Bella finds her place in the sun

She’s not out of the woods yet, but after four years at a shelter and surgery to remove most of her diseased ear, Bella Casey is napping in a lucky sunbeam, with hopes for a happy life ahead.
The gray and white tabby cat seems to have spent her 5 years of life moving one paw forward and two paws back. She was rescued by the Loyalist Humane Society near Picton as a kitten, but her shy nature denied her a home as she hid for years from a parade of potential adopters. I would have advised Kendra Casey to pass her by as well since fearful animals rarely make good pets.

Fortunately for everyone, Kendra didn’t ask my advice and she took Bella home – home to hide under the bed with occasional forays out to do battle with the cat already in residence. At her first vet visit, we found a bad infection in one ear. With fur flying at home and stress causing litterbox problems, the ear disease seemed like a small issue until we realized it was going to need major surgery.

Unlike dogs, cats don’t often get bacterial ear infections. Most ear disease in cats is caused by microscopic parasites called mites. When there’s bacteria involved, there’s usually an underlying cause, such as a polyp, tumour or foreign-body wedged in the canal.

Although they had already faced major veterinary bills for another pet this year, the Caseys decided to have Bella’s ear explored and we plucked a growth off of the wall in the lower canal. At the time, I feared the procedure would fail, suspecting we were dealing with a tumour that would regrow. It did so quickly.

Dogs and cats have long ear canals leading outwards from their ear drums. Inside the ear drum is the “middle ear” in a boney cavity called the bulla. Young cats can get inflammatory polyps growing in their ears. Some are confined to the canal, but they may originate in the bulla. In other cases, particularly with older cats, the growths are cancerous tumours. Either way, the abnormal tissue has to be removed.

For Bella, the only option was surgical removal of the ear itself. Called a total ear canal ablation and bulla osteotomy (TECABO), this complicated procedure is most commonly done on cocker spaniels with infections that can’t be managed medically. With all the nerves and sensitive tissues in the area, it is a surgery requiring referral to specialists. The cost is in the thousands.

The Caseys were devastated. While we were wrestling with her ear problem, Bella had stopped fighting, started playing and become a much-loved member of the household. No one wanted to give up on her, so armed with videos, textbooks and my friend the local bone surgeon, we made plans to remove Bella’s ear. In the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness Week, my boss offered to cover all her costs.

So far, the surgery can be called a success, although there may be complications for as long as two years post-operatively. The TECABO operation spares the outside ear flap, so Bella looks pretty normal now that the sutures are out and some early wound infection has cleared up. You have to look pretty closely to notice anything different about her as she sits contentedly on Kendra’s lap, years of hiding forgotten.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton, Ontario