Will our 14 year old lab survive lipoma removal surgery?
August 13, 2007 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Our nearly 14 year old female lab mix has a huge lipoma on the side of her chest. It does not seem to bother her or interfere with her movement - although she does not like it to be touched - but this grapefruit sized tumor continues to grow, and is definitely a bit bigger now than it was at this time a year ago. Our vets want her opertated on immediately. They fear the lipoma will rupture.

Over the years, the vets have performed fine needle aspirates of the lipoma, which they consistently describe as a benign fatty deposit. Today, however, the vets were quite disturbed by its size, and they recommended a biopsy to make sure it hadn't turned cancerous and then a surgical procedure to remove the massive growth entirely. Their fear was that the lipoma would rupture, and that as a result we would be forced to put our dog to sleep. Due to its size, the lipoma would be tricky to remove. It is likely that it has grown into the surrounding muscles and tissue. The vets said they were not qualified to handle a procedure of this scale. They recommended that we travel five hours to Auburn University's vet clinic where they would perform the procedure and the monitoring of our pet.

Obviously, we are quite concerned about all of this. I am reluctant to the idea of surgery itself, particularly with such an old dog. Beyond the surgery and the anesthesia and any complications that might arise, we're also concerned about her recovery. Would she be more comfortable without this procedure? Is it actually necessary? Or would she simply not even survive it?

In all of my research, I have yet to hear that a lipoma could rupture. From what I've read, surgery should only be considered if the dog's movement is hindered, which it is not in our case, and that otherwise a dog is just fine with ithese kinds of bumps. Of course, her bump is quite big and it concerns us still.

If anyone has been in a similar situation, I'd greatly appreciate your feedback. We've never had to confront something like this and we're not entirely sure where to turn.

Thank you.
posted by mizrachi to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
My 14-year-old poodle was diagnosed with a growth on her spleen about 4 years ago. I was told that without a $3,000 operation it would burst and kill her within months. I used to work as a vet tech and at a Humane Society (long, long ago) which made me less sentimental about animals than some. I love my dog, she is a great companion and I take excellent care of her--but there was no way I was going to spend $3,000 on a (then) 10-year-old dog. Even if I had it, which, at the time, I did not. So, I opted out of the operation. My partially blind, somewhat deaf, warty, smelly, spleen busting growth poodle is still with me. She is happy and loving and still a great companion. I have allowed my vet to do an occasional ultra-sound on the growth and it has not increased in size appreciably. I am content with my decision.

As much as some folks would have you believe otherwise, dogs are not people. They live entirely in the now. If in the moment, as you say, your dog is happy and comfortable and not suffering, why put her through the whole scary operation thing? Enjoy her while she's still around and let her go when the time comes.
posted by agatha_magatha at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

If she's happy and pain-free, then no, I wouldn't do the surgery.
posted by agregoli at 11:20 AM on August 13, 2007

Our old lab has had 'goits' for a while, some are pretty big but none of them bother her. I'd leave them be.
posted by zeoslap at 11:30 AM on August 13, 2007

Not a lipoma, but my then 12-year-old Australian Cattle Dog had a rapidly-growing cartilage tumour from his rib. It was benign, but pushing into his lung. We were very lucky, though, in that we lived very near to (and I was a student at) a university housing the leading small animal oncology clinic in Australia - I would be very worried about the five-hour post-surgery travel.

Otherwise - the surgery cost almost AU$4000 five years ago, so cost is an important consideration. The dog, however, was fine. He was supposed to stay in recovery at the clinic for at least a week after surgery, but they called us to take him home after three days as he was recovering very well, and howling for us!! His movement was limited for a few weeks, but he was such an active dog it was hard to keep him still, and so he would yelp a bit when he over-exerted but was fully recovered within two months.

He's now 17 and there haven't been any long-term side effects, and vet students apparently still study the tumour in oncology class.
posted by goo at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2007

I would get a second opinion, but I likely wouldn't do it unless it was causing her discomfort. If it DOES rupture and you and up having to put her to sleep...well...I'm pretty sentimental about pets (even after having been a vet tech, contrary to agatha_magatha's experience), and I have gone to great lengths both financially and personally for animals whose quality of life (I felt) would benefit from my efforts, but I always consider the animal first. At some point you need to accept that animals only care about quality of life, they don't care about quantity, and with a 14 year old dog (especially of a breed where 14 is already a very advanced age, like yours), she's going to die of something sooner or later. If this were my dog, I wouldn't do the surgery, the surgery itself plus the recovery time is going to impact her quality of life, even if only for a short time, and the difference it will make to her long-term quality OR quantity of life is likely negligible. I'd make sure she stayed happy and comfortable for as long as possible, but in my opinion, I would consider doing this involved a surgery on a dog of this age unreasonable and not in the dog's best interests - your dog is lucky to have an owner like you.
posted by biscotti at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2007

