Tom’s fatty lumps

  • Lesson from Tom: Massage and acupuncture can reduce lipomas.
  • Tom says, “please give me a massage where I’m sore”

Does your dog have fatty lumps? These can be worrisome until they’re diagnosed as being  benign.

About 6 years ago Tom developed a lump on his right side. I was quite worried about it until the vet took a sample using a needle and tested it. He confirmed that this lipoma is pretty common in dogs and it is really nothing to worry about. About a year later, when he developed another lump, this time on his opposite flank, I decided to do a bit of research into why he may be developing these and what can be done about them.

Referred by a friend, I read Four Paws Five Directions : A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs by Cheryl Schwartz, who discusses how various injuries and holding patterns in cats and dogs can produce ‘stagnation’ or blockages in energy. It seemed like there could be a link between Tom’s lumps and his muscle injury, described in a previous post, and some general holding patterns in his body. I noted that his right side lump was located in relation to his liver meridian. Later, I noticed that Tom had also developed a small node in the joints of his back leg and front leg corresponding to tightness in ligaments  that the vet had pointed out in a previous visit.

We went to see Kathy Kramer, a new vet at our veterinary centre who practices tradition chinese medicine. She confirmed that according to TCM, the lumps are associated with blockages and can be treated. She prescribed a TCM herbal formula that was primarily for liver support, and she performed a few acupuncture treatments. She found the places and meridians where Tom seemed to be lacking energy flow and treated these. She also did a procedure called ‘circle the dragon’ where she gave brief needle insertions around the lumps. I noticed that Tom was very relaxed after these sessions, and any muscle tightness was relieved for days afterwards. In addition to these treatments, I learned how to give Tom regular massages, particularly along his spine and on his joints on the legs in question. Even though he objects if he is a bit sore, he does relax into it and finally enjoys these moments.

After a few months, the lump on Tom’s right side diminished considerably! I’d say by about 80%. The one on the left side is smaller, by about 30%, and still shrinking. I am still giving Tom massages and this seems to be keeping any new lumps from developing. I’ve started using a massage technique called Tellington TTouch which I will elaborate on in a later post, but I do now believe that acupuncture and massage can relieve any muscle tightness, and stagnant energy which can cause the lipomas.

Now, Tom even asks for massage by sitting down and presenting his back to me! He, and I, enjoy this daily bonding ritual.

Tom’s sore back

  • Lesson from Tom: dogs can get sore backs from over exertion. They will yawn and stretch a lot as a sign that they have a sore back.
  • Tom says “I like to get a back massage”

I’d learned that a tell-tale sign for back pain is when a dog does more than usual back stretches or yawning. Also, if a dog is reluctant to go up the stairs or jump, or maybe is slower at assents than usual, he may be suffering. 

In a previous post, I had mentioned that Tom has a chronic muscle spasm in his back due to an injury while doing too much jumping for a treat. He would bite and growl if we tried to touch the area on his back. We had cut down on his ball chasing and jumping, gave him acupuncture, chiropractic and massage treatments and the chronic muscle spasm and pain went away. 

Recently I noticed Tom hobbling up the stairs and doing a lot of stretching and yawning. So I introduced a regular 5 minute massage session at the beginning and end of the day improves his movement.  

I needed to gain Tom’s trust that I wouldn’t hurt him, so I use light touches down his spine and then increase the pressure slowly, running fingers along either side of the spine from top to bottom. I can see and feel the muscle spasms releasing. I also massage the muscles around his hips as I think these get sore from hikes and running. Now,  when I ask him if he wants a massage, he comes and sits with his back facing me and seems to enjoy the sessions.

solving Tom’s chronic back pain

  • Lesson from Tom: If a dog is experiencing back or leg pain, the first diagnosis from a vet may not be correct. Don’t only look for disease, pay attention to play habits and if there are repetitive movements that may be causing strain or muscular injury. Alternative medicine treatments and reducing repetitive intense movements (such as jumping) can solve the problem.
  • Tom says “I love to chase or jump for the ball! And I am really good at it!”

Story: When Tom was a youngster I would play a jump and catch game with him and he would learn mouth-eye coordination. This game took various forms. I would throw a small treat in the air and have him practice catching it. Tom believed that the sooner the treat hit the inside of his mouth the better, so he was motivated to develop this catching skill. We would practice everyday until Tom became an expert at catching small amounts of food thrown to him from varying distances. This play contributed to his remarkable agility to catch airborne objects, such as balls and frisbees.

