Duncan is not a morning dog, so it was no surprise that
he was fast asleep at 7:00 when I got up last Friday morning. When he finally did get up, he was not
himself. He struggled a little getting
up and was somewhat wobbly as he came to greet me. He seemed quieter than normal. At first glance, I thought that perhaps he
injured himself the night before and was now sore after sleeping all night.
(You older folks know exactly what I’m talking about.)
For those of you who don’t know Duncan, he is an eleven
year old male Golden Retriever, with a heart of gold. He is a people dog, who insists on being
petted frequently and for long periods.
He still loves to run and play, but not quite like in the old days. He goes to work with me every day and visits
with many clients. He sleeps more than
he used to, and he sleeps more soundly than he used to (a normal aging fact of
life). Still, he is very happy to see me
every morning; except for last Friday.
By the time we got to work (County Line Veterinary
Hospital), Duncan was looking better.
Not perfect, but much more normal.
Knowing the problems older large breed dogs can develop, I decided not
to take any chances. We ran some blood
tests and compared them to the WELLNESS TESTS we ran three months ago and found
that Duncan was borderline anemic. He
was mid-range normal three months earlier.
This gave us valuable information, suggesting that Duncan was bleeding
internally or had developed an immune mediated disease that destroys red blood
My primary concern was that Duncan had cancer,
specifically hemangiosarcoma. This is a
tumor that often develops in the spleen, most commonly in older, large breed
dogs. It frequently ruptures and causes
internal bleeding, weakness and shock.
It often spontaneously stops bleeding and the dog appears to recover,
only to have the process recur, as well as the tumor spreading, until a fatal
On physical examination, Duncan’s gums were only slightly
pale, and I could not feel an enlargement of his spleen. We took x-rays of his chest and abdomen, but
did not see any obvious changes. Blood
was sent to an outside laboratory for special testing of the red blood cells,
and to look for possible tick-borne diseases.
We also sent a stool sample just to make sure he didn’t have intestinal
parasites. As the day progressed, Duncan
did better and better.
The test results came back on Saturday morning. There were no problems detected other than
the slight anemia that we already knew about.
We repeated a test to measure his red blood cells. It was essentially
unchanged from Friday. We repeated
abdomen x-rays, and again found no obvious changes (no enlargement of the
spleen, no obvious fluid in the abdomen, etc.).
Duncan was back to his old self.
I was, none-the-less, convinced that I was missing a tumor. I had to restrict him from running and jumping
for fear that he would start to bleed internally. We called the ultrasonagrapher that we use
and set up an ultrasound for Duncan on Monday.
I ran a test again on Sunday to check the red blood
cells. It was normal; significantly
higher than the day before. This was
consistent with a previous abdominal bleed that was now stable. To look at Duncan, one would never suspect
that there was a life threatening problem going on. He looked great!
Monday came not nearly quickly enough for me. We did the ultrasound. Duncan’s spleen looked mildly abnormal, but
no masses were noted. Unfortunately, a 5
cm (2”) diameter mass was found in his liver.
There was also a small amount of fluid in the abdomen (too little to see
on x-ray). Interestingly, Duncan’s liver
enzymes were all normal on the blood tests that we ran.
I elected not to operate on Duncan, myself. He needed to have a liver lobe removed, and I
am much too emotionally attached to him to be involved. So I brought him to
NorthStar Veterinary Hospital; the same place we so often refer special cases
to. They removed the affected liver lobe
and his spleen on Tuesday. He is back at
home today (Wednesday), recovering. We
will wait for the biopsy results and go from there.
There are several important points to take away from
Know your pet.
Think about his/her age and breed. What seems like a small departure from normal
may be more significant than you realize.
Don’t wait too long to have problems
checked. Your pets can’t talk and they
can’t tell you how they are feeling.
Problems are not always easy to diagnose. Some tests may need to be run multiple times
to look for changes or stability.
Additional tests and escalation of tests may be required to rule in or
rule out suspected problems. For instance,
I repeated Duncan’s red blood cell tests four times, ran special tests to
evaluate the condition of his red cells, and progressed from x-rays to an
ultrasound to make his diagnosis.
Wellness testing is very important. Running routine tests on a scheduled basis
provides critical information about what is normal for YOUR pet. This can be invaluable when illness develops.
Wellness testing generally consists of screening
blood tests for young animals, adding in a urinalysis for older animals and
should go further. Electrocardiograms,
blood pressure testing, eye pressure testing, screening x-rays of the chest and
abdomen, and even abdominal ultrasound may capture unseen illnesses at an early
stage, BEFORE permanent damage is done.
Bruce Weitzner, V.M.D.