Monday 2 March 2009
Joyce Lee had problems when her Doberman Cross, Benson, had to be prevented from licking the operation site following removal of a tumour.When she found a small lump at the back of Benson’s right hind leg, Joyce didn’t worry too much at first. She knew that dogs can get warts and cysts from time to time, just like humans, and that these are often harmless. But when the lump started to grow bigger, she realised that it was safer to have it checked out properly by a vet.
It’s usually impossible to fully assess lumps by just visually inspecting them, even for experienced vets. When I first examined Benson’s lump, I decided to take a simple biopsy sample, known as a “fine needle aspirate”. This can be done during a consultation, by pushing a needle into the nodule and sending the sample to a laboratory.
The diagnosis that came back was worrying: the lump was a type of cancer, known as a “mast cell tumour. The prognosis was good for Benson, but the lump did need to be surgically removed as soon as possible. Benson came in the following day, and the tumour was excised with a wide margin of normal skin around it, to make sure that no cancer cells were left. The wound was around three inches long.
One of the biggest challenges with animal’s wounds after surgery is to make sure that they leave them alone. A surgical scar often gets itchy as it heals, and animals can damage themselves by licking, chewing and scratching at themselves. Benson left the operation site alone at first, but after two or three days, he began to nibble at it. The area around the wound became pink and swollen. To prevent him from doing further damage, Benson was prescribed with a large lampshade-type plastic device, known as an “Elizabethan Collar”.He didn’t enjoy wearing this, finding it difficult to judge the width of the collar so that he bashed into people, and knocked things over. Joyce did some research on the internet, and discovered that some people used human clothing as an alternative to the plastic collar. She tried putting a t-shirt on Benson at first, but it was obvious that this would not reach down as far as the back of his leg. She then tried dressing him up in a pair of old shorts, and this seemed to do the trick. He looked a little odd, but the wound was effectively covered up, and he was no longer able to lick or chew it.
All was well for a few days, but one morning, Joyce found the shorts in the middle of the kitchen floor. Benson must have felt bored and itchy in the middle of the night, and he had managed to wriggle out of his clothing. He had nibbled at the edges of the wound, and it was now red and sore looking. There was only one option: he was going to have to wear that plastic collar.
In the end, Joyce decided that the safest option was the “belt and braces” approach. Benson wore both the Elizabethan collar and the shorts. She sometimes took the collar off, during the daytime when she could keep a close eye on him. It was a hassle, but if Benson hadn’t stopped chewing the wound, another operation could have been necessary.
Benson put up with the “collar and shorts” system, and his wound healed well. He may not have won any prizes in the canine fashion stakes with his unusual attire, but it certainly did the trick.
+ Any lump that’s growing should always be checked by a vet
+ Surgical wounds need to be protected from animals licking themselves
+ The plastic Elizabethan collar is the most effective way of protecting wounds