Whiskey may just be the age of a human teenager at nearly 18 years of age, but in dog years, he’s ancient: the old formula of one-human-year-to-seven-dog-years would make him almost 126 in dog years. A more accurate formula recently developed by scientists takes factors into account such as size of dog, type of breed etc. This makes him 88 “dog years” old, which is more realistic: Whiskey is elderly, but he’s still very active.

Two months ago, Whiskey developed a large soft lump under his tail and his owners brought him in to see me to have it checked out.
It’s impossible to tell the difference between “harmless” and “serious” lumps by just looking at them: a sample needs to be collected and analysed. I pushed a needle into Whiskey’s lump, and watery fluid gushed out. It was a pale yellowish colour, and at first I thought it might be urine. Sometimes the bladder can get flipped back on itself, herniating through the abdominal muscles and appearing as a swelling under the tail.

There was a simple way of determining whether or not the swelling was Whiskey’s bladder: I took a sample of the fluid from it, and I compared it with a sample of urine which I collected from him via a catheter. The two types of fluid looked similar, but when I carried out laboratory measurements on the samples, they were quite different. His urine was much more concentrated than the fluid, and the protein levels in the fluid were much higher than the urine.

Once I had ruled out the possibility of the lump being Whiskey’s bladder, there was only one other possibility: a cyst of some kind. Older dogs are prone to a range of cystic growths: these happen when the body produces abnormal glandular tissue that produces fluid that cannot drain to the outside. Instead, the fluid gathers under the skin, like a water-filled balloon. Cysts are usually harmless, but they can grow very large, and they can cause problems because of their size.

The family had a dilemma with Whiskey: the ideal treatment in a younger dog would be surgery to dissect out the cyst, removing it completely. But in a dog of his age, an operation would be risky. At the same time, the lump could not just be left alone, as it was causing Whiskey discomfort.
We agreed on a compromise: I used a large needle and syringe to drain the lump completely, so that it seemed to have vanished. Whiskey sat still while I carried out the procedure: it didn’t seem to bother him at all. I knew that the fluid would come back again, but that might not be for some time. We would deal with that when it happened.
I next saw Whiskey six weeks later: the lump needed to have a quarter of a pint of fluid drained again. Whiskey was still a happy dog, so I sent him home and again, we hoped for the best.

Four weeks later, the fluid had recurred and the lump was as big as ever. Again, I drained off the fluid, and the problem was temporarily resolved. I had another discussion with the family. We agreed that we don’t want Whiskey to suffer at all, but he’s still too happy for euthanasia to be an option. In the end, we agreed that we would do our best to keep him comfortable by having him in once a month to have his lump drained.
I have known elderly dogs in the past that have lived for an extra two years or more by having regular draining of cysts carried out. We’re all hoping that Whiskey will be one of those success stories.

TIPS

  • Dogs age much more rapidly than humans
  • Elderly dogs suffer from many problems linked to old age, just like elderly humans
  • To find out your dog’s age in “dog years”, visit http://www.pedigree.com/All-Things-Dog/dog-age-calculator/