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What is Total Ear Canal Ablation?

A total ear canal ablation is a surgical procedure to remove the external ear canal tissue as a treatment for chronic untreatable ear infections. Due to the ear canal’s “L” shape, a bottleneck for wax, moisture, and debris allows bacteria the opportunity for growth resulting in ear infections. As infections become chronic and ear canal tissue is damaged, treatment of the affected tissue becomes more difficult due to hardening of tissue and inflammation making it difficult to access and treat affected tissue. If infection does not respond to medication and treatment surgical intervention may be required. This procedure is more frequently needed in dogs than in cats, as dogs more frequently experience ear infections due to long, floppy ears and poor air circulation to affected tissues, however, cats can also experience severe chronic infections that require surgical intervention. In cats, other medical conditions creating chemical imbalance may be a contributing factor to recurring ear infections. A total ear canal ablation is frequently performed in conjunction with a bulla osteotomy which removes the external ear canal and the infected tissue at the opening of the ear. A veterinary surgeon is required for this procedure which is performed under general anesthetic.

Total Ear Canal Ablation Procedure in Cats

Your cat will be treated with antibiotics prior to surgery if ear infection is present. Prior to surgery your veterinarian will ensure that systemic infection is not present in your cat. Your cat will be sedated, administered intravenous anesthetic and an intubation tube inserted and anesthesia maintained by gas during this procedure.

Incisions in the external ear canal are made to remove the diseased ear canal entirely.

If bulla osteotomy is being performed in conjunction with total ear canal ablation in your cat, the bulla or ear is opened surgically and infected and damaged tissues around the hearing apparatus is removed.

Infected tissue may be biopsied and sent for analysis to identify bacterial organisms present and adapt antibiotic treatment as required. 

Drains may be placed in the ear to allow drainage, especially if a bulla osteotomy is not performed.

Hospitalization for 24 hours occurs after surgery to monitor your pet's condition for complications.

Efficacy of Total Ear Canal Ablation in Cats

Total removal of the ear canal effectively eliminates otitis externa as no external ear canal is present to become infected, eliminating the need for medication and cleaning of the infected ear, which is unpleasant and uncomfortable for both you and your cat. Your cat's hearing will usually be minimally impacted by the surgery although some impairment may occur especially if damage to the inner ear structures resulted from infection. Most cats undergoing surgery feel so much better after this procedure that a noticeable improvement is usually achieved. 

Lateral ear resections can also be performed which involves removing less tissue, if infection is not as extensive, but recurrence with this less invasive surgical procedure is more common.

Total Ear Canal Ablation Recovery in Cats

If your cat has allergies or hormonal disorder that precipitated ear infection these conditions will need to be addressed as part of your cat’s recovery. 

If drains were placed in your cat's ears they will need to have antiseptic injected through them and bandages changed twice daily for seven days and follow-up to remove drains scheduled with your veterinarian. An E-collar to prevent your cat scratching at their ears during healing will be used, and painkillers prescribed by your veterinarian. Cats may experience some drooping of the ear flaps post surgery, but the effect is usually minor. Some pain may be experienced with chewing post surgery and your cat may experience some loss in appetite but this should resolve itself. If it does not resolve or if other complications appear, contact your veterinarian. Postoperative follow-up to remove drains and sutures will be required.

Cost of Total Ear Canal Ablation in Cats

The cost of this procedure ranges from $500 to $2,500 depending on the cost of living in your area and includes anesthetic, procedure, hospitalization, medication and follow-up.

Cat Total Ear Canal Ablation Considerations

Cats experience a higher incidence of Horner's syndrome (damage to nerves of face and eye), nerve damage, and facial paralysis then dogs post-surgery, perhaps due to their smaller size and fragility of facial structures. If damage to ear structures or rupture of the eardrum has occurred prior to surgery, hearing may be severely impaired post-surgery.

If swelling of the face and throat occur due to surgery, a breathing tube may be necessary until swelling subsides.

Risks from administration of anesthesia, infection and hemorrhage exist but systemic infection and hemorrhage are rare with this procedure and an experienced surgeon will minimize risks.

Total Ear Canal Ablation Prevention in Cats

Addressing ear infections with thorough cleaning and appropriate medication and ensuring allergies, parasites and allergies are addressed will help prevent ear disease requiring surgical intervention in your cat. Total ear canal ablation is a preventative method to address the occurrence of future ear infections.

Total Ear Canal Ablation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Ragnar
Maine Coon
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

ear occlusion

My Maine Coon got debris in right ear. His reaction to the debris was violent and he caused a hematoma. The ear shriveled and has resulted in moderate to severe stenosis and occlusion. This was over a period of months and the cat only got one yeast infection during the worst of the hematoma. Of course now the cat is relying on me to clean his ears so he won't get reoccurring infections for the rest of his life.
Then, his left ear got a hematoma (with no infection) likely from his active dislike for his right ear. I got him the "tack down" surgery a month1/2 ago and had the sutures out 21 day after. Minimal damage. Yesterday the left
re-hematom (ed) ! The dr. wants to do the total ear canal ablation on both ears! If the surgery were free I would still be uncomfortable putting him through this. He has only had 3 ear infections through all of this. His ear canals are likely still healthy. Why can't they remove the scarred over pinna? Or ream his ears out (in a medical way) ? Cut excess scarred outer ear to make a new bigger less occluded hole?

