a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: To Test Or Not To Test, That is The Question

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

To Test Or Not To Test, That is The Question

SUMMARY: Paranoid about dog health. And I guess no course design clinic, either.
Agility is all about money. (When it's not all about the clothing or all about the Qs or all about the food or maybe even all about having fun.) We're FINALLY having a USDAA course-design clinic and judging test this month in our area; tried for it several years back and couldn't get enough people. I'd really like to go. At $295 for the clinic and $65 for the judging test afterwards? Yikes. That's nuts. But I'd still like to go.

Yet another friend's agility dog just died from hemangiosarcoma, which is what took Remington. Seems to appear in the 8-12 year range, and some friends are doing one-time midlife ultrasounds on their dogs to check for tumors. I've been thinking about Tika's on-again, off-again discomfort, and likening it to Remington's on-again, off-again discomfort and his sometimes-superdog and sometimes-not-interested approach to agility. In retrospect, determined that a lot of that, at least in his last year or two, was probably due to the tumor. Soooooooooocoooullld it be the same thing for Tika?

I ran out of Rimadyl, Tika's still not 100% today, so when I called the vet's office for a refill, I posed the question. Turned out that she's overdue for her bortadella shot and way overdue for a heartworm blood test, so I made an appointment for this afternoon and in we went.

Forgot to give Tika her sedative before going in--Human mom fail!--poor doggie shook like a leaf, and you should've heard her screech when the vet took her temp. But we got through it--I accidentally got her head inside my fleece while holding her for that torture and it seemed to calm her more than just holding onto her.

He also suggested that, since I'm using the rimadyl more, we should consider doing a full blood-work panel now and possibly more often in the future to check her liver and kidney function and other vital signs.

Turns out that ultrasound for the full torso cavity (spleen, heart, and lungs being the most crucial points for possible hemangiosarcoma) could run around $1000, and he says it's just like the full-body scanning for humans that some places (for-profit scanning centers) are pushing: Odds of them finding something real are extremely small, and more often than not they find something that they really then have to suggest that you get further testing done on, and the odds are extremely high that that ends up being nothing significant.

He said, if I had that kind of money to throw around regularly without noticing it in my budget, sure, I could do that every year or every 6 months or however often I wanted it, and it might catch something before it got serious. Or--not. When just randomly scanning for something, the beginnings of tumors are small enough that they're not likely to be identified. If I do just one scan, it could be, say, very different from what it would be 3 months down the road because the evidence isn't yet large enough to be detected. No way to know one way or the other.

And really, he says, there's no "epidemic" of hemangiosarcoma; of course like anything else by statistical laws it's never perfectly distributed among the entire dog population, so making assumptions based on a small group isn't really going to give useful data in most cases.

I know all that.

So I'm pretty much talked out of doing the ultrasounds of all her major organs.

The total bill--bloodwork, bortadella shot, rimadyl (double prescription this time because it's cheaper each in larger quantities), consultation and physical check-up--nearly $400. And i don't think my vet is particularly expensive.

But that bill has pretty much also talked me out of signing up for the course-building clinic. Ah, well, given a choice between that and my merle girl's health, guess you know which I'll pick.


  1. Yeah, we went through something similar with Fagan a couple of years ago. He had small growths (nonmalignant) in several places across his body. The vet said only to do surgery on the ones that were in a place that bothered him (e.g., the ones on his elbows, affecting his eye site, etc), as the risk of the regular surgery was probably as great or greater as the chance of one of them turning malignant.

  2. Ahh...gotta love Dr. K. I had the same talk with him a few months back.

  3. T: Found the photo album and sure enough found the loose page with the photo of me, Jake, and Tika! Ah, memories.

  4. Tough question... Walter's annual is coming up soon and I actually made a note to myself to ask if there are any kinds of tests they can do to detect cancers. Based on the info in your post, yikes. Probably not something I'll be entertaining.

  5. General blood panel may detect some hints; checking lymph nodes is a good indicator, too, but in theory the vet checks them all anyway.

  6. Cool -- I'll make a point to ask them about both these things. Thanks for the tip.