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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Lumps On Dogs: When To Get Them Checked By A Veterinarian

Updated: September 30th, 2019

Summary

Finding lumps on dogs is scary, but waiting to get them checked is a terrible idea. The sooner you know what it is, the better. Get the guidelines now.

lumps on dogs
When people find lumps on dogs, they often panic. It’s easy to assume the worst. And then we often avoid finding out more. But really: what should you do?

Get lumps on dogs checked by a veterinarian. ASAP. Most of the time the lumps are benign … but when they’re not, the longer you wait to get them checked out, the worse the situation becomes.

Watch and Wait Approach?

But what should you do when your veterinarian wants to “watch and wait” or flat out refuses to test those lumps for cancer?

Best case scenario: the lumps really are “nothing to worry about” and your dog is fine, just a little lumpy.

Worst case scenario: your dog has cancer, and misses a window of opportunity to get early surgery. Early surgeries are smaller (so less expensive) and, depending upon the location and cancer type, can often cure cancer.

This “watch and wait” attitude is something we’re hoping to turn around, because it’s not good for dogs, and it’s not good for dog lovers. For example, here’s a message our Dog Cancer Vet Customer Support team recently received:

I have an otherwise healthy labrador of 14 1/2 who has several lumps that her regular vet is unwilling to aspirate and against treating dogs for cancer entirely!  I hope that they are fatty lumps as suggested but my dog keeps drawing my attention to the largest lump and has been known to indicate breast cancer in at least one human.

Well this just makes my blood boil! A vet won’t aspirate?! How can this be when early detection saves lives! Why would a veterinarian choose to not check a skin mass? Especially when the dog’s guardian believes it’s necessary?

Not even the most experienced veterinarian can look at or feel a mass and know if it is cancer or not.

We must sample lumps, and evaluate the cells under a microscope to determine what they are. There is no other way to know whether a lump is benign or malignant.

Your veterinarian must perform a fine needle aspirate and/or a biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis. If your vet won’t do it, then find a vet who will.

lumps on dog : is it cancerThere are so many things we can do for cancer these days, which is good, because cancer is now the #1 killer of dogs. That’s why Dr. Dressler and I wrote The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, which is full of practical advice from all over the spectrum. Not only my specialty, chemotherapy — but also surgery, radiation, diet, supplements, and even mind-body strategies. Dogs are living well and long because there are so many things we can do.

Fine Needle Aspirates for Lumps on Dogs

Aspirates are important and can help identify many types of tumors. They’re also quick, just a tiny needle inserted in the lump, and they aren’t expensive and don’t require anesthesia.

I know, it’s scary to think that the lump can be cancer.

But the sooner we determine whether a mass is cancerous and should be removed, the better for your pet. Most skin and subcutaneous (just under the skin) tumors can be cured when diagnosed early, when masses are small.

But do you really not want to know? Many dogs and cats have lumps and bumps, and not all of these masses are malignant (cancerous) tumors.

In fact, most tumors are benign (not cancer).

So if you find a lump while petting your dog, or your vet finds one during a physical exam, don’t just monitor it. If you See Something, Do Something.

Dog Cancer Survival Guide - Dog Cancer Blog

See Something, Do Something

“See Something Do Something” is a set of guidelines I am developing with my colleagues at VCA Hospitals to help guardians and veterinarians figure out what to do when they find lumps on dogs skin, or just under the skin.

See Something: When a skin lump is the size of pea or larger or has been present for one month,

Do Something: Aspirate or biopsy, and treat appropriately.

A pea is about one centimeter, or about half the diameter of a penny. Why so small? When masses are removed early, the prognosis can be excellent, with no additional treatment needed after surgery.

But to limit the number or surgeries, we must get a diagnosis with cytology or biopsy early and before removing a tumor. This will lead to an improved outcome for your pet. A single surgical procedure can cure your pet for the majority of tumors. This is especially true for benign tumors, and some cancers that are only locally invasive (those that don’t spread or metastasize to other parts of the body).