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Babygirl
Calico
10 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms

Stumbling

Medication Used

Eye drops antibiotics

My cat is 10 yrs old. She has had reoccurring ear infections in her left ear. Now her third eye lid isn't working. She is stumbling around. I left her with the A and M Veterinarian college to have an CT scan done.Then either her ear drained.or a removal of the ear canal. Should I let a college do this? I am so worried about her. This is costing Thousands of dollars. They are let's me pay half down and the rest out. This is the only way I can afford to help her. I took her to gulf coast Veterinarian hospital. They wanted it all up front. $4,000 to do the CT scan and blood work. Then thousands more to do the procedure she will need. I couldn't do that. Not enough money. So I took her to A and M. They are charging me $3,200. Half down for the CT scan and blood work.the $2,000 to $3,000 for the procedure. I'm really worried about my babygirl. What's your advice? Thank you!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Whilst I understand that this procedure is expensive and the diagnostic tests are as well; but if Babygirl is having recurring ear infections, surgery would be the way to go to prevent issues in the future. Medical management can only go so far and surgery is usually a fix all solution; the decision however is down to you, but if you are going to do it I would recommend you do so now rather than delaying a year or two. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Mitzi
Short hair tabby
2-1/2 yrs
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

My cat that I got at the animal shelter had an ear infection when I got her. He is 2 years old. I have no idea how long she had it and I have been treating extensively with my vet for the last 3 months. Vet discovered that she has no eardrum and has more than likely had the infection for a long time. What is the procedure and cost of having done whatever needs to be done, and does it make a difference if she has no eardrum? Thanks

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
The procedure for total ear canal ablation surgery in a cat may cost in the region of $2,000 to $5,000 depending on your location and the specific case; you should discuss with your Veterinarian about the procedure and call other practices in your area to get a quotation to compare. The procedure is described on our webpage plus some other website below. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/ear-canal-ablation-more-palliation-proceedings http://todaysveterinarypractice.navc.com/surgical-approach-external-middle-ear-disease-dog-cat/ www.petinsurancequotes.com/petinsurance/ear-canal-ablation-cats.html

We became a foster to a female kitten that had a traumatic injury to her left ear and front leg ( most likely a car engine incident). We tried the “normal” route, surgeries to repair ear and set leg. However, her ear became deceased and eventually became seriously infected. Our Veternarian performed a total left ear ablation on her. It was fought the first few days but today she is a totally “new” cat. Her attitude and demeanor have completely changed. She may have to live with some permanent issues regarding here left eye/face area, but so far it’s not slowing her down. It cost us total about 750 dollars but was worth every penny to see her now enjoying her life
.

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Leo
tabby
6 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

drainage

My cat Leo is 5 years old. He has a mass in his ear canal. This was taken out about 3 years ago. Now it's back. He's not bothered by it but the ear drains. So my question is do I let him have a total canal removal without an CT scan or get the CT scan. The 1st time they scoped him.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Sometimes a CT scan or MRI is performed for the Veterinarian performing the surgery to get a better visualisation of the local invasiveness of the tumour before surgery to avoid any surprises mid surgery and for better surgical planning; the decision for a CT or MRI is down to your Veterinarian but I would favour it over going in blind. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thank you Dr. Turner for your advise. I will proceed cautiously with testing first. I am very concerned about facial paralysis.

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Peanut
short hair
17 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Nasal Discharge

My cat had a total ear canal ablation back in 2014. She was doing wonderfully with recovery and no issues from the surgery.
However, last year, she started with sinus issues on the same side as the ear canal surgery. We treated with different antibiotics, and she's had several blood draws and cultures done, none of which showed anything out of the ordinary. I figured it was "backup" from her lack of proper drainage now that her ear canal is gone.
New issue is that the one side is almost completely blocked. She is now showing discharge from the other nostril and bloodwork and cultures stills how nothing. The bridge of her nose up into her forehead are swollen. Her behavior patterns have not been changed, and so we are trying prednisone now to see if the swelling will go down. My concern is that I want her to have a quality of life. I would like to have her have surgery to clear this obstruction, but she's almost 17 now, and I'm afraid the anesthesia could be too much for her. She weighs roughly 8.5 lbs. She is my best friend.....She gets very stressed just going to the vets. I know the expense is going to be right up there. I wouldn't have a problem with it if I knew she was going to be okay. Are there any suggestions you may have, or any thoughts about what we could do for her?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
I'm sorry that Peanut is having this problem, and I understand how hard it can be to decide how far to go with testing for our aging animals. Ideally, an MRI would tell you what the problem is and how to treat it, but that would be a stressful test for her, and would involve anesthesia. If the surgery was performed by a specialist or skilled veteirnarian, there should not be any 'buildup', as the lining of the ear canal is removed. If an MRI is not something that you want to consider, your options are to try medications until you are able to resolve this for her. I hope that she does well.

