One not-so-great aspect of writing about dogs and other companion animals is that you learn just enough about canine training and health to make yourself crazy. If you find a lump on your dog, for example, you immediately conclude that it's got to be cancer, and you put your considerable research skills to work scoping out symptoms, treatments and prognoses.
So when Allie began sporting a lump on her tail earlier this week -- well, you can guess what I was doing.
I've had two other dogs who succumbed to cancer, and I fully expect that some variation of this scourge will claim Allie one day. Golden Retrievers are notoriously susceptible to malignant tumors. According to Golden Retriever health expert Rhonda Hovan, 60 percent of Goldens die from cancer--not quite double the rate for all other dogs. (The full text of Hovan's excellent white paper, "Understanding Cancer in Golden Retrievers," is here.) I knew this, and acquired Allie with my eyes wide open. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm truly prepared for that eventuality -- especially since Allie is only 7. I do know that cancer strikes younger dogs, such as this one, and I myself lost a 7-year-old Sheltie to cancer several years ago. But when I found that lump on Allie, my thoughts coagulated around one plea: "Not yet. Not yet. Not this soon."
Yes, I know that a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence for a dog. I'm thrilled that just in the last year a new drug has been developed specifically for treating mast cell cancer (which killed my first dog back in 1994). I'm excited that a simple blood test could be used to diagnose cancer in dogs. I'm intrigued by the idea that canine saliva could hold the key to treating cancer. I also know full well that lumps don't necessarily mean The Big C. Allie herself has acquired a couple of non-cancerous lipomas and has dealt with sebaceous cysts.
So often, though, fear trumps knowledge--so it was with fear that I brought Allie to her vet earlier today.
The verdict: an infected oil gland, probably brought on by an insect bite. The treatment: warm compresses and antibiotics twice daily for the next week or so, then another visit to the vet.
Needless to say, I am greatly relieved. I feel like Allie and I have dodged a bullet. Whatever happens, it's not happening yet. But if and when cancer does strike my Golden girl, it's good to know that there probably will be a lot more treatment options available than was the case the last time I heard that diagnosis about a beloved dog. And in the meantime, I'll cherish each day with Allie, and try very hard not to make myself crazy the next time something unwelcome pops up.