Normal Abnormalities

05/24/2011
Author: Dr. Nancy Kay

A "normal abnormality" is the term I use to describe something that is worthy of note within my patient's medical record, yet is an anticipated abnormality (given the animal's age, breed, or circumstances) that is highly unlikely to ever become a significant health issue.  I liken such abnormalities to the brown "liver spots" many people develop on their skin in response to sun exposure and aging.  Here are some examples of commonly encountered "normal abnormalities":

Lenticular sclerosis:  This is an age-related change that occurs within the lenses of the eyes (dogs and cats). The pupil of the eye is normally black because the lens which is located just behind the pupil is crystal clear.  With age comes some rearrangement of lens fibers resulting in a grayish/whitish rather than normal black appearing pupil. This change is referred to as lenticular sclerosis.  People who notice this are usually concerned that their pet is developing cataracts. Whereas cataracts are opaque and interfere with light transmission to the retina, lenticular sclerosis causes no functional visual impairment. How can you know if your pet's graying pupils represent cataracts or lenticular sclerosis?  Ask your veterinarian to have a look.

Sebaceous adenomas:  These small, warty appearing skin growths commonly develop in older dogs.  Sebaceous adenomas result from blockage of ducts that normally carry sebum to the skin surface. Smaller dogs are particularly prone- Miniature and Toy Poodles reign supreme when it comes to this age-related change.  Sebaceous adenomas are completely benign and rarely need to be removed unless they are growing or changing significantly (some dogs bite or scratch at these skin growth resulting in bleeding or infection). Removal of sebaceous adenomas may also be warranted if they manage to get in the way of grooming clippers.  Always point out any new lumps or bumps to your veterinarian including those you suspect are sebaceous adenomas.

Lipomas:  These benign fatty tumors develop under the skin in mature dogs (rare in kitties).  They can occur anywhere, but their favorite places to grow are the armpit, the inguinal region (the crease between the upper thigh and the belly wall), and along the body wall.  They are completely benign and need to be removed only if they are growing rapidly or, because of their location, have the potential to impede normal limb motion.  How can you know if a lump you've just discovered is a lipoma?  Schedule a visit with your veterinarian.  She will collect some cells using a small needle for evaluation under the microscope. If all that is present are fat cells, the diagnosis is a lipoma.  Every once in awhile these tumors become infiltrative sending tendrils of growth down into deeper tissues.  If your vet feels that your dog's lipoma falls into this category, surgical removal will be recommended.

Stress induced changes:  No one likes going to the doctor, and our pets are no exception.  Squeezing your kitty into a cat carrier, the car ride, a lively waiting room scene, having a thermometer inserted you know where, the sights, the smells- all of these things can cause stress for your dog or cat!  And when the body is stressed, the body compensates by producing a number of normal physiologic changes such as increases in heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and blood sugar measurement.  Your veterinarian will have various tricks up her sleeve to determine whether such changes represent "normal abnormalities" or are indicators of underlying disease.

Should such "normal abnormalities" be ignored?  Not at all.  They should be noted in your pet's medical record.  Additionally, "watchful waiting" will be recommended because every once in awhile, these abnormalities can morph into something that is deserving of more attention.  For example, a sebaceous adenoma can become infected, a dog with lenticular sclerosis can develop cataracts, and a growing armpit lipoma can begin to hinder normal motion of the front leg. While you are doing your "watchful waiting" count your blessings because, of all the abnormalities you or your veterinarian can find, a "normal abnormality" is the very best kind!

This article is shared with permission from Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.

Comments and feedback are welcomed on Dr. Kay's original blog post.

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