Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

All Ears

How a complex surgery gave a second chance to a cat with cancer

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

The collies kept licking Edmund’s right ear. When Rosemary George looked inside it to see what was so intriguing to the dogs, what she saw immediately sent her to the veterinarian with the 11-year-old cat. His ear canal was so inflamed that he required a course of antibiotics before the veterinarian could laser out the growths, which turned out to be the result of a ceruminous gland adenocarcinoma. That’s a malignant tumor of the ear canal, usually seen -- although rarely -- in older cats.

Edmund did well for about 18 months, but then the tumors began to regrow. A CT scan found that the cancer had spread to one lymph node. George was referred to a surgeon, who suggested a total ear canal ablation, or TECA: a delicate and complex surgery to remove the entire ear canal. It’s commonly performed not only for pets with ear canal tumors, but also those with chronic ear canal infections.

The dramatic surgery is performed when there are no medical options for treatment of external or middle-ear disease, says Elizabeth Layne, DVM, a veterinary dermatology specialist at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison (who was not involved in Edmund's case). The immediate recovery period can be intense, but afterward, there’s no more need to medicate the ears, a bonus for pets and owners alike.

“It can really improve everyone’s quality of life,” Dr. Layne says. “It’s a major investment in time, and it’s relatively expensive, but then you’re finished with this chronic, frustrating, painful problem.”

Interestingly, cats can still hear after this type of surgery. Although the opening into the ear canal is closed, the ear is still able to process sound waves. The main difference is that sounds may be somewhat muted, the way they would be if you plugged your ears with your fingers. Even if both ear canals are removed, animals typically still have some hearing.

Occasionally, pets may develop a condition called Horner syndrome after the procedure. The usually temporary nerve damage causes the eye to appear sunken and the eyelid droopy. The signs usually disappear after three or four weeks. Edmund, now 14, had some residual damage to his blink reflex, which required application of eye drops several times daily, but the problem resolved in a couple of months. His pinna, the outer ear, droops a bit as well, resembling a flag at half-staff.

And he wasn’t quite done with treatment. Because the mass was malignant, Edmund needed a course of chemotherapy. The laid-back cat accepted six treatments at three-week intervals without the need for sedation and experienced few side effects.

“They gave him anti-nausea medication at the clinic, and only once did he show any signs of discomfort the next day,” George says. “He didn’t want to eat and sat hunched. This resolved itself after about 12 hours. For the remaining two treatments, the oncologist instructed me to give him anti-nausea medication prophylactically the day after treatment.”

The only other side effect was the response of Edmund’s littermate, Clarence.

“Clarence hissed at him for a couple of days after treatment and refused to lie near him. That is apparently how long it takes for the chemo to leave his system,” George says.

If a full-body CT scan next month determines that the cancer hasn’t spread anywhere else in the body, Edmund’s prognosis is good. For other people considering this procedure for a cat or dog, George says, “Find the most experienced surgeon for a TECA and oncologist that you can. It is an expensive undertaking, but the odds were good that Edmund would make a complete recovery and live a normal lifespan, so I went for it.”


Vision quest:

What dogs see

Q: I can throw treats on the floor right in front of my dog, and he never sees them. Why is that?

A: In some respects, dogs have great vision. Their eyes are adapted to help them see better in low light, for instance. And sighthounds bear that moniker because of their ability to detect motion at a distance, thanks to a long, narrow head that gives them a greater field of vision. They also benefit from a “visual streak,” an elongated area in the retina that provides a panoramic view of their surroundings and excellent peripheral vision. The average dog has a visual field of approximately 250 degrees, while brachycephalic dogs such as pugs have a visual field of approximately 220 degrees. Sighthounds? Their visual field is as much as 290 degrees.

But why can’t your dog see treats right in front of his nose? Canine eyes are set more on the side of the head. While that gives the average dog better peripheral vision than that of humans -- although maybe not as good as that of a sighthound -- it impedes depth perception. Most dogs have difficulty seeing things that are closer than about 10 inches, especially if those objects aren’t moving. And what the dog sees is not as clear as it is to a human, partly because dogs see fewer colors with less vivid contrast.

Interestingly, one study found that most dogs are neither significantly near-sighted or far-sighted. Two breeds that showed a greater incidence of near-sightedness were German shepherds and Rottweilers.

The bottom line: It’s easier for dogs to detect moving objects rather than something that’s right in front of them that isn’t moving. It’s a good thing they have a keen sense of smell to sniff out those treats. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Pet blood pressure

check is smart idea

-- Hypertension isn’t just for humans. Cats and dogs can also develop high blood pressure, often related to kidney disease, an over- or underactive thyroid gland or other medical conditions. Hypertension that goes unrecognized and untreated in pets can damage organs and lead to renal failure, blindness, stroke or heart failure. Pets can take medication to control high blood pressure. Depending on the cause, your veterinarian may also recommend medication or dietary changes to treat underlying diseases. “If these underlying problems are treated successfully, then blood pressure can return to normal, and anti-hypertensive drugs can be discontinued,” said Dr. John N. Stallone, a professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who studies hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases in pets.

-- If you read books set in Ireland or Great Britain, you may have seen mention of dogs called lurchers and wondered what they were. Lurchers are cross-breeds made up of any sighthound -- such as a Greyhound -- and another breed such as a border collie or terrier. The goal is to create a dog that's fast, smart and hard-working. Some crosses may seek to bring in greater tenacity or better scenting ability. Lurchers are known for being silent and sneaky when hunting and were nicknamed “the poacher’s dog.”

-- Speaking last month at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, veterinary behaviorist Debra Horwitz offered four takeaways for managing pet behavior problems: Most behaviors that people dislike are normal animal behaviors, and pets need appropriate outlets for performing them or to learn to do something different; understand that animals see situations differently than humans and have different expectations for outcomes; meet a dog or cat’s needs for social interactions, exploration, safety and control; and consult trainers who use Fear Free training methods to diminish anxiety and increase learning. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.