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What is Ear Cancer?

Ear canal tumors are most often found in the external ear canal and the outer ear. In rare cases, tumors can occur in the inner or middle ear. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is critical for the cat’s survival.

Two primary forms of cancer that affect the ears of cats are squamous cell carcinoma and ear canal tumors. Squamous cell carcinoma most commonly presents as a red, crusty areas around the ears. The sores, or ulcers, may occur intermittently and are usually flat, irregularly shaped and scaly. If the sores are noticed early enough and proper treatment is administered the prognosis is generally good. Unfortunately, the carcinoma is likely to reoccur after removal and may metastasize to other areas of the body. 

Ear Cancer Average Cost

From 539 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$6,000

Symptoms of Ear Cancer in Cats

The primary symptom of squamous cell carcinoma is the presence of bleeding ulcers on the ears. In advanced stages, the tips of the ears may disappear, leaving a noticeable deformity.

Ear canal tumors usually cause symptoms on one side of the head only. Owners should look or the presence of one or more of the following:

  • Ear discharge (may be waxy, pus-filled, or bloody) 
  • Foul odor
  • Head shaking
  • Ear scratching
  • Swelling
  • Draining abscess below affected ear
  • Deafness

When tumors are located in the inner ear, affected cats may present additional symptoms including:

  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty blinking
  • Other neurological problems or coordination 
  • Head tilt
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Causes of Ear Cancer in Cats

Squamous cell carcinoma is most often caused by ultraviolet (UV) damage from excess sun exposure. It is most common in white cats with white ears. In rare cases, the condition can develop following severe burn damage. It is possible for squamous cell carcinoma to affect dark-colored cats or develop on areas that are covered by hair. This is the result of a disorder called Bowen’s disease that may be associated with the presence of a virus.

Tumors in the ear canal have not been definitively connected to a specific cause. Ongoing ear canal inflammation may cause the growth of abnormal cells that can develop into tumors. Cats with a history of ear infections tend to be more prone to this condition. Middle-aged or older cats are more likely to be affected than younger cats, and the tumors are more likely to be malignant than benign.

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Diagnosis of Ear Cancer in Cats

The first step will be a full review of the cat’s medical history. Owners should make the vet aware of any sores that the cat has had in the recent past, even of other factors are thought to be to blame. The vet will perform a thorough physical exam to look for other sores on the body and will likely order common lab tests like a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel. Enlarged lymph nodes or a high white blood cell count may indicate the presence of an infection. Chest and skull x-rays may be performed to check for tumors or other abnormalities. A biopsy can be performed to determine whether the tumor is a carcinoma, benign mass, or other skin condition. This is often done as a last resort as it typically requires general anesthesia.

If an inner-ear tumor is suspected, the vet may sedate the cat and complete a deep otoscopic examination. Other diagnostic methods may include CT scan, MRI, and biopsy. 

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Treatment of Ear Cancer in Cats

Treatment recommendations will depend on the type of cancer, the size of the ulcers or tumor, and whether it has spread.

Treatment of Squamous Cell Carcinoma 

If only one small ulcer is present, the vet may freeze and remove it using cryosurgery. If the ulcer is large or multiple sores are present, traditional surgery will be required. The external area of the cat’s ear, called the pinna, is usually removed. In some cases, a portion of the ear canal may be removed as well. Cats are usually able to adapt to the change and heal fairly well following surgery. Chemotherapy is less effective than surgery, but may be recommended in cases where surgical removal is not an option. The vet may recommend a consultation with a veterinary cancer specialist for further treatment recommendations.

Treatment of Ear Canal Tumors 

When ear canal tumors are present, surgical removal is required. This is best performed by a board-certified surgical specialist, especially when the inner-ear is involved. The most common surgery is known as a total ear canal ablation (TECA). It involves the removal of the entire ear canal and a thorough cleaning of the inner ear. When surgery fails to remove the entire tumor, radiation may be used to slow tumor growth and minimize pain.

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Recovery of Ear Cancer in Cats

Cats with squamous cell carcinoma should be kept indoors and out of the sun as much as possible. If the cat must be outside in the daytime, sunscreen should be applied to the ears and nose. For cats that enjoy sitting in windowsills, the addition of a reflector or shade will help to block UV rays. Owners should watch closely for the outbreak of new sores and follow up with a veterinarian if reoccurrence is suspected. If the treatment was administered quickly enough and the cancer has not spread, prognosis for cats with squamous cell carcinoma is generally positive.

