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Killed by a 'Wart': Don't Let Entropy Do in your Dog
August 17, 2015 (published)

Photo by Dr. Teri A. Oursler
This dog's lump is about to be surgically removed
There’s a fundamental law of the universe that things become more disorganized over time. Little problems become big ones, pairs of socks become singletons, rocks become gravel, mountains wear down. And, as I just found out, the universe itself will cool down and cease to exist in about 100 billion years’ time.

(I’m not all that worried about that last one, since I plan to be a vast interstellar cloud of sentient xenon and living a vibrant fantasy life entirely within my own gassy reality by that point.)

But, in any case, if left alone things get disorganized and worse off. For example: small lumps and bumps. Little doggy wart-like things.

You’ve all seen little skin tags, lobules and growths on dogs – maybe even on yourself. (No pictures in the comments section, please.)

They usually start in mid-life with a little giblet that you might run across while petting your pet. Most folks think they’re hardly worth a trip to the vet, and they’re likely to be forgotten at the next trip to the vet, so they don’t get mentioned or examined – when they’re little. Most of them are benign and don’t present a threat to the dog’s life in and of themselves; by that I mean they won’t spread or become malignant.

But these seemingly innocuous little growths can become a big enough problem over time that pet owners and vets are faced with some tough decisions; sometimes life  does hang in the balance. So taking care of them when they’re small and your dog is young just might be the right thing to do. It’s a case of a stitch in time saves Fido.

In vet school, they don’t have classes on Monster “Warts” 101, or Dealing With Giant Infected Smelly Bleeding Skin Tags That Could Have Been Taken Off Five Years Ago For $90. It’s just not part of the curriculum. But when I first got out, I ran into a spate of these cases and I was totally unprepared for the level of anguish and drama that a wee little verrucous growth could cause. It’s a bump!  Who dies from a bump?

So what happens? The little, forgotten I-found-it-while-petting-him bump grows under the radar. It becomes a part of daily, disorganized life like the cobwebs in the corner of the living room ceiling, the dust bunnies under the fridge grill, or the chalky white stuff that collects behind the faucets in your bathroom (go check – it’s there). It slips into the flow of quotidian life and goes unnoticed. And it grows, little by little, day by day.

Usually the first one to notice that it’s come out of hiding is the dog. One day, the little bump, that little lump that used to be so little – remember? – reaches some indefinable critical mass, puberty or something, and the dog is like, Hey? What are you doing there? I think I’ll bite/scratch/otherwise annoy you until you bleed/itch/get infected and make a mess all over the house.

Add to this that the span of time from little bump to holy crap it’s bleeding! can be years and now you’re most likely dealing with an aged pet with attendant risks of anesthesia and surgery, and the problem starts to take form. I remember one little dog, a geriatric poodle who was forty hundred years old if he was a day (toy poodles seem overly prone to having some icky skin things and tend to do a lap-dance on their dermis – that’s skin; get your mind out of the gutter). His distraught owners rushed him in to me in the ER one night because he had discovered his large lump and chewed it until it started to bleed, and on his snowy white coat just a little bit of blood smeared around made him look like an extra from Saw.  The owners had that What the hell just happened? – he was fine an hour ago! look that we see all the time in the ER. This geriatric dog also had the requisite litany of old guy ailments – he had a heart murmur, arthritis, borderline kidneys, failing eyesight and (for all I knew) fallen arches. He seemed pretty miserable and the owners were already grappling with quality-of and end-of-life issues. He was not a patient that I really wanted to knock out for surgery without a really good reason. Problem is, is a bleeding lump a really good reason?

It couldn’t stay like it was; it would bleed all over, and we all know how the Saw sequels went. Not pretty. It would also get infected, and I’m sure if this little guy chewed on it under normal circumstances that after a little inflammation and infection was thrown into the mix he’d go positively bonkers scratching and worrying at it. It was looking like surgically removing it under anesthesia was our only viable option. It wasn’t in a place that you could bandage, either.

It was about an inch and a half across, too; it was a tad too big to just use a local and zip it off – and do it humanely. Local anesthetics are nice if you have to have a pea-sized lump taken off or a dime-sized cut stitched up, but that wasn’t happening with this monster carbuncle; he’d have to be all the way out. Using a local typically requires a cooperative patient, but this little fella (I can’t recall his name, so let’s just call him Warty McBoil) was in no mood to be trifled with that night after seeing his lump explode with blood and enduring a rushed cross-town car ride, not to mention the dreaded thermometer.

SPOILER ALERT – this doesn’t end well. But it really happened.

After lots of soul-searching, frantic calls to family, hand-wringing and tears, the owners decided that the bleeding lump was to be his undoing. This little bump was now a big lump. It crystallized all the various ailments that Warty had and gave them some concrete reason to call it quits. This is bad – he’ll never survive surgery, they said.  He’s suffering.  Call it what you will – rationalization, whistling in the dark, whatever, but it took all the grey days that grind down at the end of life and put them in perspective.

I’m not saying they were right or wrong, but I respected their decision and went through with it. I did think he was pretty generally miserable and at the end of his expected lifespan, as well, but maybe that was just me whistling in the dark.

Could he have lived through surgery? Probably.

Should they have taken off the little bump when it was little and spared themselves and Warty all this heartache? Probably.

Were they right to do what they did? Probably.

That’s the problem with living in this world and not being a sentient cloud of xenon floating out somewhere beyond Alpha Centauri. You just never, or rarely, know for sure what’s the right and wrong thing to do for your pet.


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