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Oregon State veterinary hospital performs the first total ear canal removal surgery on pig

(Photos courtesy of Molly Rosbach, OSU)
(Photos courtesy of Molly Rosbach, OSU)
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On Monday December, 19, doctors at Oregon State University's veterinary hospital performed the first known total ear canal ablation surgery on a pig, with consultation from a human ear doctor, according to a news release from OSU.

The potbelly pig, Ella, was in need of the operation due to chronic ear infections and had been going through months-long rounds of antibiotics, said Jessica Vasselin from the nonprofit Morningside Farm Sanctuary in Veneta, Oregon, where Ella has lived after being rescued from a hoarding situation in California.

While total ear canal ablation is commonly done in dogs, there were no records of the surgery being performed on pigs, however pig ears are cartilaginous; similar to human ears.

OSU veterinary surgeon Dr. Katy Townsend decided to call her own doctor for advice; Dr. Timothy Hullar, who had operated on her ear five years ago to correct a condition called otosclerosis, when the bones of the inner ear fuse and case deafness.

“After reading this research and finding that pigs have really similar ear canals to humans, I emailed him and said, ‘Hi, do you remember me?’ And he said he’d love to help,” Townsend said.

Fellow OSU veterinarian Dr. Susanne Stieger-Vanegas assisted Townsend and Hullar with the diagnostic imaging and printing of a 3-D skull based on a CT scan that Ella received at OSU, helping the team map out the surgery.

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

After Townsend removed Ella’s ear canal, OSU’s small animal internal medicine team removed a grape-sized mass from above her soft palate, which they think might have been blocking her Eustachian tube.

“It went as beautifully as it possibly could have, and everybody is really 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 this type of stuff anymore, so we’re really hopeful for her.”

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To learn more about the OSU Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, visit their website.

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