The internal vet I took her to, recommends a CT-scan and you mentioned MRI. Which is most accurate for proper diagnosis?

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Callie
Long haired tortie
4 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Ear infections
Excessive ear wax
Ear Itching

Medication Used

Medicated ear cleaning pads

My cat is completely deaf, I believe it's because her ears weren't treated in the shelter. She produces a ton of excess ear wax that I try to clean every day. She's had double aural hematomas from the scratching so her ears are all shriveled up and can make cleaning them a little difficult. She'll also occasionally get an infection from a scratch in her ear. I have ear cleaning pads that dissolve ear wax that I use everyday and use hydrogen peroxide on a q-tip to clean any cuts too. I don't mind cleaning it all the time but I hate knowing her ears make her so uncomfortable. Would a total ear canal ablation for both ears be the best option for her?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations

Due to the shape of the ear canal, some cats and dogs have a buildup of wax and cellular debris which can block the ear canal; especially in animals which produce a large volume of wax (cerumen). Total car canal ablation may help as the ear canal can drain better, but the viscosity of the wax would be a factor. This would be something to discuss with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Sphinx
Short hair Russian Blue
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Horrible smell, pain, black ear tar
Horrible smell

Medication Used

none

My senior cat Sphinx needs help to get surgery on his ears and a loose lower fang that is causing him pain and he can not eat his normal food. He used to be my moms cat she took him in off the streets over 6 years ago and he had bad frost bite scaring on his ears and pads of his feet. His feet are ok but his ears can not be cleaned because of how thick the scar tissue is and it hurts him when you try or he trys to clean them. His ears have black thick stinky build up in them and we can not afford to pay a vet bill. I am a stay at home mom and my man works to support us all and pays all the bills himself which is very hard on such a low income. We have to be on foodstamps and badger care just to survive until I am fit to be able to work again. Just to get him a check up will cost over 80 dollars plus they do manditory shots while there. All my man's money goes straight to the bills/gas/phone bill, food and cat food and litter and important home needs if we can afford it. He never has extra to be able to save up. My mom had to give him to me when she moved 4yrs ago now and her landlord wouldnt let her keep more than 3 cats and one dog. She had 5 cats and two dogs at the time and the new place was to small. Her older dog passed away from cancer and she gave me Sphinx and had to find a home for another stray she took in named Butters. Sphinx is attached to us and we love him and do not want to lose him or have to surrender him because we are too poor to afford a surgery to get his ears removed. We were told about a group "Friends of Noah" that helps with funding for sick or injured animals that need vet care and the owners cannot afford it and have repeatedly tried contacting them about him but they will not get back to us we do not know what else to do. exactly how much does this surgery costs. The check up amount just to get him seen and his shots is around 90 to 100. We do not know his exact age.

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Robin
Dlh
15 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Nasal congestion
Interested in food but doesn't eat
Horner's Syndrome
Ataxia

Medication Used

Clavamox antibiotic- oral
Prednisolone

Back in November our cat Robin suddenly vomited, had a bowel movement, and was unable to walk. The vet did an MRI, concluded it was a middle ear infection, and did a bulla osteotomy on both ears. This provided some improvement, however he has all but refused to eat since then (currently using a feeding tube) and continues to have considerable ataxia (he can walk but unsteadily and only on level ground) and signs of significant nasal congestion. The vet has tried several different antibiotics without much effect and now wants to do a total ear canal ablation while admitting there's only a 50-75% chance of success. Are there any good alternatives other than waiting and hoping?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Given Robin’s age, I would be skeptical of any further surgery and would just continue to offer supportive and symptomatic care (tube feeding, fluids etc…); an inability to eat or reluctance may be due to pain or discomfort from previous surgeries but there is nothing further I can think of that would benefit Robin at this stage. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Oreo
short hair
18 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Stumbling

Oreo has been stumbling like he's drunk. Can't eat or drink or jump on the furniture. Was on antibiotics but not any better for the fowl smell his ear also looks like a polyp growing in one ear. Was on antibiotics, antiinflammatories, ear wash and drops. And still not better.also white blood cell count was up

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
In a cat Oreo’s age, we are limited to medical management and treatment options of an ear infection; if the last round of antibiotics were ineffective it may be a case that a sample needs to be sent for culture and sensitivity testing to determine a more suitable antibiotic. Removal of the polyp or ear canal ablation wouldn’t be suitable approaches due to age. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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