For this month’s Dog Tails Dog of the Month, we didn’t have to look far. Shiloh, one of our DogWatch Office Dogs, went through a health scare recently. This tough pup didn’t let a little surgery get him down, though, and the whole DogWatch team was inspired by strong spirit and persistent smile. We are sharing Shiloh’s story not only because we are proud of him, but also because his condition and treatment are a good example of why it’s important to monitor your pet’s health and visit your vet regularly.

Shiloh, a Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix) who turns 9 next month, spends his weekdays at DogWatch HQ in the company of his mom, Demie. One day earlier this year, one of our co-workers (Charlie) noticed a large bump on Shiloh’s left hind leg. The bump was new and about the size of a golf ball. Shiloh didn’t appear to have any other symptoms. Even so, Demie decided to take him to see his veterinarian, Kelly Bentley, DVM of Weston Veterinary Clinic in Weston, MA.

During this first visit, Dr. Bentley performed a “fine needle aspirate,” placing a needle into the bump on Shiloh’s leg and extracting cells that she later examined under a microscope. “This helps to determine if a mass is a tumor at all or maybe just a reaction to something or infection,” said Bentley. After looking at the cells, Dr. Bentley decided to send them to the lab for further testing. “If I see unusual cells then I send it to the lab for a pathologist to give their opinion. They may not be able to tell exactly what it is, but can classify it further so we know if it needs to be removed and how aggressive does the surgeon need to be.” Bentley added, “This should be done with any skin mass on a dog or cat. It is not harmful to the pet, easy to do and oftentimes provides lifesaving information.”

After testing Shiloh’s cells, the pathologist told Dr. Bentley that Shiloh’s bump was a mesenchymal tumor, made up of cells that develop into connective tissues like blood vessels, blood and lymphatic blood vessels. The pathologist recommended that Shiloh’s tumor be removed and biopsied to determine the exact type of tumor and if additional treatment such as radiation and/or chemotherapy would be required.

Demie and Dr. Bentley agreed that surgery was necessary, and Shiloh returned to Weston Veterinary Clinic for surgery. Shiloh’s tumor was removed, and the cells were tested using a special staining process. The Weston Veterinary Clinic team determined that Shiloh’s tumor was a type of mesenchymal tumor called a soft tissue sarcoma. “They constitute about 15% of the skin tumors we see in dogs,” says Dr. Bentley. She added that they occur most often in middle aged and older dogs and affect all breeds and sexes equally. Crucially, soft tissue sarcomas tend to grow fast once they appear, and they can reappear if not removed completely with “wide margins (plenty of normal skin around the tumor cells).” These tumors only metastasize (spread to other areas) in 15% of cases, but their fast growth requires fast action in those cases.

Shiloh in his "cone of shame"Luckily, Shiloh’s tumor was spotted early and Dr. Bentley was able to remove it completely. Shiloh came home from surgery with some tough looking staples to hold the incision together and a “cone of shame” to prevent him from pulling at them, but otherwise feeling well. He was back in the office a couple days after surgery, and was right back to his old habits – playing with his canine coworkers (gently, of course), napping the hallways, begging for food at lunchtime and charming us all with his smile.

“Demie did the best thing for Shiloh which was she brought him in when she first noted the mass and that it seemed to be growing fast,” says Dr. Bentley. “I tell owners that not all masses are created equally so they should always be checked out by a veterinarian and a vast majority of the time need to at least have a fine needle aspirate to determine the best course of action. Sometimes this can be enough to tell us whether it is OK to just monitor but you can never tell by just looking.”

We are happy to report that Shiloh is now out of the cone, his incision is healed, and he is tumor-free! Thanks to Dr. Bentley and the Weston Veterinary Clinic for taking such good care Shiloh, and four paws up for Shiloh himself, who retained his happy-go-lucky spirit throughout this experience. And remember, if you see a new, abnormal bump on your dog, talk to you vet about it. As we learned, it is an important step to keeping your dog healthy!