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Cancer in ear. Cat died.

Species: Cat
Breed: Domestic Shorthair
Age: 11-15 years
I recently put our beloved cat Benny to sleep after a tragic event that I am describing in this post. At the time I put Benny to sleep I absolutely felt that I had made the correct and humane decision. I feared that Benny would suffer needlessly if I took him home. My housemate feels that I gave up too soon and that had I brought Benny home he might have survived.

In the months running up to the tragedy I was treating Benny for ear polyps in his right ear. Due to a bleeding incident in his right ear the night before, I took my 13 year old (had him since he was 3 months old) neutered male cat Benny to the vet. While at the vet, our Benny had an even more severe bleeding incident. The vet recommended emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and to remove a tumor in his ear which was bleeding. At this point I had no knowledge of any pre existing conditions that could have affected the outcome of the surgery. I only wanted to save his life. The doctor did an ear ablation as he described it and removed the vertical ear canal. The doctor also ordered a biopsy on the tumor. Initial post surgery seemed hopeful although Benny was not eating while at the hospital for two days prior to taking him home. I was told by staff that sometimes cats will not eat until they get home. Benny was receiving post surgery medicines and electrolytes while at the hospital. Taking Benny home he ate a little then threw up. After that I could not get him to eat. Neither the Tramadol for pain nor the Mirtazapine appetite stimulant I brought home worked. I even went out to buy yogurt and gave him Pepcid. I got up throughout the night petting and stroking him but he would not eat.

The next morning I called the vet and was told to try giving him Mertazapine first and to wait 2 hours (time enough for the Mertazapine to work) before giving him Tramadol. Still Benny did not eat. Shortly thereafter I took Benny back to the vet. The biopsy report was back and indicated that the tumor was cancerous. The vet did an x-ray to see if the cancer had spread (it had not as far as the x-ray could determine). Benny did, however, have an enlarged heart and was anemic. The vet proposed another surgery at no charge to remove the horizontal ear canal but wanted to wait on the radiologist's report. The radiologist recommended against further surgery. The vets outlook suddenly became pessimistic. At this time the vet mentioned euthanasia. With a heavy heart I approved euthanasia but I still do not know why a hopeful outcome went so wrong.

My questions are:

1) If he was eating before surgery (despite the pre existing conditions of the cancer and enlarged heart, both of which I was not aware) why did he stop eating after surgery? The vet stated that underlying conditions such as the enlarged heart, cancer, and anemia resulted in Benny not responding to the pain meds or the appetite stimulant. He also told me that anesthesia is in many respects more dangerous than the surgery. Does that statement mean that anesthesia is implicated in Benny's failure to eat. The vet also stated that due to the enlarged heart, the anesthesia for the second operation might have killed him.

2) Why did the pain management not work? I never understood the explanation as to why Benny would not eat after surgery.

3) Did I act too soon and was I acting responsibly when I let Benny go?

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Oh, I am sorry to hear of Benny's story. I think that the answer to everything you have asked is in this statement that you made: "The biopsy report was back and indicated that the tumor was cancerous."

It was the cancer that was responsible for his death. If you had not done surgery, then the ear would have continued to bleed and Benny would have eventually died either from blood loss or from spread of cancer. So, surgery had to be done.

If a body is fighting cancer, then it has a hard time healing. Most cats can recover from surgery quite well, but if a cat is fighting an underlying cancer then the body may not have been able to heal properly. I wouldn't say that the anesthesia was responsible for his failure to eat, but rather that his body was just to sick to recover from surgery.

It sounds like everyone did the right things here. I can't see how things could have been done differently. I also think that you made the right decision when it came to euthanasia. If you had not euthanized, the absolute best case scenario I could come up with would be that Benny lived in a state of "just existing" for a few more weeks. Ear cancers in cats tend to be very aggressive. Benny was very ill. I would have recommended euthanasia as well because I don't think it would have been fair to put him through another surgery when the hopes of a good outcome were slim.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you for your response. Your comment about Benny being ill before the surgery brings up another question. I can accept the premise that an advanced cancer could cause Benny to not heal after surgery. However, if Benny's cancer had advanced to that point wouldn't I have noticed a change in his behavior? He did shake his head from time to time but I assumed that was related to his ear discomfort due to the polyps. Benny was socializing, eating, and purring right up to the trip to the vet. I did not mention that he was taking Tapazole for hypothyroidism for months prior to the incident. I don't know if that is relevant.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Cats are amazing at hiding illness and pain. If a dog has a sore leg they'll limp but if a cat has a sore leg they'll usually just not move around much and only limp I it's really bad. There's no way of knowing whether he was feeling unwell before surgery but we do know that cancer was present.
The tapazole is probably not relevant although cats with hyperthyroidism often do have heart problems. We know he had an enlarged heart so this could be a factor as well.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.