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Everything you need to know about cat ear cancer

Ginger cat ears advice © Pixabay

Cats can be troubled by various types of skin problems, even on their ears. However, one cat ear cancer that needs early diagnosis is a squamous cell carcinoma.

By Dawn Parrish

What is feline ear cancer

Tumours of the ear canal are generally discovered in the outer ear and the external ear canal. However, in some very rare circumstances, tumours can also develop in the middle or inner ear. Early diagnosis and subsequent treatment are crucial for the survival of the cat. The two primary types of cat ear cancer are ear canal tumours and squamous cell carcinoma.

Ear Canal tumours

Inner ear problems in cats
Ear canal tumours occur in older cats ©Pixabay

This cancer generally only occur on one side of the cats head. It affects older cats more. In the majority of cases, tumours are diagnosed as malignant, rather than benign.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Most often appears as crusty, red sores around the ear location. These ulcer type sores are scaly in appearance. Likewise, they are usually flat and may appear intermittently. Early detection, diagnosis and treatment result in a good prognosis in most cases. After surgical removal of the carcinoma, appearance in other areas of the body is possible as the disease metastasizes.

Symptoms of cat ear cancer

The most obvious symptom you notice is ulcers in the cat’s ears. These ulcers tend to bleed when a symptom of squamous cell carcinoma. A deformity of the cat’s ear may occur during the latter stages of the disease. Other symptoms to look out for include: # Discharge from the ears (bloody, pus-like or waxy)

  • Strong odour
  • Shaking of the head
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Swelling
  • Deafness

When inner-ear canal tumours are present, the cat may display further symptoms. These can be head tilting, difficulty blinking, loss of balance or other neurological co-ordination issues.

Causes of cat ear cancer

Squamous cell cancer is most prominent in white cats, especially those with white ears. In the majority of cases, the cause is understood to be from UV (Ultraviolet) damage through over-exposure to the sun. However, dark-coloured cats are also known, in rare cases, to develop Bowen’s disease. This is known to be associated with a virus but also results in cat ear cancer.  No definite cause has yet been connected to ear canal tumours. Certainly, felines that tend to have ongoing ear infections and inflammation of the ear canal are more prone to this ear disease.

Cat ear cancer diagnosis

Initial examination will include details of the cat’s medical history. Has the cat suffered any recent ear infections, ear discharge or sores? A thorough full-body examination will take place with the probability of blood tests too. Likewise, a urine test and electrolyte analysis will be carried out. If tumours are thought to be present, a skull and chest X-ray may be ordered. The last resort to diagnose ear cancer is usually to take a biopsy. Even though this requires a general anaesthetic, it is used to determine if a tumour is cancerous, benign or even a different skin complaint. The cat may be sedated and a deep examination of the inner ear may be done if a tumour is suspected. Other diagnostic methods such as an MRI scan, CT scan or biopsy may be needed.

cat ear cancer
Your cat may require surgery for feline ear cancer ©Pixabay

Treatment of cat ear cancer

Initially, after diagnosis, treatment will commence relative to the type of cancer. If only one tiny ulcer is present in squamous cell cancer, it may be removed by cryosurgery. This involves freezing the infected area then removal of the ulcer. Traditional surgery might be advised if there are many sores or if the ulcer is quite large. In some surgeries, some of the cat’s ear canal may be removed. Similarly, the pinna, which is the external part of the feline’s ear may be amputated. The majority of cats respond well to surgery and heal fairly quickly.

Where the surgical route isn’t an option, chemotherapy can be suggested. Likewise, if total removal of a tumour fails, radiotherapy treatment might be used to minimize pain and slow the growth of a tumour.

Recovery prognosis of cat ear cancer

white cat ears
White cats are more likely to suffer ear cancer caused by UV rays ©Pixabay

Early diagnosis and treatment of cats with squamous cell carcinoma usually have a positive outcome. After surgery and subsequent treatments, cats must be kept out of the sun and indoors to limit UV ray contamination. We all know about the warnings to use sunblock when in the sun.This also applies to cats too. A feline’s ears are the most vulnerable part of the body.

Jessica Lawrence, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), DACVR (Radiation Oncology), MRCVS, DECVDI (Radiation Oncology) of VetsSpecialists.com reports on the prognosis of cats with ear cancer:  “In most cats with skin SCC, the prognosis following local therapy (surgery or radiation therapy) is excellent. For large, more invasive lesions, the long-term prognosis is poor. Most cats can be made more comfortable for 6-12 months with palliative therapy.”

In felines, skin cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer. Owners should be alert to any changes in their pet’s ears, nose, jaw or skin. If you do spot any changes whatsoever, don’t delay but get your cat to the Vet for early diagnosis and treatment.