This is Ling Ling. She’s some kind of a Collie mix, or something. Sweet dog. Her picture here was taken a few years ago to illustrate her owner’s great idea for bandaging the elbow. Who doesn’t have old socks lying around? I use this technique all the time now.
Last summer, she came in for her checkup in July at the tender age of 15 years. She had developed a large tumor in front of her left shoulder. It was about 6 inches long, 3 inches wide and 1&1/2 inches thick, which is pretty big, even for a 57 pound dog. We did a fine-needle-aspiration to get some cells for examination and it turned out to be a lipoma. Lipomas are benign tumors of fat cells. They aren’t usually invasive, nor do they spread to other organs. Really, they are usually more of a cosmetic problem than a medical problem. Unless they get big enough to be uncomfortable, that is.
Ling Ling was so elderly and the tumor was large enough to require a fairly lengthy surgery, and it didn’t seem to be bothering her. We decided it was something she would probably die with, instead of something that she would die from.
Fast forward to May of this year. Ling Ling doesn’t feel so well. She has lost weight and gets around slowly. Her tumor, on the other hand, has been doing great. It’s up to 10 inches long, 5 inches wide and 6 inches thick now. Unfortunately, the tumor is not only making Ling Ling feel bad, it’s making the tumor feel bad. It has grown so much that it appears to have disrupted its own blood supply. There is a rather nasty-looking bulge that looks like it will soon die and rot and burst open. Not so good.
Well, the tumor did get a lot bigger, and Ling Ling did not get any younger. In retrospect, it seems that we should have done surgery last July. But… but… she was so old, and… it didn’t seem to be bothering her.
This reminds me a little of my wonderful Granny. She developed a hernia when she was 70 years old. They told her she was too old to have it repaired. She lived to be 93. Still too old to have it repaired. My granny lived with a hernia for 23 years. That doesn’t sound like fun, does it?
Ling Ling has an amazing constitution (meaning she is one tough old dog), and she has a very dedicated owner (also one tough old dog). We did everything we knew how to do to support her, and she made it through 90 minutes of surgery like a champ. The tumor was so big it was like delivering a baby. It weighed 3 pounds, and was as big as her head. I’m not sure how that fits with the rule of “Never eat anything bigger than your head”, but there must be some kind of correlation if we think hard enough.
The mass had disrupted the attachment of some of her shoulder muscles. I re-attached them as best I could, but this meant that she required immobilization of the leg for a couple of weeks. With the huge pocket created by the tumor’s removal, we also had to do a lot of bandaging to deal with the fluid drainage. Fortunately, Ling Ling is not only tough, but a complete sweetheart to work with.
Here she is (at left) two weeks later at suture removal time, walking fairly well, but still with a limp. She has lost a fair amount of weight. And here she is (at right) at her July checkup, two months later, walking normally, and growing her hair back. She has also gained a lot of her weight back. She is eating better, and feeling better. We just didn’t realize how much that tumor was bothering her.
It’s pretty easy to dismiss an old dog’s slowing down as “just old age”, but many times it is not. They have bad teeth, or bad arthritis, or that thing you don’t think is so important (like Ling Ling’s tumor) is bothering them a lot more than you know.
With modern anesthetic drugs and monitoring, “too old” is not a good reason to allow a dog’s problem to go un-treated.