Benign Tumors

Benign tumors may not need to be removed immediately. The location of the mass on your pet’s body should be considered. Will an increase in growth in this location prevent successful surgery? Is the mass causing pain, irritation, secondary bleeding or infection? Unless the answers to these questions are yes, you may not need to do surgery at all. Your veterinarian will be able to help you figure this out for each benign tumor.

Malignant Tumors

But if the mass is malignant, the first surgery is your pet’s best chance for a cure. Therefore your veterinarian needs to know what the tumor is before it is removed.

What is the danger of waiting too long?

Larger masses are more difficult to remove!

This is especially true for masses on the legs, head and neck area, and for smaller pets.

Over time tumors are likely to increase in size making them more difficult to remove and/or they may metastasize (spread) to internal organs. A larger mass is also more likely to need additional therapy after surgery, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, to prevent recurrence.

dog-cancer-blog-working-with-vets

Smokey’s story

I wrote a blog about my nurse’s dog, Smokey that you should read. Smokey was an amazing white Pitty (aka Pit Bull), and I adored him. (Smokey is no longer with us, but did not die of his cancer but other medical issues later on.)

I had aspirated MANY skin masses on Smokey over the years. And the masses had always been benign fatty deposits, lipomas.

But then one day when Smokey came in for his routine lipoma check, it wasn’t a benign lipoma. This one was a malignant cancer. And the now five centimeter connective tissue cancer required a very large and complicated surgery to get the important wide and clean margins.

(The tumor was a soft tissue sarcomas. These have tentacle-like projections, so these tumors require three centimeter, more than an inch, margins around the tumor, and a tissue layer below. That is a really big surgery: for a five centimeter tumor, the resulting scar should be at least eleven cm, or about 4.5 inches.)

In hindsight, if we had aspirated this earlier when the mass was one centimeter, Smokey’s surgery would have been much smaller.

Stay Vigilant About Lumps on Dogs

So just because your dog has had multiple lipomas or other benign masses in the past, don’t get too relaxed. Stay vigilant and have those lumps and bumps aspirated. It’s not a big deal for the dog, and it is worth knowing what you’re facing.

Remember, no one — not a vet, not an oncologist, and not you — can tell what a lump is just by feeling. And “watching and waiting” is not a good idea. Get the masses aspirated. Don’t assume it’s just another lipoma. The earlier we find tumors, the better.

With early diagnosis, less treatment will likely be required, and a smaller surgery may be curative. This means cost, a better prognosis, happier pets, and guardians too!

See Something, Do Something!

Live longer, live well,

Dr Sue

PS: Dr. Dressler wrote about this years ago and his post is useful. I Found a Lump on My Dog




 

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  1. […] are also prone to skin growths as they get older.  Though skin growths are often benign, a significant portion of them are […]

  2. Henriette on January 23, 2019 at 9:08 am

    I live in South Africa. About three years ago I adopted a then +\_ 2 year ood collie cross boy. A cute, happy little dog. He had a tiny little lump behind the front leg. On his first vet visit, the vet said(no needling) it’s nothing to worry about. It’s a fat lump. It’s ok. Later, another routine visit at the same clinic- sake story. Over 2,5 years, 3 different vets saw him for checkups and been told not to worry. Last week I took my dog to a different vet to have an itchy skin checked out. I asked about the lump. It got bigger. The vet needled it and said it’s a tumour. He’s getting operated on Monday. I’m so worried for Mickey. I feel so bad for relying on a clinic with poor vets.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on January 24, 2019 at 7:34 am

      Hello Henriette,

      Thanks for writing. As we’re not veterinarians, we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can provide you with information based off Dr. Dressler’s writings 🙂

      The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is a wonderful resource to have if your dog has cancer, and it has helped so many of us Your boy is a part of your family, so discovering that he has a tumor can be quite devastating. As Dr. D writes in Chapter 2 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, managing your emotions is crucial for your boy, so take care of yourself– there is such a thing as caregiver stress, and Molly wrote an amazing article about it that you may find helpful. Here’s the link: https://www.dogcancerblog.com/articles/dog-cancer-caregiver-stress-taking-care-can-take-care-dog/

      We understand that surgery can be very scary, for both you and your boy. Check out this article on Surgery: What I’ve Learned So You Don’t Have To. It may be a helpful to read before your own boy’s surgery.

