Who doesn’t love a good story with a happy ending? At Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital, we see patients who present with a variety of problems, from ear infections to terminal cancer. We love all our patients, but some pets stay on our minds years after we were fortunate enough to become a significant part of their life journey. Bella is a patient whom we reminisce about often.
Growing concern over a growing abdomen
Bella’s owner brought her to see Dr. McSweeney and his team, because she was concerned about some changes she had noticed in her 7-year-old golden retriever. She explained that Bella’s abdomen had grown increasingly larger, and her backbone had become more prominent. She knew that Bella was not expecting puppies, because she had been spayed around 6 months of age, as her family veterinarian had suggested.
Dr. McSweeney examined Bella thoroughly, finding no significant abnormalities aside from her owner’s concerns, so he focused his attention on her abdomen and spine. When he palpated Bella’s abdomen, instead of feeling normal abdominal organs, such as intestines, stomach, and kidneys, he could feel only a large, solid structure. Bella’s spine did look and feel more prominent than normal, which indicated recent weight loss, likely related to whatever was growing inside her abdomen.
A look inside Bella
Dr. McSweeney immediately ordered abdominal X-rays to look inside Bella’s abdomen. Bella lay calmly on the X-ray table as multiple views were taken, while her owner stayed anxiously in the waiting room. When the images were developed, the entire team was shocked to see that a large mass, which likely had been growing for some time, had taken over most of Bella’s abdomen. The mass was so large that it was difficult to tell where it originated, but Dr. McSweeney felt that Bella’s spleen was the most likely source. Splenic masses can grow quite large in a short time, which explains why Bella’s owner didn’t notice the growth until it was large enough to cause abdominal distension.
Dr. McSweeney brought Bella’s owner into the exam room and carefully explained the situation. He believed he could remove the large tumor surgically, and that Bella could go on to live a normal life. Dr. McSweeney knew that most giant masses that originate from the spleen are non-cancerous, and removal would be curative. Without surgery, the tumor would continue to grow, compressing Bella’s abdominal organs, and putting pressure on her lungs and heart. Eventually, the tumor would become so large that its effects on Bella’s body would be fatal. Dr. McSweeny ordered blood work to ensure Bella was healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and surgery. Thankfully, her blood work results were completely normal, and she was given the green light for surgical excision.
Surgical removal of Bella’s tumor
Bella’s owner scheduled her tumor removal right away. Everyone was anxious, because although Bella was an otherwise healthy 7-year-old dog, removing such a large tumor is not common, and surgery always carries risks. A team of veterinary technicians was on hand to monitor Bella while she was anesthetized, and to respond to any complications that may arise.
Once Bella was anesthetized, Dr. McSweeney opened her abdomen and immediately located the large tumor. With the surgical team’s help, he isolated the tumor to the spleen, and went to work on its removal. A splenectomy is a tedious surgery, because the spleen is fed by many blood vessels, and each one must be ligated and carefully cut to prevent post-operative bleeding. Finally, every last blood vessel was tied off, and Bella was free of the massive tumor. She did remarkably well throughout the procedure, and had no complications. Dr. McSweeney closed Bella’s abdomen, and the veterinary technicians took over while she recovered from anesthesia.
Dr. McSweeny had never removed such a large tumor, and was curious about its weight. He placed it on the scale, and the entire team held their breath. They were all shocked when the number appeared—the tumor weighed a whopping 16.3 pounds.
Back to normal life
Bella recovered from anesthesia peacefully, and went home with her owner, who was relieved that the surgery was such a success. Only one small piece of the story remained—samples were sent to a veterinary pathology lab, to ensure the mass wasn’t cancerous. Although Dr. McSweeney believed the mass was most likely a hemangioma, there was a chance it was a hemangiosarcoma, which is an aggressive cancer type that would give Bella a poor prognosis. After days of Bella’s owner, and the entire Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital team, waiting on pins and needles, the results came across the fax machine—Bella’s tumor was a benign hemangioma, meaning that Bella did not have cancer and that the mass could not grow back, since Dr. McSweeny had removed the entire spleen. The surgery had been curative, and Bella could go back to enjoying her daily walks and romping in her backyard. Her owner was overjoyed, as were Dr. McSweeney and his team, who had grown attached to Bella during her stay, and who were excited to know that she would enjoy many more happy years.
Bella lived for five more years, until her owner made the difficult decision to euthanize her, so she would no longer suffer from progressively worsening arthritis. Without the tumor removal, Bella’s owner would have missed five precious years with her beloved pet.
We consider ourselves fortunate to have been part of Bella’s—and many other pets’—happy ending. If you notice an abnormality in your pet, contact us to schedule an appointment.