One of the most common requests I receive is to check a lump on a dog or cat. Lumps can come in all sizes, shapes, consistencies and prognoses. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what to look for or feel that would let you know whether the lump you just found on Fluffy is OK or if it needs to be taken off right away. I will describe three of the more common lumps BUT even if they match the description completely they may turn out to be something entirely different. Let me start out by giving a few definitions. Cancer is a cell that grows and divides in an out-of-control manor. The major factor in what makes a cancer good or bad is what original cell it arises from. Most of the time it is impossible to tell if a tumor is good or bad by simply looking at it, therefore it needs to be sent to a lab for a diagnosis and prognosis. A benign mass means that the lump won’t spread and is usually considered a “good tumor”. A malignant mass means that the tumor can spread and possibly have a bad outcome depending on the exact type of mass.
Lipomas are very common, benign fatty masses of middle-aged and older dogs and occasionally cats. We usually leave them alone unless they get very big or are found in an area that causes difficulty for the animal. These masses are usually soft and located just under the skin.
Sebaceous Adenomas or “old dog warts” are also very common. These are usually cauliflower-like, and sometimes secrete material that forms a crust. Occasionally, they even bleed. They are particularly common in Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles and Dachshunds. We usually leave them alone unless they are causing problems for the animal. A type of these tumors can form on the edge of the eyelid and cause ulcers on the eye. These are usually surgically removed.
Mast Cell Tumors can be found anywhere on the body but frequently there will be ulceration over the area of the tumor, and the dog may scratch or bite at the affected area. These tumors can easily be malignant and need to be removed as soon as possible. These skin tumors can also cause ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems.
Here are some questions to ask yourself upon discovering a lump on your pet. An answer of “Yes” to any of these questions could indicate that the mass is serious and needs to be removed:
1. Did it grow very fast?
2. Is it a different color than the surrounding tissue?
3. Is it bleeding or ulcerated?
4. Is it irregularly shaped?
Just like doing a skin self-check on yourself, please make it a practice to feel and visually exam your pet’s body to check for any new lumps or bumps. Early detection can be life-saving!