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.
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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.
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.