Case File

Flappy the lop rabbit's ear issue - a Case Story

by Amy Bowler BVSc MRCVS Veterinary Surgeon

Flappy is an adorable 8-year-old lop eared rabbit. His owner noticed a swelling at the base of his left ear so came to get it checked out by us at the vets. Unfortunately ear based swellings are very common problems in lop eared rabbits due to their anatomy. Even though their floppy ears are very cute it means that their ear canal is bent and folded over.



Ear wax has nowhere to go and with reduced air flow it makes a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Ear wax and infection can slowly build up over time forming a swelling at the base of their ear. This forms a diverticulum (or pouch) of the ear canal that even if carefully cleaned out under general anaesthetic (GA) often just refills with wax later. Ear based lesions can cause irritation, head shaking and scratching. If left to progress sometimes an infection can extend through the ear drum and into the middle ear causing all sorts of serious issues like head tilts, balance problems or facial paralysis.

After discussion with Flappy's dedicated owner we went ahead with surgery to open his ear canal. This way we were able to remove the infection and wax build up to prevent the problem getting any worse. In Flappy's case we performed a lateral ear canal resection meaning that the outside part of the ear canal was removed, and the remaining ear canal was stitched open. This means that the ear can easily be kept clean in the long term and there is nowhere for the wax and infection to build up again. Once the infected part of his ear canal had been removed it was sent to the laboratory for culture and sensitivity so we knew exactly what antibiotics would help clear up any remaining infection. Flappy was also sent home with pain killers and a home management plan to clean his ear. Even though Flappy is in his senior years he recovered quickly and well from his general anaesthetic and operation.

Flappy had a pre-operative blood sample run to check if he was fighting fit for his GA and surgery, it all came back clear and normal, so we proceeded to his GA.

Here you can see Flappy under GA with an endotracheal tube in his trachea so we can provide him with oxygen and anaesthetic gas safely throughout his anaesthetic. He also has an intravenous catheter to provide him with fluids and medications in his other ear. We have started to shave and prepare his ear for surgery. You can see the ear-based swelling more clearly once it is shaved:

Here you can see me using a sterile cotton bud as a guide for down his ear canal and another to put pressure on a tiny bleed from a blood vessel, in my other hand I'm using bipolar electrocautery to stem the bleed so there is minimal blood loss:

Delicate blunt dissection down the length of the ear canal:

One of my favourite surgical tools is the Lonestar retractor - this allows better visualisation of the surgical area. Although it looks a little bit a torture device it is not traumatic to the tissue and gently pulls it out of the way:

Starting to remove the outside section of the ear canal:

Flappy's new ear - surgery complete! A section of his ear canal has been removed along with the ear-based lesion. The skin on either side of the ear canal is stitched closed and the ear canal is left open:

Flappy enjoying his syringe feed after recovery from his GA:

If you have a flappy, floppy or lop-eared rabbit it's important to feel the base of their ears to check them regularly at home. Next time you're at the vets for their 6 monthly check over ask the vet to show you how to do this. If an ear-based lesion is found, we can then talk you through all the options for how to approach this problem.