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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Total Ear Canal Ablation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Sphinx

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Short hair Russian Blue

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Horrible Smell
Horrible Smell, Pain, Black Ear Tar

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.

Sept. 16, 2018

Sphinx's Owner

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Leo

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tabby

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6 Years

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Fair severity

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1 found helpful

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

Fair severity

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.

Aug. 9, 2018

Leo's Owner


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1 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

Aug. 10, 2018

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

Aug. 12, 2018

Leo's Owner

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Oreo

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short hair

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18 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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

June 30, 2018

Oreo's Owner

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0 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

July 1, 2018

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Peanut

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short hair

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17 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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?

March 26, 2018

Peanut's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 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.

March 26, 2018

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

March 27, 2018

Peanut's Owner

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Robin

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Dlh

dog-age-icon

15 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Ataxia
Horner'S Syndrome
Interested In Food But Doesn'T Eat
Nasal Congestion

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?

Jan. 24, 2018

Robin's Owner

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0 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

Jan. 25, 2018

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Maggie Cleopatra

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American Shorthair

dog-age-icon

9 Years

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

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking
Clear, Green Tinged Discharge
Scratching At Ear
Fluid Sloshing Sound From Head

Our kitty, Maggie Cleopatra, has had a sticky, green tinged, clear ear discharge for several months. We tried several antibiotics to no avail. Lab tests indicate no infection or parasites. When it was first noticed, I cleaned her ears, which she tolerates well, and a large glop of greenish material came out. I thought a bug of some kind got inside her ear canal and died, but couldn't distinguish if it was actually an insect. We can hear the fluid slosh around when she shakes her head. She has always had a head tilt, so I don't think that has anything to do with it. She scratches at her ear as the discharge will cake on her outer ear, dries and I'm sure itches. I put bag balm on the external ear in an attempt to keep the skin from drying and cracking under the discharge. Her appetite is fine, she plays normally, toileting is normal..she just seems miserable with all the discharge leaking, head shaking and scratching.

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Coco

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Domestic shorthair

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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

Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Problems After Teca Surgery

Our 7 year old cat, Coco, came with a bad ear infection in her left ear when we got her from a rescue group at 1 year old. That resolved after several months of antibiotics, and she didn't have another infection until this year. This infection was also in her left ear and lasted over 6 months with no response to various antibiotics in pill, shot, and liquid form. She had a CT scan and an ear culture, which showed 3 different kinds of bacteria and a bone mass that had grown to protect her body from the infection. Her ear was also cleaned out, but it didn't help, so we went ahead with the total ear canal ablation surgery. She had the surgery a month ago. The vet warned us about potential eye problems, but since the surgery, her pupils are different sizes. Is this normal? Our vet (who is different than the surgeon) did not seem concerned. Coco's ear also flops around like a dog's ear now, which is something else we weren't warned about prior to the surgery. Is there a way to correct this? She shakes her head and paws at her ear constantly and seems to be very irritated by it even though the stitches are gone. Not sure if we should go back to the surgeon, or if this is the new normal?

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Ragnar

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Maine Coon

dog-age-icon

2 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

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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