollen Ear


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.

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your role


What To Do

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.

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.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Are both ears affected?
  • Do you notice anything inside the horse's ear?
  • Do you notice areas of irritation or bleeding of the skin inside the ears?
  • Do you notice signs of head shaking, cocking the ear, or head tilt?
  • Have you been able to look in the horse's ear?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
more treatments

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP