HappyDogLast spring, I had first noticed that Moses had a mass on his elbow. Fearing another case of osteosarcoma, I took him to the vet right away to diagnose it. My vet said that bone cancer rarely shows up in the elbow, it’s almost always lower on the limb. And sure enough, x-ray and biopsy confirmed it was just a fatty tumor, like a lot of dogs get. Those are benign as far as risk of metastasis goes. But, this was an “infiltrative” lipoma, meaning it was entangling around the joint.

The picture to the left is from last May when we shaved him, it was pretty large at that point. You can see how it was pushing his whole elbow joint out away from his body. It continued to grow over the summer. It altered his gait some, but didn’t seem to be bothering him much. Until all of a sudden, when it did. I think it must have grown such that it started pressing on a nerve, causing significant pain. Within a matter of a couple of weeks, he went from mildly lame to basically refusing to walk. I hustled to make plans for surgery and got him into the barn since he could not walk well enough to shelter and drink in the pasture.


In the meantime, I amped up his pain meds, but that sent him into a spiral of not wanting to eat. Probably the Carprofen was bothering his stomach, and the nerve pain and inactivity were making him depressed. He laid around so passively that when I’d get him up, he’d just poop on himself right there and didn’t seem to notice or care. Things were not

looking good, and I weighed whether euthanasia might be the wisest option.

But he did manage to walk with slow baby steps into the vet office for a pre-op eval, and still maintained a compliant demeanor when asked to do things. I kept calories in him with fancy store-bought treats, the only thing he would eat reliably. My vet had referred me to another vet who is a more-skilled-than-average surgeon, yet wouldn’t cost as much as going to the “big” surgery center with board-certified surgeons. This vet felt confident there was a good chance of recovery; though no guarantees. She warned that he could suffer nerve damage from the surgery, which could take six months or longer to resolve. There was a small risk he’d have trouble walking, or be lame, for a long time. And there is also risk of the tumor re-growing, since it’s not likely she would have been able to get clean margins around it.

FrankensteinI decided to go for it. It’s a funny equation, given that the whole purpose of Moses being here is to guard the sheep. If a sheep had this kind of trouble or risked no longer being productive, it would just be sent to slaughter. The dogs are in a grayer area of ethics: they have long worked hard in sometimes tough conditions, putting their own lives at risk, to do a job for the farm. It seems we owe them some grace in old age by continuing to care for them. Plus, he actually does still have some use, as he’s an anchor, and company, for the silly pup. There is benefit in him being around a few more years. He is twelve, that’s pretty old for a Kuvasz. But his health is otherwise good, so this seemed worth a roll of the dice to see if it would work.

The vet said the surgery was complex, but the kind of challenge she enjoys. Moses was pretty woozy still from anesthesia when I took him home. But by the next morning, he was already weight-bearing on that leg more than before. The incision was huge, with a  long row of staples. She put a drain in it with a “grenade” suction device, which was to remain in for 36 hours. We fell a little short, as the last night, he managed to break it off somehow, and then chewed it up. Vet was not happy about this, but ah well. Pet vets are not used to the logistics of farm animals, so it’s always an adjustment to explain. We do what we can, but there are 150 other animals here to feed and care for, so he’s not going to be coddled. It was already a ton of work getting sixteen pills down his gullet each day, getting him to eat, wrapping the leg, cleaning his cone, and keeping him from wandering too far when he was let out to potty while other chores were being done, etc.
I kept him in the barn for two weeks. I was successful at wrapping it and he was leaving it alone, so I gave him a reprieve from wearing the cone. That worked until it didn’t, and one afternoon he got enough of the wrap undone to pull out some staples at the bottom. This was the part that wanted to drain, so of course it developed a little infection there and didn’t knit as nicely as the higher parts of the incision. So, I got my second chastisement from the vet over this mismanagement. Winking smile

But she said she was happy with the underlying layers knitting well, so two more weeks of antibiotics and continued efforts to cone and wrap him were prescribed. I decided to send him back out to the field, as he was pretty unhappy in the barn. By week three, the wound was almost healed and I stopped wrapping it. Nearing the end of week four, it is looking pretty darn good.  His appetite is fully back, maybe attributed to adding an antacid to his regiment to counteract the stress from the higher dose of NSAIDs.  His lameness has all but disappeared, and he is back to being much more mobile, so I think this was a success. He is still arthritic in the back end, but that’s now his main limitation, and that can be managed with meds. HealedSutures