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Ask the Vet: Shadow on Labrador's lung

By Craig Reilly

Bonny is our 11-year-old Labrador. She has been very short of breath recently, and the vet says there is a large shadow on her lung. We are devastated. Do you think it is a cancer? Can we do anything?

Peter, Belfast

I'm sorry to hear poor Bonny isn't well. It's truly awful when they are sick. Of course the shadow sounds very alarming, but it may not be as bad as you fear. Dogs' lungs can be affected by all the same diseases we can catch, but lung cancer is a deal rarer in dogs, probably because they live generally a shorter life than a human, and therefore exposure to carcinogens – eg. by passive smoking – will likely be less prolonged than for us.

It is possible, of course, that the shadow is a tumour. Your vet will need a careful assessment to confirm a diagnosis, looking for any other primary masses which may have spread to the lung, or for evidence the mass may be an abscess or old scar.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a re-emerging disease in humans planet-wide at the minute, but I have yet to see TB in a dog's lung. I can tell you that I have removed some particularly large lung tumours in the past, and the survival rates (even for a malignancy) can be in the order of two years or more, so it can be very much worthwhile. Quality of life can be rapidly restored by the operation, so I would definitely consider surgery as a real option. Not all clinics have the facilities for open-chest surgery, so you may need to ask for a referral, but your vet will be happy to arrange that if necessary.

Of course there are risks, but frankly in situations like this, I believe the risk is worth it, as the alternative is so terribly bleak. Veterinary medicine has advanced fantastically over the last number of years, and now many of the procedures we used to regard as impossible have become commonplace, enhancing our pets' lives as well as our own.

Dogs generally bounce back really quickly even after major surgery – they certainly make us humans look pretty poor by comparison – so as long as proper pain relief is made available immediately post-op, I have no qualms about offering thoracic surgery to any of my patients.

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Craig is a partner in Cedarmount Veterinary Clinic, Bangor (cedarmountvets.co.uk). Send your pet queries to tele.vet@hotmail.com. Craig can only respond to questions through this column, and these answers cannot substitute for treatment decisions based on a full history and clinical examination by your vet

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