Cats with ear canal tumors usually survive for about a year following aggressive surgery. If more conservative treatment options are elected, prognosis worsens significantly. Throughout the remainder of the cat’s life, regular veterinary check-ups will be necessary.

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Ear Cancer Average Cost

From 539 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$6,000

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Ear Cancer Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Pepsi

dog-breed-icon

tabby

dog-age-icon

12 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Middle Ear Tumor,
Middle Ear Tumor, Ear Infections

Cat diagnosed with middle ear tumor. She is maybe 12-ish years old. I read somewhere that average cat lifespan is 14-16 years old. And, read somewhere else that middle ear tumors are more likely to be cancerous than not, with survival rate about 1 year after aggressive surgery. I am going to do a biopsy and talk to my vet more, but for the moment let's assume it's cancerous. If it is, it seems I should just do what I can to keep her comfortable, given her age (which is approximate). However, I don't want to be making decisions on info that's not correct, so... Questions: What is the average lifespan of an indoor-only cat? Are middle ear tumors cancerous more often than not? What is the likely lifespan after a cancerous ear tumor is removed? How does age affect that likely lifespan? If the tumor is not cancerous, it seems it may be more reasonable to do the surgery. Is it? What are the risks and likely outcomes of surgery on a non-cancerous middle ear tumor? Anything else I should consider to figure out what to do next?

July 17, 2018

Pepsi's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Indoor cats can live to be 16-20; middle ear tumors can be either malignant or benign, there isn't any way of knowing without a biopsy; lifespan after surgery depends on many factors individual to the cat; Whether the surgery needs to be done depends again on the type of growth. Risks and benefits depend on the type of growth, but there are risks of nerve damage and infection. I think that you need to have a conversation with your veterinarian to ask all of these questions, and get all of your concerns addressed, as they know more about the specifics of Pepsi's situation, and can comment specifically rather than the vague answers that I have to give you, as I don't know very much about her status. It is very good that you are doing your homework to make the best decision!

July 17, 2018

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Flossy

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British Longhair

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Appetite

I have a 12 year old British Longhair pure white cat, her left ear is turning a dark browny / black colour and has lost the hair on it, I have been rubbing a skin cream (skin eze) onto her ear and at first it cleared up within a few days but now the darkness seems to me getting lower down the ear and when I just rubbed cream onto her ear it felt very hot.

June 1, 2018

Flossy's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

You should have your Veterinarian take a look at Flossy’s ear to be on the safe side as it isn’t clear if the discolouration is of the skin, something on the skin or under the skin; infections, ear mites, autoimmune diseases, cancer among other causes may cause a variety of different issues. Your Veterinarian will give an examination and prescribe the correct course of treatment; I cannot recommend you use Skin-Eze inside the ear canal, but you may use an over the counter ear cleaner. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 2, 2018

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Clyde

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Dlh

dog-age-icon

15 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Scratching Ear Head Tilt

Hello, my 15 yr old diabetic (Insulin 2 x daily 2 units of Lantus) has a small ear polyp, we have been using drops for inflammation and he has had one infection, but gone now...after 2 flushings and drops. Now he has scratched ALL the hair off the ear, what can we use to help him stop scratching. We had a cone on for 2 weeks and he had hard time eating/sleeping so we took it off. Any advise? Also do you think we should do surgery at this age and being diabetic. What about just extracting it with the tweezer/tongs? Just for some temporary relief. We just want to make him comfortable?

May 12, 2018

Clyde's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

If Clyde is scratching to the point where you need an E-Collar, he is obviously uncomfortable and I think the polyp needs to be taken care of somehow to stop that problem for him. Polyps are quite firmly attached, so extracting it with tweezers would be quite painful and not a good idea. Depending on the size and location of the polyp, your veterinarian may be able to at least remove some of it under an anesthetic to provide relief, as often the polyp is not the problem as much as the fact that it blocks the ear canal and leads to ear infections and problems. Without seeing Clyde, I'm not sure what the best option might be, but it would be a good idea to discuss those options with your veterinarian so that he can be comfortable.

