The Bumpy Road: the lumps our pets develop in life

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Oct 06 2011

Dogs and cats can develop lumps and bumps throughout their lives. Perhaps you’ve noticed them as you’re petting or grooming your pet, or maybe your veterinarian has pointed one out during a routine physical exam. If you have found a new mass, try not to get a lump in your throat. We tend to assume the worse, worrying that the bump might be cancer, but before you turn into a worry wart, have your veterinarian check it out.

Your veterinarian will assess the mass as best as he or she can, taking into account where the mass is located and its shape, size and color. This information can be a vital clue to determining the origin of the mass.

During the exam, your veterinarian will likely try to answer the following questions:

  • Is the mass on the skin (you can see it) or under the skin (you can feel it)?
  • Where on the body is it located? Is it associated with the mammary glands, on the face, or on the toe? Location is important.
  • If the mass is on the skin, what does it look like? Is it warty or ulcerated?
  • If the mass is under the skin, what does it feel like? Is it hard or soft? Is it firmly attached to the underlying surface, or is it freely movable?

Once your veterinarian has done a thorough exam of the mass, he or she will probably want to examine it further. Performing a test called a fine needle aspirate is an easy way to take diagnosis to the next step. Even if your vet feels confident that the mass is benign (meaning it is not cancerous), it’s best to make sure by obtaining cells from the mass to observe under the microscope. During a fine needle aspirate, a small needle is inserted into the mass to obtain its cells. These cells are then spread on a slide so that your veterinarian or a pathologist can look at them with a microscope.

Some masses do not release their cells well, and in this case, your veterinarian may want to perform a biopsy. In most cases, general anesthesia will be required to obtain a proper sample, however there are occasions where local anesthesia will suffice. The sample will be sent to a laboratory where a diagnosis can be made.

Many masses are of little concern. For example, fatty lipomas can develop in any pet, but are especially common in older dogs. These masses generally do not concern us unless they grow so large that they interfere with motion. However, there are also masses (both on the skin and under the skin) that do cause worry. Malignant tumors are not uncommon, in pets both young and old. Thankfully, veterinary medicine has come a long way in treating skin cancer in our best friends. By protecting your pets with Petplan pet insurance, you can help insure they get the best medical treatment possible to treat their lumps and bumps.

At home, you can continue to monitor your pet’s lumps and bumps. If you’re like me and have an old pet full of them, monitor the lumps frequently to make sure they stay relatively stable. Changes in size or consistency warrant a recheck.

The take home lesson here is to not be a bump on a log when it comes to your pet’s health. Have new lumps and bumps checked out, especially if they come up suddenly, grow quickly or seem to be causing your pet discomfort.