Monday, December 29, 2014

Monitoring skin masses on pets can be easier using a common tool

As someone who cares for other people's pets on a daily basis, I can tell you that my smartphone is an invaluable tool and I am never without it. I can stay in touch with my clients easily, make last-minute changes to my schedule on the fly — or even check the ever-changing weather forecast.

It is an essential tool in the direct care of my charges. One example is simple but helps me stay on track: if I have a suddenly finicky eater (whether it is behavioral or health related, many pets tend to eat a bit less when their people are away), I can take a photo of their feeding bowl in the evening to see how much food they might have consumed overnight. When I can return early in the morning, I can look in their bowl and compare.

Caring for pets effectively is all in the details, whether you are a pet owner, a veterinarian or a caregiver.

Any change that one sees with their pet is important, but there is one that can cause considerable concern: skin masses.

Some are benign, others malignant. At times they can progress at a snail's pace, which can lead us to feel like there isn't much to pursue. Skin masses can also appear suddenly and grow swiftly. Then, of course, we feel compelled to get to the vet and take action right away.

The truth is, when any skin mass shows up, we don't really know what's going on beneath the surface.

Many are lipomas — frequently referred to as fatty tumors — which tend to not cause issues and can disappear and reappear as quickly. Not all fall into this category, though as the lumpy bump could be something more pressing, for example, a mast cell tumor (MCT). Gretchen has had one for years that I decided to leave alone. My Lab, Bruiser, who has since passed, had a MCT that emerged and then grew to the size of a grapefruit overnight and needed surgical removal. (Bruiser also had fatty tumors that would come and go.)

It's understandable for financial or other reasons, that when a companion animal makes a visit to the vet's office and there's a skin mass is in question, that a wait-and-see approach is necessary.

That said, it could be kind of difficult for some pet owners to judge how large or small a skin mass looks on any given day when compared to the week before should they decide to forgo an immediate biopsy as gradual changes in reduction or growth can be hard to detect.

Using a simple trick can help mitigate that problem, and help with the compliance that your vet needs to help your pet be their best.

The solution: using your smartphone, take a weekly picture of the lump — with a ruler beneath to help give more accuracy with regard to size and shape. You'll feel more empowered when dialoguing with your clinician, and they will appreciate the clear communication. After all, their goal is to help your pet be healthy and comfortable.

Click here for other ways that your smartphone can be a useful tool in caring for your pet.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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