DEAR DR. FOX: My 14-year old pit bull mix, Cocoa, has a large growth on the side of her body. She also has many other lumps, which she has had for many years; her vet always advised us to leave them alone.
The large lump has grown to about the size of a baseball and has recently begun to bleed. Additionally, a second small lump, which also bleeds, has grown near it. We clean and dress this lump every day, and we keep her in a T-shirt. We are home most of the time to supervise her so she doesn't try to lick the wounds.
Now the vet says that even though Cocoa is happy, hungry and playful, she will eventually need to be euthanized because of this mass, which she thinks has become necrotic. She suggests removing the lump, even though we do not know if it, or one of the other lumps, is cancerous.
We are hoping to avoid expensive pre-op tests, which won't change the treatment plan. More problematic is the fact that Cocoa has a heart murmur, which the vet says gives her about a 50 percent chance of surviving the surgery.
We do not know what to do. Cocoa has always been anxious around strangers, and we don't want to put her through the fear of having surgery for such uncertain results. The lump doesn't bother her, but it may be making it a bit more difficult for her to get up and down. We are afraid, though, that it will rupture and be a very scary emergency for her and us. -- G.S., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR G.S.: Since the veterinarian said it was best to leave it alone in the past, she was probably making an educated guess that this was a benign fatty tumor called a lipoma. This is very common in dogs, and a combination of neutering and high-carbohydrate diet may play a role in their genesis. I am surprised that the veterinarian did not take a biopsy, but now that the growth is ulcerated, bleeding and probably infected and causing the dog discomfort, I would opt for surgery.
The attending veterinarian should be candid with you, and she may know of a competent soft-tissue veterinary surgeon who can do a thorough removal of all growths with carefully monitored anesthetics and pre-operative fluids if she feels unqualified. Many veterinarians call in specialists for certain patients.
Personally, I would have a biopsy done first -- it's virtually painless and no risk -- just in case you are dealing with a malignant growth, such as mast cell tumors (they bleed and can cause internal bleeding). Then I would get X-rays to see if cancer, if diagnosed, has spread to the lungs and other internal organs. Considering your dog's age, I might reconsider surgical removal and possibly just make your dog as comfortable as possible and feed a carbohydrate-free, high-antioxidant cancer diet.
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DEAR DR. FOX: This note is in reference to the cat with sound-triggered seizures owned by P.J. in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland.
When I read that the cat's owners said they were putting tuna juice in their cat's water, I immediately thought the problem was probably mercury poisoning. Tuna is not good for man, nor is it good for animals on a daily basis, as it has the most mercury of any fish -- the bigger the fish, any fish, the more the mercury.
Stopping the tuna water could cure or decrease the seizure episodes if the mercury has caused the problem. I don't know what to say about detoxing a cat from heavy metals, but I am sure you know the answer to that one. -- B.W., Fort Myers, Florida
DEAR B.W.: Thanks for adding to the discussion of sound-triggered seizures in cats. Mercury may be a factor, and it is one reason why I advise against feeding mercury-loaded tuna fish and juice to cats. But the reports on audiogenic seizures did not document any other pre-seizure neurological signs, which one would expect with chronic mercury poisoning. In my opinion, high gluten in cat foods could be an epileptogenic factor, as could omega-3 fatty acid complex deficiency, but these possibilities were not mentioned in the report.
Fortunately, more veterinarians are considering dietary factors as possible contributors to animals' neurological and behavioral abnormalities, along with a host of other health issues arising from various manufactured pet foods.