Posted By: Martin - Vet

Harvey and the lumpy tail

One of the most common reasons for patients to visit the practice is that their owners have found an unexplained lump on them. Understandably, this can be a big cause for concern so most owners want to get things checked out straight away and give plenty of time to act if necessary. Thankfully, successful treatment and cure is very often possible, as Harvey’s story this week demonstrates, even if it means that our patients look a little different to before!

Harvey is a much loved 10 year old yellow Labrador, and a big softie with it.  He’s not impartial to a bit of fuss and so his owners regularly have the opportunity to check him over.  As such, when his owner felt a firm lump on the underside of his tail they knew that this was out of the ordinary and immediately wanted to get it checked out.

When Harvey visited he was a very happy dog in every way, but his owners were right – there was indeed an abnormal lump on his tail. It was firm, solid and difficult to move around, and it was clear that it had arisen quite quickly – we were concerned we were dealing with a skin tumour. The physical characteristics of a skin lump can often give us some indication as to how serious it might be, but we know that appearances can be deceptive so it is always important for us to monitor and investigate the situation.

After the options were discussed, Harvey’s owners were very keen to get to the bottom of the cause of the lump and so we performed a fine needle aspirate (FNA). This procedure is, in effect, an injection in reverse – a needle is placed into the lump and cells are sucked out so that they can be examined under a microscope. This was all done without the need for an anaesthetic or sedative so, with Harvey still very happy, he could go home after a few minutes and the slides were sent to the lab.  

Within 24 hours we had a result and it confirmed our suspicions.  The lump was indeed a skin tumour.  The good news was that it was not aggressive but it would continue to grow and would very likely cause trouble for Harvey as it progressed.  With this in mind we wanted to remove the lump but the location on his tail was very difficult as there is very little additional skin in this area to enable us to close the gap left once the lump is removed.

Harvey came in for his operation and we attempted the tricky surgery of removing the lump from his tail.  The surgery went well and the skin wound was closed, although it was a struggle. We knew now that there was a risk that healing may not progress as normal due to the tension in the remaining skin, so Harvey would need close monitoring over the coming week. In the meantime, the lump was sent away for definitive analysis and we all hoped that Harvey was on the road to recovery.  

Initially Harvey progressed well and he was making a great recovery from the operation.  However, after a couple of days it appeared that his tail was causing him some bother and it was difficult to keep him from fussing over his wound. It started to look inflamed and, despite having it bandaged, Harvey was determined it needing licking. As time progressed it was clear that his tail was not going to heal as it should. It was upsetting Harvey and so we needed to discuss what options our options with Harvey’s owners. Their main concern was for Harvey to be tumour-free and a happy dog again and so, in the end, we decided that amputating his tail would offer the best resolution.

At the first available opportunity Harvey was back with us and this time he had surgery to remove the end of his tail.  The moment he woke from his anaesthetic he appeared happier and from that point on he never looked back.  The results of the earlier submitted biopsy returned and confirmed that the lump was an invasive skin tumour but that the tail amputation would be curative.  Finally Harvey’s owners could be happy that this was all behind him and our only concern was going to be trying to remove the stitches from his very happy and waggy tail stump!

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