Lumps and Bumps: Should You Worry?

“Hey Doc, I have noticed this lump on Greta here (as the owner feels around his German Shepherd’s hip region) over the last couple of months. It doesn’t seem to be bothering her and it isn’t growing too much. What is it? Should I be worried?”

The owner may change and the patient may be a different breed but this scenario is observed on nearly a daily basis by my veterinarian staff.  So, should you be worried? Like so many other broad-based health related questions, the answer may vary, especially regarding “lumps and bumps.”

One of the most common sub-cutaneous lumps (under the skin) that dogs experience, especially those of middle age and maybe a little “pudgy,” are called lipomas. These are basically benign “fatty tumors.” While they are benign, they can sometimes grow quite large and, depending upon their location, can cause discomfort and ambulatory problems. Take for example the football-size lump (lipoma) that occurred in the upper-groin area of a 40-pound patient. You can only imagine that it was difficult for this dog to walk normally with that affected leg. The good news in this case was that the mass was surgically removed and the dog recovered fully. But not all lumps are lipomas. There are many other types of lumps and bumps that occur on our pets — both dogs and cats. Some, like the lipomas may be benign, or they may be malignant. They can be very locally aggressive types of cancer and some of these malignancies can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis), causing serious and even eventually fatal disease.

So, back to the original question, “should I be worried?” Often times, your veterinarian will suggest a simple procedure called a fine-needle aspirate of the lump in question. As the name suggests, it is a small needle that is guided into the mass and a small amount of cells are collected into the needle. These cells are then placed on a glass slide for a pathologist to examine and determine if there is evidence of “bad” cells to suggest the type of mass and thus allow us to predict how the mass may behave and, ultimately, how concerned we should be. In the case of a lipoma, it may be simply suggested to observe for changes in size and shape. However, let’s say with mast cell tumors, that may initially feel like a lipoma, the course of treatment is radically different and will likely require aggressive surgery and follow-up medical treatments.

Sometimes the preferential diagnostic “tool” to determine if the lump is something to be worried about may start with surgical removal and histopathology (biopsy). In the case of Boxers, this may be the case, since this friendly, loveable breed of dogs tends to be prone to “bad” lumps and bumps. With our feline friends, their lumps and bumps may also tend to be more on the bad side of the fence as well.

Surface skin masses can also be variable. Most commonly as veterinarians we tend to see what is called sebaceous adenomas. These are benign tumors of the sebaceous glands in the skin. While benign, they can often cause localized, nuisance-type problems where they occur such as bleeding or infections. These can be, in most cases, easily surgically removed.

There are way too many other masses (lumps and bumps) to discuss in this context. Bottom line is that if you feel a lump or bump on your canine or feline family member, don’t ignore it. Have is checked out by your veterinarian, especially if it seems as if one day it was simply there or if it is growing rapidly, infected, bothering your pet (licking, chewing or scratching at the lump), or you are just losing sleep with worry. While ignorance may be bliss, it is much better to know early in the case of “lumps and bumps” for the best possible outcome.

Editor’s Note: Delicious treats, like Pur Luv Sizzlin’ Strips, and extra cuddle time won’t cure lumps and bumps, but could make your pet happier. Sergeant’s Pet Care Products makes great treats and fun toys to spoil your pet with. If you have any follow-up questions after talking with your vet, please ask us. We are happy to help!

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