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Steroid use must be monitored closely

Question: Please give me current theory about using steroids to treat allergies in dogs. Our veterinarian has put our beagle on prednisone, to be taken every other day, to control his itching. He has been taking this medication for several months now, and I am concerned about the long-term effects. The veterinarian does not seem to think this is a big deal. _ R.P., New Port Richey.

Answer: Veterinarians in Florida often are forced to treat allergies in dogs with corticosteroids when nothing else relieves the symptoms, and some animals do require long-term oral corticosteroids to control or manage certain allergic conditions. However, this usually is a last resort, undertaken when other treatments and therapies have failed to provide relief.

If you don't feel comfortable with this treatment, you may wish to consult a dermatology specialist for a more complete evaluation of your pet's condition. Finally, if an animal is placed on long-term oral corticosteroids, we usually try to use the lowest dose possible that will control the condition, and we recommend frequent monitoring to ensure that secondary problems due to the corticosteroids are not developing. _ Guy Gibson, DVM, Bluffs Animal Hospital, Belleair Bluffs.

Lump on cat

Question: My female cat developed a lump on her left side near her hip. It has been there for about six months, growing slowly.

The veterinarian said it is a tumor because it is hard and nodular, and it should be removed. He also said aspirating it for a biopsy is not wise because this tends to make them spread.

I am having a hard time deciding what to do because I hate to see her cut up. I wonder if it might not be better for her to just leave it alone. What is your opinion? _ N.M., Beverly Hills.

Answer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to say what might be growing on your pet's hip. Lumps and bumps can be due to many things, some very serious and some not. There are a few ways your veterinarian can go about trying to determine what this lump is and what it ultimately means for your cat.

A procedure called a fine-needle aspirate may be done first, then, based on the findings, surgery may be undertaken. In this aspirate, a small needle is stuck into the mass, and a sample of cells is drawn out. This sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

The advantages of this procedure are that it is relatively painless, usually does not require sedation or anesthesia and is less costly than surgery, and the analysis can be used to determine how aggressive your veterinarian needs to be in removing the lump.

The disadvantage is that it is diagnostic only, and, unfortunately, in some instances a correct or exact diagnosis may not be possible because of certain characteristics of the lump itself.

Your veterinarian may opt to remove the mass under anesthesia and submit it for analysis. The advantage of this approach is that the mass is actually removed and a larger sample can, therefore, be sent to the lab for analysis, which allows for a definite diagnosis.

The disadvantages are the cost of the surgery, the risks of anesthesia (your veterinarian can discuss these with you; the risks depend on such factors as your cat's age and overall health) and the post-operative discomfort, which can be managed with pain medication. It is my feeling that pain medication is a must after surgery, and you should expect it for your cat.

No approach is right in all situations since no two situations are ever the same. Many factors come into play, and these, as well as all of your concerns, should be discussed with your veterinarian. He or she should address these concerns with you so that the final decision is something you feel comfortable with.

In my opinion, early removal of a mass from a cat is definitely more desirable than waiting. If it is malignant, early removal will decrease the chances of it spreading into surrounding tissues. If it is benign, early removal, when it is small, will make it that much easier to remove with less trauma to your pet and you. _ Robert Marrazzo, DVM, the Cat Hospital at Palm Harbor.

Karen Ann Wilson is a certified veterinary technician. Please send questions to Ask a Vet, Pinellas Animal Foundation, P.O. Box 47771, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-7771.

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