May 13, 2018

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Kitty

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Ferral

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Bloody
Bloody Blubus Blister Which Crusts

My cat has a problem with the outer edge of her ear. It started with a black patch and quickly transformed into a bloody lump with a crust on. When the crust comes off which seems to be part of a cycle there is a lot of bleeding, it reduces in size and then builds up once more over the next few days. The vet diagnosed ringworm and I have to give Zodon by mouth daily and spray the ears with a disinfectant spray. It does not seem to be helping. It grows an reduces as if it has a cycle. I have had 3 visits to the vet

May 4, 2018

Kitty's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Ear crusts may be caused by infections, skin gland disorders, squamous cell carcinoma among other causes; without examining Kitty it is difficult to say what the specific cause is but if your Veterinarian is suspecting ringworm, a sample should be taken for confirmation if there has been no improvement since the start of treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 5, 2018

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Kenzie

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domestic short hair

dog-age-icon

5 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Tips Of Ears Point Back And Dry

Hi, I've recently taken over care of a friends cat. The cats ear kind of flick backwards, the owner said they had done that for as long as they could remember. The cat was given to them about two years ago, any of it's history is unknown. The tips of the ears are dry and sometimes peel, the owner said they think it could be sunburn. I haven't noticed any ulcers or anything major like that. She's a white cat. Is this sunburn or could it be early signs of cancer? Thanks

March 22, 2018

Kenzie's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Without looking at Kenzie’s ears I cannot say whether it is sunburn, cancer, vasculitis or irritation; you should have a Veterinarian take a look as well as giving Kenzie a thorough examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 22, 2018

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Fluff

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Unsure

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Ear Itching
Cancer
Blister
Growth
Carcinoma

I decided to take my cat in when he appeared on my doorstep with a bloody infected looking ear. He is a larger white long haired cat. After taking him to the vet, I was told that the issue was likely a squamous cell carcinoma. After two surgeries to remove the affected areas and biopsies, my vet was able to get clean margins. Recently, however, my cat has been scratching the area a lot, which has produced a blister like growth on the remaining ear nub and some bruising. I took him to my vet who prescribed an antibiotic which helped. However, a month or so later it reappeared. I took him to a new vet (I've moved) who suggested chemo or putting him down. I am currently looking for more opinions and would like to have a biopsy done. I have also tried to do my own research. This manifestation on the ear looks nothing like the previous ones - there is no crust or black spots just swelling and a large liquid filled blister and bruising. The skin isnt broken or bleeding anywhere. Is it possible that this is a hematoma? Can cancer manifest this way in cats and if so typically how lethal is this type of cancer? Is treatment a viable option?

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Yogi

dog-breed-icon

Simease mix

dog-age-icon

10 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Itching Tires Easily
Itching, Tires Easily, Tilt Head
Itching, Tires Easily, Tilt Head

My daughter's cat was just diagnosed with cancer, the vet wants to do ear surgery which will result in loosing her hearing in one ear, since she was a rescue her other ear is already messed up from a fight she had before we got her, but still has some hearing. She wasn't feeling well for awhile I thought it was just a ear infection so I was treating it with Petco products, but finally went in when she wasn't getting better. I don't know if I should put her down or do the surgery we love her allot,but she's overweight and worried if she would make it through surgery and she wouldn't understand why she couldn't hear,I really don't know what to do 😥

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Shorty

dog-breed-icon

domestic short hair

dog-age-icon

12 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Prior Infections

My cat has been diagnosed with an aggressive carcinoma in the ear canal. He had surgery to remove the tumor but not ablation. I actually asked to know the ct biopsy results prior to surgery so that paying for ablation of the ear canal instead of two surgeries. I am distressed because I cannot afford a second surgery. Supposedly no cells are detectable outside of ear canal so removal of entire ear canal has good prognosis. Generally what might be a prognosis with no treatment. Anything else cost effective that might be considered?

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Pinky

dog-breed-icon

white

dog-age-icon

16 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Bleeding

I have a 16 year old white cat that has ear cancer. he loves to be outside and I have been putting sunscreen on him and his ears through out the years. the problem now, is he in bad shape, not eating anymore, and constantly licking his ears and making them bleed. I know the vet . will want to cut his ears off, but I am wondering if it is time to give him up?