      We hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Brian on January 7, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Where can I find someone to look at my dog because I have no income and I can’t afford a veterinarian.

  4. SAD MOTHER OF A SUFFERING ANIMAL WHO HAS KEPT ME ALIVE! on November 18, 2018 at 9:14 am

    WOW FIRST OF ALL, I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT I AM UTILIZING CAPITALIZATIONS BECAUSE I HAVE ISSUES WITH SIGHT AND I CAN SEE WHAT I AM TRYING TO COMMUNICATE MUCH BETTER! PLEASE DO NOT THINK I AM DISRESPECTING YOU IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE! SECONDLY, I AM SO VERY THANKFUL FOR YOU POSTING THIS INFORMATION ABOUT LIPOMAS, BOTH BENIGN AND CANCEROUS, BECAUSE, DESPITE BEING EXTREMELY VIGILANT ABOUT MY LIFE SAVING BEST FRIEND HAVING MULTIPLE ASSUMED “LIPOMAS” THAT I HAVE FREQUENTLY DENMAND THE VET OF 2 OF OUR ASPCA RESCUES AND THEN 2 OF THE 11 UNEXPECTED PUPPIES OF ONE OF THE SUPPOSEDLY VACCINATED, FIXED, AND SAID TO BE HEALTHY RESCUES, SHOCKINGLY AND UNEXPECTEDLY REGARDLESS OF BOTH MYSELF AND MY HUSBAND BEING “PHYSICIANS” AND MEDICALLY TRAINED TO AT THE VERY LEAST BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE IF AND HOW FAR ALONG OUR PREGNANT RESCUE WAS DESPITE NEVER DISPLAYING TO US, OR SO WE THOUGHT, TURNED OUT TO DELIVER EXACTLY 8 WEEKS AFTER BRINGING THE NEW 6 POUND OBVIOUSLY GENETICALLY UNIQUE COMBINATION OF A CLEAR HISTORY OF DOG BREEDS THAT MOST SCIENTISTS COULD TAKE ONE LOOK AT HER AND SEE HUNDREDS OF CHARACTERISTICS COMMON AMONG BREEDS THAT POTENTIALLY DONT EVEN EXIST ON EARTH TODAY! SHE MOST DEFINITELY WAS AWESOME LOOKING BUT IMPOSSIBLE TO CLASSIFY OR CATAGORIZE AS EVEN AS MANY AS 4 DIFFERENT TYPES OF DOG BREEDS! SO, HILARIOUSLY DANGEROUS THIS EXPERIENCE WAS, OUR 6 POUND NEW MOTHER SEEMINGLY DELIVERING 10 BLACK AND WHITE DALMATIAN LOOKING PUPPIES BEGAN TO ALMOST GIVE UP AND STOP THE DELIVERY OF THE PUPPIES ALTHOUGH AFTER EXAMINING HER WE FOUND HER LAST PUPPY STUCK IN HER SACK, DARK BLUE L, AND CLEARLY DYING FROM LACK OF OXYGEN AND THE MOTHER BEING SO EXHAUSTED TO SEEM LIKE SHE TOO WAS POSSIBLY DYING FROM THE DELIVERY PROCESS! IMMEDIATELY MY HUSBAND FINALLY WALKED IN THE DOOR AND INHUMANLY SURGICALLY REMOVED THE PUPPY FROM THE SACK AND PROCEDED TO PERFORM CPR OR RESTORATIVE CARE TO HOPEFULLY SAVE THE ASSUMED DALMATIAN OFFSPRINGS THAT OUR TOTALLY ALL REDDISH YET DARK BROWN DAUSHHOUND, MINITURE PINCHER, ALONG WITH MAYBE A Tyrannosaurus DATING ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF LIFE ON EARTH, RIGHT??? BUT SERIOUSLY, AS A RESULT OF NOT KNOWING THAT THE NEW BELIEVED TO BE FIXED RESCUE WAS ACTUALLY ABLE TO GET PREGNANT IMMEDIATELY, ALMOST KILLED NOT ONLY HER LAST PUPPY OF THE 11 THAT SOMEHOW DEVELOPED INSIDE HER WITHOUT TWO DOCTORS NOTICING ANY PHYSICALLY OBVIOUSLY OVERT SIGNS OR REASONS TO START SUSPECTING PREGNANCY! BUT POSSIBLY BECAUSE WE ONLY HAD HER FOR ABOUT THREE WEEKS OR SO, ADMITTEDLY WE MUST HAVE OVERLOOKED OR UNACCEPTABLY MISTAKEN HER INCREASE IN SIZE FOR EXPECTED GROWTH! ESSENTIALLY A MISDIAGNOSIS BY TWO HIGHLY TRAINED, OR AT LEAST THOUGHT TO BE, MEDICAL DOCTORS FROM UNIVERSITIES IN THE TOP 5 IN THE WORLD! (SAD) UNFORTUNATELY MY HUSBAND REFUSES TO ACCEPT ACCOUNTABILITY FOR OUR ALMOST DEADLY BEHAVIORS!

