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Halloween Massacre or Bleeding Ear Tip?

This is a slightly exaggerated illustration of the mess a
dog’s bleeding ear tip can make 😉

By Kim Everson, DVM

As I loaded my kids into the car to go Trick or Treating, my trusty American Bulldog puppy Guppy waited patiently nearby. Everything was going smoothly: the kids were dressed up, they had their loot bags ready and we were moments away from Halloween delight when I happened to look down at the garage floor. A bright red splotch decorated the pavement. “Is that — blood?” I puzzled. Then I noticed another closer to where my dog stood. Then another. As if in a horror picture “slow-mo” scene, my eyes traced the blood trail up my dog’s blood-smeared paw to grisly shoulder and finally to Guppy’s grinning blood-splattered face.

I leaped into action, doing a quick and frantic examination. “Where the heck is that blood coming from?” The more I explored his face, the bloodier my own hands became. Then I found the source. One of Guppy’s ears had a small laceration just on the edge of the flap. It is amazing how much blood a small ear gash can produce. Mind racing — how on earth did he get hurt? — I pinched the skin of his ear to staunch the bleeding and dragged him over to my on-site veterinary clinic.

Now another conundrum presented itself. “If I bring Guppy into the clinic to work on him by myself he is going to bleed everywhere,” I reasoned. “But when I let go of his ear, it is going to bleed again.” In all actuality, Guppy’s wound–while messy–was not life threatening. I had time to go into the clinic and collect some supplies.

Back outside, I tried to stop the bleeding with a silver nitrate stick we occasionally use to control bleeding if a nail quick is clipped during a nail trim. Alas, the gushing continued. Next I packed the wound with styptic powder* and watched hopefully.  Nope, it kept bleeding. Desperate now, alone with a bloody-eared 80 pound brute and a car load of kids in a frenzy to start Halloween festivities, I opted for a bandage.

Guppy with a “granny wrap” bandage to
keep his ears safe and secure (and my walls
blood free).

First I placed a non-stick bandage pad around the ear tip and held both ear flaps firmly on top of Guppy’s skull while I wrapped several layers of soft cast padding around his head. Next I wrapped several layers of stretchy vet-wrap around his head (being very careful not to pull it too tight) to keep the ears and soft cotton in place. Finally I used a wide tape to keep the whole thing anchored to his fur. With the “granny wrap” in place, I left my pathetic looking pup in a kennel and headed out for a few hours of Trick or Treating.

A “granny wrap” bandage is a wonderful tool for bleeding ears. I’ve used this technique a number of times on patients who have bloody ear tips from self-trauma or injury. The worst scenario is a bleeding ear tip in a dog with floppy ear flaps and an ear infection. These guys shake and shake their heads because their ears are itchy. The flaps smack against their face so often and so hard (like a whip) that the skin breaks open and they bleed — like crazy. As they shake their heads blood splatters everywhere like a gruesome massacre scene. Besides treating the underlying ear infection, I often end up placing a “granny wrap” bandage to keep the ears still long enough to allow for healing in the skin.

Guppy’s wound 36 hours later,
oozing because he scratched
it open after I removed the bandage.

It occurred to me later that during a play-fight, my other dog EdGrrr’s tooth probably caught Guppy’s ear just right, causing the laceration. Guppy’s ears bear numerous scars from their friendly battles. After about 36 hours and two bandage changes, Guppy’s ear was better but still a little oozy. Having had his ears under wraps for two days, he couldn’t resist scratching part of the scab off when I removed the final bandage. However, with the help of my assistant and some special skin “super glue” I was able to close the small gap and abandon the “granny wrap” once and for all.

* In the absence of styptic powder corn starch can be used in a pinch.

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