Hello again friends of GVH! I hope you found our first blog entry on aging pets useful – I’m guessing you did if you are back for part two! Today I want to talk about lumps and bumps and brain changes. Let’s dive right in.
Many dogs develop lumps and bumps as they age – sometimes they are malignant (cancerous growths that can spread to other areas) and sometimes they are benign (no spread to other areas). Cats are less likely to develop masses, and when they do, they are more likely to be cancerous. Many dogs will develop warts, skin tags, and cysts as they age – little skin growths that can be smooth or slightly bumpy. Some cysts have a tendency to get larger and smaller, and may produce a paste or liquid from time to time. These are all types of masses that are benign – however, they still may need to be removed if they are causing a problem (dog is chewing at them, they get caught on things and bleed, causing pain in general).
There are also masses that are malignant, and can spread and cause cancer in other parts of the body. Some common ones that we see are mast cell tumors, melanomas, mammary tumors (breast cancer), sarcomas and bone tumors. While certain types of tumors often have a particular look, it is often not possible to determine whether or not a mass is bad or not just by looking at it. Sometimes your veterinarian can tell by sticking a needle in it and seeing what kind of cells or debris we get out. This is called a fine needle aspirate. If we get cells out of it, sometimes we can tell what we are looking at just by looking under the microscope at it in the office, and sometimes we need to send it out to a lab for a highly trained pathologist to tell us what we are looking at to help with diagnosis. However, we don’t always get the information we need from just a needle, and it might be recommended to take a biopsy. This can be done either by taking a piece of the mass or by taking the whole mass out and sending it for histopathology so a pathologist can help us figure out what it is by what the cells look like and their position in the mass.
Again, because it is not always possible to determine what a mass is just by looking at it, if your cat or dog develops any new masses, have us check them out! Especially if they are growing rapidly in size, hard and fixed, painful or itchy, oozing or bleeding, or changing colors to red or black.
Okay, on to brain changes. Sometimes cats and dogs become more anxious or irritable as they age – this can be due to pain (from arthritis), anxiety, blindness, or senility. Cats and dogs can go senile as they age just like people sometimes do. This is more common in dogs – they actually can develop Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, which is sort of like Alzheimer’s in people. Symptoms can include wandering, getting stuck in corners, nighttime restlessness and/or barking, staring at the wall, and loss of housebreaking. There may be a few things that we can do to help improve the symptoms – a mild sedative for nighttime, anti-anxiety medications if necessary, and there are a few medications, foods, and supplements that may help support brain function.
Unfortunately, sometimes dogs and cats can also develop brain tumors as they age. Symptoms of a brain tumor can start as mild behavioral changes, but can also include aggression in an older animal that has never been aggressive before, or seizures.
Every once in a while we see a pet a dog come in with a head tilt, loss of balance, and often signs of nausea (drooling, lip licking, not eating). As bad as this looks, it is usually vestibular disease which will often improve and may even clear up completely with supportive care. If you have concerns about behavioral or neurological changes in your pet, let us know – it may be something we can diagnose in the hospital, but there are also local neurologists who are available for consultations.
As always, if your dog or cat shows any signs of coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, straining, decreased energy or appetite, or changes in urination, please give us a call at 203-453-2707.
— Dr. Dana Muir