Pet owners may ask, “how exactly can a veterinary pathologist help my pet?” Simply stated, they assist your local veterinarian with detailed assistance when it comes to typing and classifying tissue samples. One very prominent example is tumors. When veterinarians remove masses from pets, we give clients our best guess as to its makeup considering its location, consistency and relationship to adjacent tissues and organs. The veterinary pathologist can take this process one step further, by microscopically examining cells of the mass that the veterinarian sends in. They use special techniques, including special stains to help them ascertain the future behavior of the tissues. These tissue behaviors range from “nothing to be concerned about” to “likely to metastasize and therefore cause widespread problems”. Most pet owners want to know as much as they can about a mass, and veterinary pathologists do all in their power to help.
What about forensic veterinary medicine-like the medical forensic pathologists on the television shows-do they ever help solve mysteries about what may have taken a dog or cat’s life? Indeed. As a matter of fact, these pathologists ask veterinarians for other pertinent information when samples are submitted. They take into account the circumstances form the history of what the owner saw, what the veterinarian saw, the presentation and condition of the pet, and what drugs or therapies were used in efforts to treat the pet (if applicable). Just as in human pathology reports, these professionals not only describe the organ and cell conditions but also summarize their theory as to what the cause of death was. As much as discussing the prospect of an “autopsy” to a pet owner who has just lost a pet to unknown circumstances, one can appreciate the fact that obtaining fresh tissues (within a day), can be very helpful in diagnosing these problem situations.
Some clients occasionally balk at the extra effort or expense in pathology work when veterinarians make the offer to request the assistance of a pathologist. Yet, when we see that a better diagnosis can be made on a chronic skin condition due to submission of a skin biopsy, one can see the long-term value. The client’s mind can be put at ease when a pathologist states that no local cancer that was removed was seen in the lymph nodes. “Benign” is a beautiful word. By the same token, in a more serious situation, like a more aggressive cancer, a very specific diagnosis can be made. The diagnosis allows the veterinarian to set up specific therapy for the situation. This information is valuable to both the concerned pet owner and their veterinarian.
So, what is the role of a veterinary pathologist? (1) To help the veterinary practitioner properly diagnose and treat medical situations, and (2) Help determine causes of animal death when histopatholgy (small scale tissue studies) need to assist gross pathology. In conclusion, you can see that veterinary pathologists are not boring. They do essential work for veterinarians and their pet-owning clients.
Have a great week with your pets!
Dr. Chris Duke