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Oreo

dog-breed-icon

Tuxedo

dog-age-icon

16 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

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3 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Falling Over, Head Tilt, Dirty Ears

Our tuxedo senior, Oreo whom we rescued nearly three years ago experienced lots of dark wax in her ear. We cleaned it, but thought it might be ear mites. It certainly looked that way. We used Zymox to clean out her ears. The right ear was the dirtiest. We used Vet prescribed Tresaderm to treat the ears. Without a couple of days of using Tresaderm, she began falling over to her right side and had trouble standing/walking on her own and a head tilt to her right. Called our veterinarian who said to stop the Tresaderm and bring her in if she doesn't get better. There are lots of things that could cause the dirty ear, the falling over and head tilt. We brought her in to our vet who ran CBC, Chem 12, and rechecked her thyroid as she is hyperthyroid. Everything came back fine. However, when he examined her ears, they were extremely dirty, especially the right one. He couldn't see into the right ear for it was blocked, which from the signs sounded like an inner ear infection. However, while being examined, she experienced a seizure, her eyes rolled back and she walked around in a circle on the examining table. At first, the vet thought she had had a stroke but checked and it wasn't. She was treated with an antibiotic and cortisone combination injection for the "inner ear infection" and sent home. Unfortunately, though she seemed to improve; the wobbliness and falling over stopped, the head tilt did not. Her right eye began to squint and we could see her inner eyelid. We took her back to the vet. This time he felt a mass, hard and round at the base of her ear, which wasn't there before. We couldn't X-ray her because she wouldn't stay still and the only option was to sedate her, which at her age of nearly 17 we didn't want to do. Not if we couldn't do anything else for her. At this rate, even if something could be done, it wouldn't be much and at her age, it probably wouldn't help much. We opted to go hospice care. At home, we cared for her. We used herbal and vitamin supplements proven to slow tumor growth. Unfortunately, the prognosis wasn't good. At first, on her two week follow up after the second visit after the mass was found, the mass actually shrunk. She was given another antibiotic/cortisone injection. Things looked positive: she was eating; she was hungry and ate every hour. She even begin eating some can and dry cat food along with the baby food, goat milk and supplements we gave her. She seemed her usual self. But as it usually is with Cancer, things turned around quickly. One day, up until Wednesday, she was eating hungrily then the next day, Thursday she backed off. She kept drinking all the time as if she knew she needed to. She wanted to eat, but wasn't interested in anything we gave her and we gave her everything: baby food, vienna sausage, can cat and dog food, tuna salad, raw beef,and more, all warmed and not warmed. Nothing enticed her. She scratched at the door to get out of the house. She wondered aimlessly around the house. She even went in the shower. She followed me everywhere. On her final night at home, Thursday, I tried dipping my finger in the baby food and offering it to her. She nibbled it for a few times, then gave up and walked away. She wasted quickly, as if right before our eyes. She looked at me as if pleading me to help her. I had promised her at the diagnosis we would do right be her. She began with the wobbly, falling over, head tilt on April 21, 2019. On Friday, June 21, 2019 the first day of summer in the USA, it was Oreo's last day of life. We put Oreo down in the vet's office while I held her. It was quick, humane and peaceful. When we adopted her from a shelter nearly three years ago, she hadn't been taken care of. Her eyes squinted and she had a Upper Respiratory Infection. Her fur was dull. She was a senior cat who had been in the shelter for four years. They basically ignored her. They said she was 10 at her adoption, but we knew better, as our vet confirmed: she was probably 14 to 16 at that time. That didn't matter to us. We had just lost another senior girl kitty, 21 yr old Princess to a liver infection and aimed to give another senior kitty a home in honor of her. Right away, in our care, Oreo thrived. Her eyes opened wide. She gained weight up to 7 lbs and her coat was shiny and thick. When we put her down, she weighed just 4 lbs. On her second to the last visit with the vet she weighed 6.3 lbs. Before the falling over and head tilt, there was no symptoms except dirty ears. No odor or visible sores or polyps in her ear. Even the vet thought it was just an inner ear infection. It wasn't. A few days before we kept our promise to her to do right by her and not let her die alone, her right ear began to bleed and emit a strong, foul odor. She drooled excessively when she ate. Cancer is supposed to be rare in cats. It isn't. This is the second senior cat we lost to Cancer. If you think your cat has an ear infection, don't wait on checking it out. They say cats prone to ear infections are more prone to getting ear cancer. Cats also need to eat. If they don't eat, they waste away. Love your cat, talk to your cat. Be there. Always and support your cat. We hoped, prayed and wished for a miracle. We always believe there's always a chance. Sometimes there just isn't. Sometimes, we just have to do our best for them. They're more in tune with nature. I'll always wonder if we failed Oreo. If we had noticed something sooner, would she still be alive? At least, we did right by her in the end, and most importantly while she was with us for nearly three years. During that time, she never wanted for food, attention or love. We loved her and miss her dearly. Thanks for listening.....

Ear Cancer Average Cost

From 539 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$6,000