Canine lumps and bumps
You have brought your best friend to the vet for a routine visit. While performing an exam, the veterinarian informs the owner that he/she has found a lump. For some, a trip to the vet might already feel like a stressful event for your beloved dog. Or perhaps this was supposed to be an easy trip and you had even planned for a fun romp in the park afterward. Now the "cancer" word has seeped into your thoughts. What to do?
There are many types of non-malignant (non-cancerous) and fatty tumors that are common in dogs. In fact, some don't even require removal unless they seem to bother the dog.
Lumps, bumps and growths happen
Finding a lump or growth on your dog is not uncommon. In fact, many of them are non-cancerous and can appear anywhere on your dog's body. If you discover a lump or growth while at home with your beloved pooch, get them seen by a veterinarian right away. Your dog's vet is the first step toward finding out what kind of lump, bump, growth or tumor it is. Waiting to bring your dog to the vet could potentially make the problem worse.
Off to the vet
Your dog's veterinarian will consider the size, shape, color, and location of all lumps during a thorough examination. They may ask you questions like if it is bothersome to your dog, or when did you first discover it. Some growths are noticeable because they are located on the skin or just below the skin (subcutaneous). Other times, a vet can feel a lump that is deeper within the body wall through palpation (feeling with their hands), or sometimes diagnostic imaging (x-rays or ultrasounds) must be used in order to see it.
Depending on what your vet sees upon exam, he/she might tell you that the only way to truly know whether it is non-cancerous or malignant (cancerous) is to perform a fine needle aspirate and/or biopsy. A fine needle aspirate is done by inserting a small needle into the dog's lump and gathering some cells for evaluation. This is a quick procedure that normally doesn't require anesthesia. In some cases, your vet may be able to view the cells microscopically upon a slide and make an evaluation. Otherwise, the slides and/or tissue samples will be evaluated by a certified veterinary pathologist for diagnosis.
Dog lumps and growths aren't always cancer
Our furry companions can grow cysts and warts just like we do. Dogs can also have hematomas (blood blisters), and even hive-like bumps that can appear in small sections or all over their bodies. There are multiple reasons these can all occur (e.g., possible food allergies). You might one day notice a swelling that has appeared on your dog's face (e.g., possible tooth route abscess). Your dog should always be seen by a veterinarian for diagnosis. These lumps can become uncomfortable for your dog and quite a nuisance if left untreated.
Sebaceous cysts are clogged skin glands that can fill up with dead skin cells, sweat or fluid. They can fill up, erupt and then disappear all together. They can also reoccur but never cause a problem for your dog. Sebaceous cysts can become infected or irritated, and are sometimes surgically removed and then checked by a pathologist. Sebaceous cysts can sometimes advance to become malignant (harmful) tumors.
Fatty dog lumps and bumps
Lipomas are mostly benign fatty lumps that are seen quite frequently in the veterinary office. They are normally located just below the skin, but some can develop from deep connective tissues within the body as well. They often mature and stabilize in size and do not metastasize (spread to other areas of the body). Periodically, lipomas can continue to grow and become quite large. Depending on their location, they can impede upon your dog's mobility and become uncomfortable. Therefore, the vet may discuss removal if he/she deems it an appropriate action to take. Malignancy in lipomas is rare but not unheard of.
What if it is cancer
Unfortunately, cancer does exist in our beloved dogs' lives. Finding out a diagnosis before a tumor can grow or spread can potentially aid in the outcome. Sometimes one surgical procedure is all that is needed, without any further treatments. Surgical removal of a non-cancerous or malignant growth becomes more expensive the bigger it gets. It is important to monitor all lumps for changes in size, color, shape, discharge, or if it starts to disturb your dog.
There are many different treatment options available. Your vet might refer you to a veterinary oncologist for treatment. All treatments have pros and cons, which the veterinarian will discuss with you. Chemotherapy is used for tumors that spread quickly by utilizing chemicals against the rapid cell growth. Depending on the type of tumor, radiation is used for fast-growing tumors or for tumors whose margins (the area where malignant tissue ends and healthy tissue begins) cannot be determined. Sometimes, multiple kinds of treatments are used. Chemotherapy and radiation are only examples of the many treatment options available in veterinary medicine today.