We also had a recommendation to take our female lab mix to Auburn (same age, but a different kind of tumor). In my opinion, the surgery and trips would have been extremely traumatizing, outweighing the benefits of the operation. I agree that to a dog, quality of life is paramount. My extreme attachment to my dog didn't extend to surgery with questionable benefit and almost certain pain and anguish for the dog.
posted by mdiskin at 1:37 PM on August 13, 2007

Okay, I'm seeing a lot of anecdotes involving dogs with entirely different conditions than yours. I recommend you ignore them, as a growth on the spleen/goits/"different kind of tumor"/"cartilage tumor" are entirely different than and unrelated to rapidly growing lipomas, and thus, can't really be compared.

Just because someone says "Auntie Marge's dog Jack had 15 basketball sized tumors, and we declined surgery, and it lived to be 45 years old" doesn't mean anything with regards to your dog.

Honestly, people, your dog is sick once and suddenly you're an expert on veterinary surgery?

Here's my professional take on this (though please note that IANAVet, just a vet tech, and this is not to be considered as veterinary advice). If you are concerned about an increased risk of surgery complications due to your dog's age, it may comfort you to know that contrary to popular belief, there isn't any real appreciable increase in risk due to age alone for the majority of cases. If your dog was fine for surgeries when it was younger (spaying, dentals, etc.), and doesn't have end-stage kidney failure or something, then it should be fine now.

Of course, to rule out the minor chance there will be complications, your vet will almost certainly run a PAP (Pre-anesthetic profile) blood test, which is generally done for all dogs over 5 who are having a surgery. This should rule out any remaining questions about suitability for surgery.

That addresses your main question over the threat of surgery to your dog's health. Now, as to the necessity of the surgery, here are some facts to help you decide on this: Lipomas usually do not rupture, as you have heard. However, this is true for your run-of-the-mill lipomas, which also do not grow in size rapidly, like you are describing. In other words, you aren't dealing with your average lipoma, so yes, it can and probably will at some point rupture, since the aforementioned growth is what will likely cause it to go beyond the body's capacity for accommodating it.

The main danger here is that the lipoma will either rupture outside the body and hemorrhage, which if not caught in time could cause the dog to bleed to death; or worse, that it will rupture inside the dog's body cavity, which would very likely be fatal. If the lipoma is still growing in size, then this is a very real threat, especially since the lipoma sounds very large already.

Now for whether this makes surgery necessary, well, that's really for you to decide. This is a 14 year old dog, and that is old for a large dog, especially a lab mix (though if this is one of those small, hardy lab mixes, then that might not apply as much). If you think the dog only has a year or so left, then it might not be worth it to go through with the surgery, unless your vet has indicated that this lipoma is in a very immediate danger of rupturing. However, if you think your dog has several happy years left in her, and you can afford the surgery, then I would personally recommend you go for it, as all the reasons you've named for avoiding the surgery (age, whether the lipoma will burst) are largely unfounded. You should also keep in mind that surgery doesn't effect dogs quite like it does people. Your dog will likely be right as rain inside of a week, and unlike a person, isn't going to find it some huge ordeal.

Of course, this doesn't mean that if you decide not to go the surgical route, that your dog won't live 5 more years with no problems. It isn't a certainty that the lipoma will burst, and since I haven't even seen it, I don't even know how great the odds are that it will. (Note though, that if your vet is recommending a surgery 5 hours away with specialists, then they probably think the odds are great that it will rupture.)

This is a difficult decision to make, though, and I hope I've made it a bit easier, or at least shed some light on the situation. I wish you and your dog the best of luck, no matter which path you decide on.
posted by internet!Hannah at 5:29 PM on August 13, 2007 [4 favorites]

Here's one other thing to consider - the veterinarians said that they can't handle this procedure, and referred you elsewhere on this. Therefore, they aren't making these suggestions out of some sort of profit motive; they're genuinely concerned about the welfare of the dog.

I would at the very least talk to the vets at Auburn, and tell them what your vet said and also explain your concerns. Do not, however, tell them what you've read on the internet. It will muddy the waters quite a bit; they have not seen your dog, and what they need is the clearest possible picture of what is going wrong with your dog, not opinions. In other words, just the facts, ma'am. If needed, authorize them to talk with your vet. They can't give you anything ironclad unless they actually see the dog, but this can help you make the decision.
posted by azpenguin at 7:47 AM on August 14, 2007

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