See Something, Do Something: When Your Client Sees a Lump on the Dog

Dr. Sue Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM (oncology)

My mantra is “See Something, Do, Something” when it comes to anything on your pet. A veterinary friend of mine, Dan, adopted the mantra and his clients knew the drill (so to speak). He recounted a case and wanted my medical opinion on a few things.

A client of his had this wonderful St. Bernard named, what else, Bernard. Bernard had had a few fatty lumps removed a year ago, and the client sent my friend a picture of a new lump – asking if it was the same thing.  

Wait a minute – I asked Dan if he was diagnosing lumps by looking at a picture? Now, I am a fan of virtual visits and telemedicine, but in the right context and with the right cases. Dan assured me he was following the rules. However, he was using a platform called BabelVetTM to encourage more communication with his clients, so it was not unusual to receive questions and pictures from his clients. His team reviews information his clients are submitting (such as journal notes, weight changes, and activity levels) and alert him on the updates. Dan likes working with alert, prepared pet parents, and he felt that BabelBark was able to get everyone working together from the same reference point. 

Anyway, Bernard’s pet parents snapped a picture of a lump and sent it with the question. Dan’s team knew the pet should be examined and sent the pet parent a skin map document as is the protocol for their practice. Dan knows that no one, not even a boarded cancer specialist like me, can look at a mass or feel a mass and know what it is.

It is important to be proactive with lumps and bumps, and I developed the guidelines called See Something, Do Something. Why Wait? Aspirate® with the input of fellow specialists and VCA Animal Hospitals, Inc. 

See something: If a dog or cat has a mass that is the size of a pea (1 cm) and has been there 1 month,

Do something: Aspirate or biopsy, and treat appropriately!

Obtaining a definitive diagnosis with cytology or biopsy early and before excision will lead to improved patient outcomes for superficial masses. When smaller, superficial tumors are detected early, surgery is likely curative, especially for benign lesions and tumors that are only locally invasive with a low probability of metastasis. If a tumor is removed with complete surgical margins, the prognosis is often good with no additional treatments needed.

Dan was able to use the skin map from the client as he did his exam of Bernard – together; they were able to review old surgery sites, new lumps, and concerns. Dr. Dan also did a fine needle aspirate of the mass to make a diagnosis and submit the sample to the lab for cytology.

Bernard’s pet parents even took the skin map to their groomer to ask if the groomer could report anything from Bernard‘s bath appointment (Bernard’s pet parents like bringing him nice and clean to his doctor appointments). 

Staying Connected During Cancer Treatment

After the medical dialogue with my friend, I asked Dan if BabelBark was going to play a role in treatment and aftercare.  According to Dan, BabelBark was great for Bernard’s pet parents. They would journal changes in Bernard’s weight, appetite, and activity level. Dan’s team would monitor the updates and keep in contact with Bernard’s pet parents. According to Dan, his team feels that BabelBark lets clients give updates without tying up the phone with callbacks and failed phone-tag games.

For Bernard, it meant monitoring his weight, helping the pet parents get through a bout of diarrhea, and even following post-surgery recover.  Bernard’s pet parents were so excited to send a picture of the incision when they confirmed Bernard’s suture removal appointment.

Keeping the Conversation Going

When a client sees something on his/her pet, it becomes an emergency to the client.  Be that “something” cancerous or benign, the care of the pet will undoubtedly be improved when communication is easy – for some veterinary practices that may mean using technology tools.  Dr. Dan found that the BabelVet tool helped his team communicate with their clients before, during, and after they delivered medical care. 

Pets are part of the family – and, when there is a ‘cancer scare,’ the pet parent will want to reach out and communicate with the veterinary team more often. Why make connecting with a worried pet parent difficult? Look at new tools, platforms, and apps and use technology to help your team support your pet parents who are dealing with a sick pet. Implement the steps to improve the care your team delivers to your patients.


See Something Do Something, Copyright 2012 © Dr. Sue Ettinger, All Rights Reserved @2015 Dr. Sue Ettinger and VCA Animal Hospitals, Inc. The See Something Do Something Program was jointly developed by Dr. Sue Ettinger and VCA Animal Hospitals, Inc.