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This is only an occasional problem in dogs, but if your pet has this problem, they'll be miserable and painful.

Fly Strike is simply where biting flies have targeted your pet's ear flaps. Perhaps because of a minor cut, wound, sunburn damage, or the attracting smell of an ear infection. Once the flies start biting the problem becomes a vicious cycle with the irritation, ooze, and dried blood from the fly bite wounds attracting more flies. The pet then scratches the ear flap causing further irritation and bleeding.

The Solution is also fairly simple:

  1. Clean and treat the ear flaps. Your vet will prescribe a soothing and medicated ointment or cream or suggest using a "human" product that you may already have at home.

  2. Stop the irritation and itch cycle. This usually means using antihistamines, short term prednisone (steroid), and maybe some pain medication (but not aspirin (prevents clotting) or Tylenol (toxic to cats and not all that safe in dogs either))

  3. Treat the underlying problem of ear mites, infection, etc if present.

  4. AND GET RID OF THE FLIES. The best way is to move your pet inside or to a different area if possible. If not, then clean up the yard, the garbage, and the stools that attract fly populations. If that's not easily done, such as around barn yards, then use fly repellents twice daily on the ear flaps until they are well healed. Avon Skin So Soft Lotion or Oil works fairly well as do most of the pyrethrin based fly repellents made for horses.

If you don't know about Avon Skin So Soft, it's a brand of women's skin moisturizer that just happens to be a fairly good insect repellent for humans and pets. It seems to work well diluted about 1 part Avon SSS oil to 9 parts water or any brand of water based skin lotion. Or you can apply it full strength, but then it's a little greasy. Or you can simply buy the Avon SSS Lotion ready to go. At any rate, it's gentle, soothing, and effective on dog ears for repelling flies and other biting insects.


Try this home remedy to get the WAX out of your pet’s ears.


  • 1/8 teaspoon lavender essential oil

  • ¾ cup witch hazel extract

  • 1 tablespoon powdered boric acid

  • ¼ cup Aloe Vera juice.

Wet the ear canal with the mixture and massage the ear at the base. 
Remove the excess liquid with a cotton ball. 
Stand back while your pet shakes. 
Clean both ears every other week or as needed when wax builds up.


Caroline Hair has been using this formula since she got her first Standard Poodle in 1959. It was given to her by a breeder of Cocker Spaniels - and she can honestly say she has NEVER had an ear infection in one of her dogs. It is especially good at drying up the black gunk.

The Formula


  • 4 oz. zinc oxide powder 

  • 4 oz. boric acid powder 

  • ½ oz. Iodoform powder  

Mix well. Keep in a sealed jar in a cool dry place.

Instructions on use
Place a large pinch of powder in each ear, and use your finger to work it down. Wait five or ten minutes (I cut toenails) then pluck the hair out of the ears, being sure to get all the way down. Allow the dog to shake, but leave the excess powder in the ears. Repeat monthly.

Treatment of an existing infection
Use as described for maintenance, then apply a fresh pinch of powder to each ear. Wait twenty-four hours, then use a dry q-tip to remove all the powder and the balls of dried gunk. Put a fresh pinch of powder in each ear. Repeat daily until the ears are no longer runny. At this point, repeat every other day, until there is no more runniness, then three times a week, then twice, then weekly, then every other week, etc. When the ears remain dry for three weeks, go to the monthly maintenance routine.

How it works
The reason this works so well is that the iodoform powder kills anaerobic bacteria and fungi which flourish in warm, moist, airless places, like the inside of a poodle's ear. The zinc oxide and boric acid keep the ear dry, which prevents further infections. In the days before antibiotics, Iodoform was frequently used in human medicine to pack puncture wounds where anaerobic bacteria also grow. It may be hard to find because it isn't used much any more.

(Swollen Ear Flaps)


This is a fairly common problem, especially in Retrievers. For reasons that aren't exactly clear (much like nose bleeds in humans), the blood vessels in the ear flaps rupture. This causes the space between the skin and the cartilage to fill up with clotted blood or serum.

Often, but not always, there are underlying ear infections, ear mites, excessive wax, foxtails, porcupine quills, or chronic allergies that help explain why there is more than normal vascular pressure and irritation. Frequent head shaking (due to itchy or painful ears) seems to be an underlying cause.

If left untreated, the ear will be painful and to different degrees is likely to scar up in what is referred to as a "cauliflower ear" or sometimes as a "boxer's ear" This refers to human boxers (fighters), not the K-9 type of Boxer.

Treatment Options

Medical or Conservative Treatment

Medical Treatment often fails but there's not much harm in trying before going to surgery. Possible treatments your vet might try include:

  1. Topical solvents like diluted DMSO that help draw out the fluid from under the skin. The DMSO is often mixed with antibiotics (gentocin) and steroids (dexamethasone). We vets are used to using this unapproved treatment quite successfully for snake bite swellings, but it doesn't seem to work all that great for ear hematomas.

  2. Injecting cortisone directly into the ear flap works in a percentage of cases. The injection is usually repeated weekly for 1- 3 times til better. If not much improved within a few weeks, then surgery is recommended. This treatment is often combined with oral prednisone for about 10 days.

  3. Underlying ear infections, mites, etc, if present are treated at the same time. Also expect your vet to send home medications to ease the pain and irritation. Your vet may also consider putting your pet on acepromazine (tranquillisers) for a short period for two reasons: to stop your pet from shaking his head so violently giving the ears a rest...and because one of the mild side effects of this particular tranquillizer is to lower the blood pressure to the extremities (in this case the ear flaps) which helps the problem to resolve.

  4. Exotic Treatments. There are some off beat treatments for ear hematomas out there they just might be legitimate, but I'm dubious. These include high tech and low tech stuff such as laser therapy and message therapy which share in common the goal of improving circulation health to the region and thereby allowing the clot and problem to resolve.

Surgical Treatment

If medical treatment fails...or if the hematoma is too large to expect medical treatment to work well, your pet will need surgery.

There are quite a few different, and sometimes creative, techniques for this surgery, but all involve getting the clot out through slits or perforations, devising some sort of drainage, and suturing or tacking the ear flap skin down to the underlying cartilage until healing takes place. I usually leave the drains in place for 2-4 days and remove the sutures 10 days after that. I also treat these patients medically post surgery with antihistamines, short term prednisone, and Rimadyl in addition to treating any underlying ear infections etc.

Expect at least some scarring of the ear flap. but at least your pet will be comfortable again.

Also, don't be surprised if the other ear flap gets a hematoma within a year or so. This occurs about 5-10% of the time (I made this "statistic" up as an honest guess so don't quote this as scientific fact).

By Roger Ross, DVM
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