Does my pet need a total ear canal ablation?

Chronic ear disease (otherwise known as chronic otitis) causes our pets a lot of pain and discomfort.

If your pet is suffering from chronic otitis, and other treatments haven’t worked, your vet may recommend a surgical procedure known as a total ear canal ablation (or TECA).

Ear infection symptoms

Some signs that your pet may have ear disease include:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at their ears or rubbing their ears
  • Head tilt
  • Loss of balance
  • Changes in mood or demeanour
  • Redness and swelling of the ear – the ear may feel warm to touch
  • Aggression when ears or head are touched
  • Discharge from the ear, which can have a strong odour
  • A facial droop and an inability to blink
  • Pain on opening the mouth

If you suspect that your cat or dog may be suffering from otitis, you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

What are the causes of otitis in pets?

There are a number of anatomical features that predispose dogs and cats to otitis. The narrow, L-shaped conformation of the ear canal results in poor ventilation and trapping of wax and debris. This can be exacerbated in breeds that have droopy ears or excessively hairy ears. Dogs that swim regularly are also at risk of developing otitis.

Ear infections in pets can be caused by many different factors, including:

  • Allergic skin disease
  • Tumours of the external ear canal
  • Foreign bodies in the ear
  • Endocrine disease such as underactive thyroid glands

Once otitis is established it can be perpetuated by overgrowth of bacteria and yeast within the ear canal and extension of disease into the middle ear. Once otitis becomes well established, it can be impossible to manage medically.

How can ear infections in pets be treated?

Depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms, your vet might recommend several different treatment options, such as:

  • Antibiotics
  • Ear drops containing antibiotics, antifungal agents and steroids
  • Ear cleaning or flushing

Your GP vet will prescribe these treatments for your pet. However, if this treatment has failed, then it’s likely you will be referred to a referrals vet like ourselves, where we can determine if a TECA is the most appropriate course of treatment.

When would a total ear canal ablation be recommended?

Total ear canal ablation surgery results in an immediate and permanent resolution of the pain associated with chronic otitis, leading to a substantially improved quality of life for your pet. This procedure should be considered in all cases of chronic otitis..

For your pet to undergo the procedure, a vet will have to decide whether or not surgery is appropriate.

Common reasons for performing this surgery include:

  • Recurrent otitis that does not respond to medication or other treatments
  • Cancer of the external ear canal
  • When the external ear canal has been damaged and narrowed to the extent that topical treatments can’t be successfully administered
  • Following previous unsuccessful external ear canal surgery (such as lateral wall resection or vertical canal ablation)
  • When there is evidence of a middle ear infection

What does a total ear canal ablation involve?

A total ear canal ablation is the removal of the entire external ear canal. The flap of the ear (or pinna) is left in place. As all the diseased tissue is removed, the procedure results in a permanent resolution your pet’s otitis and pain.

Following the removal of the diseased external ear canal, the surgeon will inspect and, if necessary, clean out the middle ear. In some patients this may necessitate removal of part of the bone of the middle ear, a procedure known as a lateral bulla osteotomy.

The organs of the inner ear, which are responsible for hearing and balance, are not affected by this surgery.

How long does total ear canal ablation surgery take?

The length of a total ear canal ablation surgery will depend on several different factors such as the severity of your pet’s condition and whether one or both ears are being operated on.

During a pre-surgery consultation, you can ask us (or your chosen referral vet) how long we expect the surgery to take.

Total ear canal ablation recovery

Recovery from total ear canal ablation is rapid and most owners notice an immediate improvement in their pet’s quality of life after surgery.

Typically patients will be hospitalised overnight after their surgery and be discharged the following day. Once home, your pet will need to rest and wear a protective collar for 10-14 days to prevent their traumatising the surgical site.

We will also prescribe painkillers for a couple of weeks after the surgery.

The external skin sutures will be removed 10-14 days after your pet’s surgery; after this they are able to return to full activity.

Long-term prognosis

The prognosis following total ear canal ablation is excellent and we expect a permanent resolution of your pet’s otitis and pain. While no surgery is without risk, in the hands of an experienced surgeon, the complication rate associated with this procedure is low.

A potential downside of this surgery is that your pet’s hearing will be diminished if both ears are operated on.It is worth noting, however, that your pet’s hearing will already have been drastically reduced as a result of the chronic otitis, and most owners don’t notice any difference in their pet’s hearing following surgery.

How to ask for a referral to Swift

If you’re concerned that your pet may be suffering from otitis, book an appointment with your GP vet so that they can assess your pet and provide an accurate diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis has been made, you can then ask your vet to refer you to our soft tissue surgery team at Swift for treatment. You can find out more about the referrals process here.

For more information about common illnesses, surgery and treatments for dogs and cats, take a look at our blog.

Got a question? We can help.

Let us know if you have any questions, and our client care team are on hand to answer any questions about our practice, the referrals process and what you can expect.