    SO WHAT IS MY POINT? I AM POSTING MY DEEP GRATITUDE FOR POSTING YOUR INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR “SEE SOMETHING! SAY SOMETHING” APPROACH IS SEEMINGLY COMMON SENSE FOR ANIMAL LOVERS! HOWEVER, SADLY ABOUT 15 MINUTES AGO I WAS COMMUNICATING MY CONCERN FOR OUR CURRENT LAST PUPPY NAMED CHAMP FROM THAT RESCUE SUZIE WHO HAD TO BE RESUSCITATED, HAS MANY LARGE MASSES ALL OVER EVERYWHERE THROUGHOUT HIS ENTIRE BODY AND I DECIDED TO PALPATE EACH I COULD LOCATE REGARDLESS OF ANY ASSUMED IDENTIFYING FACTORS OR PRECONCEIVED ASSUMPTIONS AND BELIEVE I HAVE INDEED FOUND THE EXACT SOFT SMALLER IN SIZE WHEN COMPARED TO A FEW ALMOST SOFTBALL SIZED “LIPOMAS” DID CHARACTERISTICALLY RESEMBLE THE SOFT TISSUE SARCOMA THAT I HAVE NEVER BEEN EDUCATED ON OR ABOUT ANY TYPE OF EXAMINATION TECHNIQUES USED TO MAKE SURE THAT THIS 90% OF THE TIME “Unnoticeable” SAID TO BE LIPOMAS IS PROFESSIONALLY ADDRESSED AS A TRAGEDY PETS INHUMANLY SUFFER THROUGH UNKNOWNINGLY REGARDLESS OF HOW MUCH YOU LOVE YOUR BEST FRIEND! ☹️ SO, AS I STARTED SAYING, I MENTIONED MY CONCERNS TO MY HUSBAND AND HE EXAMINED MY ONLY FRIEND AND CONCLUDED INDEED FOUND THE SOFT TISSUE SARCOMA DISGUSSED IN THIS DOCUMENTARY! HOWEVER DESPITE BEING A CORONER CURRENTLY M, AS HE DID WITH CHAMP’S MOTHER WHO ULTIMATELY HAD KNOWINGLY BEEN SUFFERING WITH CANCER THAT DEVELOPED INTO A NECROTIC TUMOR THAT SHE DESPERATELY TRIED EATING THROUGH HER SKIN FOR 24 HOURS A DAY LEAKING THE MOST AWFUL SMELL EVERYWHERE THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE FOR ALMOST A WEEK REFUSED TO TAKE HER TO OUR NOW KNOWN RETROSPECTIVELY UNQUALIFIED VET SO OUR 15 YEAR OLD LOVE LITTLE ANGEL WOULD NO LONGER SUFFER FROM INHUMAN TREATMENT! WOW! UNEXPECTEDLY MY CORONER HUSBAND IS ONCE AGAIN REFUSING TO ACT IN THE BEST INTEREST OF OUR FAMILIES BEST FRIEND, LIGHT IN OUR LIVES, AS WELL AS THE UNSAID CORE OF OUR MARRIAGE THAT WAS