Friday, August 31, 2012
Pet Smarts: Could it be cancer? What to do when you notice abnormalities on your pet
By Lori L. Eidson
Sheabel Pet Care Center
There it is… that sinking feeling the moment you feel that weird lump on your precious pet’s skin. The questions start filling your mind… What is this? How long has it been there? Does it hurt? Will it go away? Should I see my vet right away?….Is it…. CANCER???
From the moment you notice a weird lump, or anything abnormal about your pet, it is important to go ahead and talk to your veterinarian about it. The first step can be as simple as picking up the phone to have a chat with your veterinarian. Tell your doctor that you found something abnormal, the location, and how long you’ve noticed it.
KyForward file photo
Your veterinarian may ask you a series of questions about your pet’s overall health. For example, “Is Fido eating and drinking normally?” or “Does the lump seem to cause any discomfort or worry?” Of course, your veterinarian cannot magically see through the phone line, despite your best description. A physical exam is likely necessary. There is no second-best for seeing and touching an abnormality. The skilled eyes and hands of your veterinarian are trained to pick up on very subtle deviations from the norm. He or she can tell you if further testing is necessary or if monitoring for the time-being is ok.
Just like your description of the lump via phone cannot replace seeing and touching the lump, a veterinarian cannot make a definative diagnosis based on a physical exam alone. Additonal testing is the only way to deterimine the nature of the lump. Sometimes, testing can be as simple as inserting a small needle into the lump and and obtaining a few cells.
Your veterinarian or a veterinary pathologist can look at these cells to try to determine the nature of the lump. This works well for certain types of tumors and pockets of infection called abscesses. The best way to diagnose a lump is to have the lump biopsied or removed and submitted for histopathology. A veterinary pathologist will look at the structure of the tissue submitted and how the cells are behaving within the tissue to make a diagnosis. Having an actual diagnosis, will answer all of those questions that ran through your head when you first found that awful lump.
A lot of the time, lumps are diagnosed as benign tumors. Fatty tumors, called lipomas, are very common. However, sometimes the results do show that Fido’s lump is cancer. This is a terrible feeling, one that stirs several more questions. How long will my pet live? Is he uncomfortable? What can we do about this? Should we let him go?
Based on the type of cancer diagnosed, your veterinarian can answer most of these questions. Your vet can give you a prognosis (the amount of time that your pet is expected to live). She will also be able to council you on signs that your pet is not feeling well. Additionally, your veterinarian will be able to suggest a plan for moving forward. Some cancers can be cured with complete surgical removal of the tumor and the pet’s lifespan is not affected. Sometime, however, chemotherapy is option. Of course, sometimes, due to the nature of the cancer and its expected level of aggressiveness, humane euthanasia may be discussed.
In my experience, the word chemotherapy is a very frightening word. We have all been touched by people that have undergone chemotherapy and do not want to put our pets through something so harsh. The goal of chemotherapy in the veterinary world is to make your pet feel better. Yes, that’s right! I said BETTER! Chemotherapy is completely palliative in the veterinary medicine. It will not cure your pet’s disease, it will help give him time with family in which he feels better than he does presently. Every patient responds differently, but it is something that should be discussed if it is an option for your pet.
Whether your pet’s lump is benign or malignant, that first abnormal discovery is very scary. Don’t be afraid to talk to your veterinarian. Don’t be afraid to have a diagnosis. Knowlege of what’s going on with your pet can help you better prepare for the future. Only you and your veterinarian know what is best for your pet.
Dr. Lori Eidson is a veterinarian at Sheabel Pet Care Center. She graduated from Transylvania University in 2004 and continued on to Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. Eidson is a native of Madison County.