When last we “spoke,” our subject was Annie, a 9-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who had presented to our veterinary hospital for an annual physical examination. She was her normal happy self, always wanting to please as we went through the examination.
Unfortunately, Annie had a problem. No one could realize she had a life-threatening process as she appeared completely normal to her caretakers and to us as well. It was only because of the physical exam that we were able to find the time bomb ticking in her abdomen.
Annie was taken to emergency surgery to remove her spleen, which contained a large hemorrhaging mass. Without timely removal, she likely would have bled to death.
But that was not the case as she recovered beautifully from surgery and was sent home awaiting the most important information of all: the results of the biopsy of her tumor.
We received Annie’s biopsy results two days after she was discharged from the hospital and the news was fabulous. She did have a tumor in her spleen but it was benign.
It was not cancer and removal of the tumor provided a total cure. The tumor is called a hemangioma and though it is benign, these tumors can be fatal.
This is because as they grow, they stretch the capsule of the spleen to the point where it can no longer stretch and it ruptures. This leads to bleeding into the abdomen, precisely what was beginning to occur in Annie’s case.
When this bleeding occurs, the dog becomes anemic and weak as a result. Sometimes the bleeding will stop and the dog can reabsorb the lost blood and the weakness will subside.
This is only temporary however as the tumor continues to grow and bleeding again recurs.
This cycle can continue for a while as the dog roller coasters up and down until the point where the bleeding can no longer be stopped and the patient bleeds to death.
Fortunately for Annie this was not the case.
Annie’s case is an excellent example of how important it is to have our companions examined on a regular basis.
As they age, there are more potential health issues that can develop and some of them, like Annie’s tumor, are silent until they become very serious.
In middle- to older-age companions, it is a good practice not only to have regular physical examinations as all patients should, but also to have some diagnostic tests to take a look on the inside.
This can include blood testing to screen for possible metabolic changes that could reflect early onset of a particular disease as well as radiology of the abdomen and thorax to check for possible abnormalities such as the tumor growing in Annie.
In my years as a veterinarian, I have been rewarded many times over with cases such as Annie by being progressive in trying to prevent disease before it becomes a major health issue.
We all know the old cliché, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and like many clichés, it speaks the truth.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.