CAPABLE OF SPREADING LOVE AND HAPPINESS AS OPPOSED TO IRRATIONAL BEHAVIORS, ANGER, AND OR DANGEROUS MINDSET THAT PLACES MATERIAL POSSESSIONS OR MONEY BEFORE FAMILY, SUPPORT, AND CLEARLY THE MOST OBVIOUS HUMANISTIC CHARACTERISTIC IN DOGS, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE! ❤️❤️❤️ BECAUSE THE STORY I JUST TOLD REQUIRING MY HUSBAND TO PERFORM EMERGENCY SURGERY TO SAVE BOTH THE LAST PUPPY AND THE MOTHER WHO WAS SO EXTREMELY EXHAUSTED FROM DELIVERING 11 SCIENTIFICALLY IMPOSSIBLE GENETICALLY TIED RARELY SEEN DALMATIANS! WHILE THE DELIVERY WAS AN EXTREMELY ENLIGHTENING EXPERIENCE AND OVERALL OPENED MY MIND EVERN FURTHER AN THANKFULLY WITH A FANTASTIC ENDING! CHAMP WAS REVIVED! SUZIE SURVIVED AND TURNED OUT TO BE A GREAT MOTHER TO ALL 11 PUPPIES THAT TO DATE ARE 4 TIMES HER SIZE, PHYSICALLY LOOKING AS IF THEY ARE 100% DALMATIANS DESPITE THE MOTHER BEING A 6 POUND REDDISH DARK BROWN GENTIC CREATION NOT EVEN SCIENTISTS WITH THE LOWEST PROJECTED PERCENTAGE RATING IN THE GENETIC MAKEUP OF THEIR ATTEMPT AT CREATING IDENTICAL TWIN EMBRYOS WHO SURVIVE AND LIVE GENETICALLY IDENTICAL TO THE EXTENT THAT THE SCIENTISTS KNOW INITIALLY TO COMPLETELY ALMOST OVERWHELMINGLY UNBELIEVABLY PHYSICALLY DEVELOP TOTALLY OPPOSITE OF EACH EXPECTATION THAT THE GENIUS OR TOP MEDICALLY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS ARE OFTEN BRAINWASHED INTO BELIEVING!

    OF WHICH CAUSES SIGNIFICANT DAMAGING SITUATIONS LIKE MY HUSBAND’S REFUSAL TO STOP ANY FURTHER PAIN OR INHUMAN TREATMENT OF ALMOST DISASOCIATING OR THINKING IM A DELUSIONAL MANNER THAT GOD HAS A PLAN FOR EVERYONE, EVERYTHING, AT PERFECTLY PLANNED TIME AND THUS WILL ONLY GIVE TO MY CHAMP, WHAT GOD BELIEVES HE CAN HANDLE!” OBVIOUSLY WE HAVE TOTALLY DIFFERENT BELIEFS ABOUT LIFE AND AS WE GROW OLDER, OUR DIFFERENCES ARE BECOMING MORE OF AN UNWAVERING ISSUE!

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