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Normal Abnormalities in Dogs: Typical Changes Caused by Age or Stress

Posted February 12, 2015 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Dog in grass

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” in dogs.

Lenticular sclerosis in dogs
This is an age-related change that occurs within the lenses of the eyes. 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 change are often 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 in dogs
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's 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 growths resulting in bleeding or infection, and the need for removal. 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 in dogs
These benign fatty tumors develop under the skin in mature dogs. 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 who 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 the deeper tissues. If your veterinarian feels that your dog’s lipoma falls into this category, surgical removal will be recommended.

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Nancy has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified veterinary specialist in internal medicine as well as a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2014.