If your cat is pawing at his ear and shaking his head, he may have a condition that requires surgery. Here’s a question about that I received from a reader, and my reply.
Q: I was told when I adopted him that my cat had some benign polyps in his ear, but lately he’s been scratching at it a lot. It smells bad, and I noticed some discharge, so I took him to the veterinarian. He found a tumor in the ear canal and recommends something called total ear canal ablation. It sounds really drastic. Is this a good idea?
A: Wow! That is definitely a delicate and complex surgery. Known as total ear canal ablation, or TECA, it involves complete removal of the ear canal. Cats have an L-shaped ear canal, so we can’t just go in and use a long instrument to remove the tumor. There’s too much risk of missing part of it. It takes some fancy handwork to avoid damaging nerves inside the ear, but the surgery can have real benefits for cats with chronic ear canal infections or tumors such as your cat has.
The first thing the surgeon considers is whether the tumor has spread into the bone of the skull. That makes it a much more difficult situation to deal with. If that’s not a problem, though, then the surgeon can remove the ear canal and, if necessary, clean out the middle ear and prescribe antibiotics to treat any infection.
Your cat will still be able to hear after the ear canal is removed, although sounds will be dampened, sort of the same way they are when you wear earplugs. You may also notice that he’s happier and more active because he’s more comfortable.
A veterinary pathologist will biopsy the tumor to see if it is benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous). Sometimes tumors that appear to be benign turn out to be malignant when a larger sample is submitted.
Read more, including about how to protect your dog from “weekend warrior syndrom,” in this week’s Pet Connection!
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!