First total operation to remove the ear canal performed on a pig

First total operation to remove the ear canal performed on a pig

Credit: Oregon State University

Doctors at Oregon State University’s veterinary hospital performed the first known total ear canal ablation surgery on a pig last week, in consultation with a human otologist who previously operated on the lead veterinarian’s ear.

After surgery on Dec. 19, Ella, a 3-year-old Vietnamese potbellied pig, is doing well and recovering from the procedure at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital in OSU’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.

Ella needed the surgery because she had chronic ear infections and had gone through months-long rounds of antibiotics, said Jessica Vasselin of the nonprofit Morningside Farm Sanctuary in Veneta, Ore., where Ella has lived for about two years after being rescued from a hoarding . situation in California.

Total ear canal ablation is the complete removal of the ear canal and is often performed in dogs. But OSU veterinarian Dr. Katy Townsend could find no record of it being performed on pigs, whose outer ear canals are mostly housed in a bony column, making it difficult to access for surgery.

While pig ears are very different from dog ears, they are a great model for human ears, so Townsend called his own doctor for advice. Portland otologist Dr. Timothy Hullar operated on her five years ago to correct a condition called otosclerosis, in which the bones in the inner ear fuse together and cause deafness.

“He always said to me, ‘If you ever want to collaborate on something, I’d love to,'” Townsend recalled. “After reading this research and finding out that pigs have really similar ear canals to humans, I emailed him and said, ‘Hey, remember me?’ And he said he would be happy to help.”

Townsend and Hullar collaborated to get a 3D printed skull based on a CT scan Ella received at OSU. OSU veterinarian Dr. Susanne Stieger-Vanegas assisted with imaging and printing, which helped the team visualize and plan how they would perform the surgery.

“I look at ear scans five times a day, but it’s not that common for pigs to get them,” said Hullar, who also works at the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System. “The anatomy there made sense to me – the outer ear of a pig is completely different from that of a human, but the inner ear and middle ear have some similarities.”

Ella’s ear infections caused her a lot of pain, along with neurological problems that left her unable to walk at times due to loss of balance.

The surgical team came up with plans A, B, C and D so they could pivot if challenges arose during the procedure, but in the end only plan A was needed. Within half an hour of the operation, Ella was awake and started eating carrot chips, her favorite food.

“Everything went really well,” Townsend said. “She still has a bit of a head tilt, and that might not resolve, but it makes her look quizzical – it adds to her charm.”

After Townsend removed Ella’s ear canal, OSU’s small animal internal medicine team removed a mass the size of a grape from above her soft palate, which they believe may have blocked her Eustachian tube.

“It went as beautifully as possible and everyone is very ecstatic with the success so far,” Vasselin said. “Everybody feels like it was a really cool surgery and they learned a lot from it. She deserves this. She deserves to finally live a healthy life and not have to worry about these kinds of things anymore, so we’re really hopeful for her.”

Hullar said this collaboration helped broaden his horizons, and he feels both human and animal doctors could benefit more from communicating and spending more time together. For example, at OSU he learned about a new formulation of a postoperative pain medication used in animals that he is interested in researching for human use.

“This exchange of information — it doesn’t just go one way,” he said.

Townsend said she and Hullar hope to write up the case report that other doctors can learn from.

“The biggest takeaway is to show that for people who love fairly non-traditional pets, we can provide expert care for any animal,” she said. “The collaboration between all of our teams was so incredible. I think it just pushes the envelope forward for what we can accomplish with non-traditional pets and making sure all pets have access to expert-level care.”

Provided by Oregon State University

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