On a daily basis, we as veterinarians are asked by dog owners to look at a lump or check a growth on their dog. So why are lumps and bumps so scary?
The main reason is because, just like in our own bodies, these lumps can be cancerous or malignant, and we can never tell what a growth is just by looking at it or touching it. The feeling of the unknown can put a knot in our stomachs, which is why it is always a good idea to have any new lump or bump evaluated and sampled by your veterinarian. I like to tell dog owners to mark the location of the lump on their dog’s body with a marker and to measure it so that we can determine if this new lump has or has not grown in size over a short period of time. This makes the lump easy to find when your dog visits the vet’s office and maximizes the time spent with your veterinarian.
The truth is that lumps and bumps don’t discriminate. They can occur on dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds. Lumps and bumps can occur anywhere on the body. Many young dogs can get warts, lumps that can resolve on their own (like histiocytomas), and even cysts. Commonly, young dogs can also get skin infections, which can look like small bumps all over the body. Typically, young dogs tend to get more benign growths, but we have unfortunately seen cancerous growths in dogs of all ages. Middle-aged to older dogs tend to get cysts, oil gland growths (sebaceous cysts and sebaceous adenomas), fatty tumors (lipomas), warts, skin tags, and other benign growths. We also see more malignant growths in mid- to older-aged dogs. These cancerous growths include but are not limited to mast cell tumors, melanomas, lymphoma, mammary gland tumors, and soft tissue sarcomas. It is important to feel for new lumps or bumps, but also make a habit of looking in the armpits, in the mouth, and around the rear end as these are common places that get missed by owners.
What should we do when we find a lump on our dog? A lump or growth of any sort cannot be identified as benign or malignant without getting a sample of the cells or tissue and evaluating it. The easiest and least invasive way to sample a growth is to have your veterinarian do a fine needle aspiration of the lump in question. A small needle is used to collect cells from inside the lump. The cells are transferred to a slide and then evaluated under a microscope. We can sometimes get results to owners during that same appointment. But sometimes lumps don’t provide us with many cells or are too bloody to get a good idea of what the lump is. That leaves us with some options. We can use a slightly larger needle and try again, biopsy the lump (obtaining a small tissue sample), remove the entire lump with surgery, or monitor it carefully and see if it changes in a short period. If owners choose to monitor lumps, I tell them to watch for significant growth in a short time (weeks to a month), changes in how it feels, changes in color, or if it starts to bleed or ooze at all. If any of these changes occur, rechecking the lump will help us determine if further action is needed to ensure the health of the pet. Remember to keep a journal, take a measurement, and see your veterinarian any time you are concerned about a lump or bump.
Jamie Ina, D.V.M., is the medical director of Arguello Pet Hospital, a family-owned, six-doctor practice in the Richmond district of San Francisco. Her father, Dr. Michael Ina, retired from practicing at Arguello after 40 years but is still helping her manage the hospital.
Main article photo by: Carlos Pacheco-Creative Commons