A variation on this game was for me to hold a stick or other object at shoulder height in my hand and have him jump up and grab it with his mouth. Being that he is only as tall as my knee height, this was a considerable leap. He concerned himself with grabbing the object, careful not to bite my hand in the meantime. This game involved a technique of twisting his body in midair in order to grab the object from underneath.

Years later we noticed a few behavioral things about Tom that he had not exhibited before. He would sometimes hobble up the stairs, like an old man. Often he did not like his back being touched and would get especially angry if we touched the thighs of his hind legs. We began to grow concerned and mentioned it to our vet Michael who speculated that it could be early onset arthritis. Michael put him on a natural supplement which contained glucosamine sulphate and devil’s claw. Tom seemed to improve. However, Tom was only 3 years old, so the possibility that his condition would develop into a debilitating state later on was disturbing.

Time went by and Tom eventually developed different behavioral concerns. He was reluctant to jump up into the truck or onto the bed, and he would sometimes stop and look worried after chasing a ball. The vet suggested we have a back x-ray to see if it was in fact arthritis.

The x-rays showed negative for arthritis, but between one set of vertebrae there was a smaller space than the rest. Michael said this could indicate a compressed disc, a chronic condition that would cause extreme pain and get worse over time. He suggested we see a physiotherapist at Canada West Veterinary Specialists. We took Tom there and the vet talked to us about developing his ‘core’ strength over a program of treatments. The vet didn’t seem to be interested in Tom so much as the program of treatment. I had a hard time believing that he needed more ‘core’ strength. We didn’t go back to Canada West.

After thinking about it some more, I suggested acupuncture to Michael. He thought this was a good idea and referred us to Mosquito Creek Veterinary Hospital where we saw a lovely vet named Tonya Khan. She combined the needles with a mild electrical current to release any muscle spasms. She also suggested liver support (his injury was along the liver meridian) in the form of milk thistle or dandelion herbal supplements. These treatments had a good effect on Tom and he seemed to have less pain, more mobility, and less grumpiness.

At the same time, our regular veterinary clinic was adding a chiropractor, David Lane, to their staff. David diagnosed that Tom did not have a compressed disc per se, but may have a chronic muscle spasm tightening the muscles around the spine and contributing to the lessening of space between the vertebrae. He advised us not to chase the ball every day and definitely not use the ‘chuck-it’ for throwing. He explained that dogs will chase at top speeds, even if they’re in pain, and that this would only contribute to prolonging the condition. I recalled the jumping game that Tom and I played and recalled how he would twist his body around the area in his spine corresponding to the spasm.

The chiropractic sessions, and limited ball chasing and jumping, had a good effect on Tom who seemed to get better and better.

We added some swimming therapy at Aquapaws which was close to home, and treatments from a massage therapist, Nicola Way (Vancouver Animal Massage). Tom loved Nicola, but did not like her touching his back nor his hind legs. I  distracted him with treats while she massaged these areas. Over the weekly sessions, Tom relaxed and she was eventually able to work on the spasms.

Tom improved dramatically over the months. Finally David suggested that Tom not come back unless he exhibits pain; Nicola suggested we call her in a few months if Tom’s stiffness relapses. She showed us how to massage the small muscles on either side of the spine, and the area in his thighs that were bothering him. Tom seemed happier and could once again jump into the truck. He stopped climbing the stairs like an old man.

Reflecting on this experience, I now believe that Tom’s chronic muscle spasms in his lower back and legs and mid-spine area caused him years of pain. Thankfully, the pain had nothing to do with arthritis, but was treatable and disappeared over time. We continue to limit the ball chasing, and we definitely don’t play the jump and twist game anymore! Tom is happy and relaxed, and an amazingly agile and athletic canine.

From this experience I learned to listen to Tom when he exhibits behavioral symptoms such as grumpiness and growling at certain touches. Also, I learned that the first, or even second, diagnosis by a vet may not be correct. Tom was remarkably strong and steadfast given the pain he must have had on a day-to-day basis. He was patient as we worked through the problem. He showed us, almost immediately, when we identified treatments that would help him.