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

Not All Soft Lumps are Lipomas!

Updated: August 5th, 2019

Many times dog lovers will be told that their dog’s soft lump is a fatty tumor, and is no problem.  The veterinarian is usually thinking about lipomas, benign tumors made of fat that may be genetic in dogs.

This information is not always correct, and sometimes the mistake is life threatening.  Although it is true that the majority of soft lumps are benign lipomas, if your dog is the exception, action is important..  Squeezing a lump with the fingers rarely is an accurate way to diagnose.

If the soft lump is actually cancer, and the family has been told it is a lipoma, the four legged family member will walk around with a developing cancer.  The humans in the home will be doing nothing about it.  This is called delayed diagnosis, and in the area of dog cancer the choice to ignore a soft lump can occasionally spell life or death.

One of the readers of this blog relates a story that is helpful and illustrates this point well.  Here is the excerpt from her story:

“Prior to it being diagnosed as hemangiosarcoma, Lily had the tumor for at least 6 months but the regular vet said it was just a fatty tissue. However, once it became larger, we decided to get it biopsied. The tumor was removed without clear margins and we began intraveneous chemo and radiation treatment. During this process, the tumor began to grow in the face of chemo.”

If this soft lump had been tested 6 months earlier, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

Here are examples of malignant dog cancers that can appear as soft lumps under the skin:

  • hemangiosarcoma
  • mast cell tumor
  • hemangiopericytoma
  • liposarcoma

With dog cancer being the number one cause of death in dogs, and cancer most commonly appearing as a lump, please be sure to have your dog’s lumps tested (not just “looked at”).  Dog cancer tests include fine needle aspirate, different kinds of biopsies, and analysis of other specimens.  Testing and treating your dog’s cancer is covered thoroughly in the Guide.

Early detection saves lives!

All my best

Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. pam on February 7, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    My rat terrier had a lipoma removed 9/17 and now it is back.needle aspirate says lipoma but why is it growing back? They want to remove it again but I am scared it will grow back is by her armpit

  2. pam on February 7, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    My rat terrier had a lipoma removed in Sept of 17…now it is back.needle aspirate said it was a lipoma. It is in her left armpit and before it was kiwi sized now again needle aspirate says lipoma…why does it keep coming back?

  3. Lynn on January 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    First, I’d like apologize for a prior criticism of the book in regards to lack of info on hospice care. Once I got through I saw you did address this and I commend you on the book and appreciate the advice.

    I have started my nearly 15-year-old Golden Retriever on the diet, now up to half and half, and she loves it. She is much livelier. It is hard to know how much is diet, new thyroid medication or Prednesone – all of which I only start four days ago. Her tumor only became ulcerated last week and was diagnosed as mast cell. Prior to that we had assumed it was a harmless fatty tumor like her others and the vet hadn’t contradicted that. Glad to say that Sassy is now able to get up be herself again and doesn’t seem to have any pain.

    However, something new developed within a few hours today. Although her tumor has shrunk considerably and is soft due to the steroids, the center has protruded and looks like a small black hotdog coming from the center. It doesn’t seem to bother her. But it looks like something from the movie Alien. I have left messages for my vet to no avail. Is this normal? Has anyone experienced this? Does Prednisone cause this? Any advice is much appreciated.

  4. Deb on January 5, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    My 9 yo lab/retreiver had a lump appear the size of a lemon under his skin. I decided to feed him the “Budwig” Protocol (a cancer protocol) and after 6 weeks the lump steadily shrank and disappeared. As soon as I fed him the yoghurt and flaxseed combination (ratio 6:1) his tumour shrank quite quickly and steadily. His demeanour started changing too, whereby he didn’t appear depressed and disinterested in life, as he had over the previous year. He became more active and happy and is like a new pup now. I still feed him a maintenance dose, as this is supposed to discourage the return of cancer, once having used this protocol.

  5. Chris on December 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Oh, and Jan, missed your comment. Yes, you are correct – and I know this because bladder TCC is exactly one of those cancers. The oncologist with whom we’re now working has stated that she would never perform a fine needle aspirate as a diagnostic technique for bladder tumors for exactly that reason. It’s an incredibly “opportunistic” cancer, and needle aspiration is a bad idea in this case for exactly that reason.

    If you do go for a second opinion, bear this in mind, but I’d actually recommend holding it, “in your pocket.” If the vet/oncologist doesn’t say anything about it, then ask them your question and see what they say. If it is a risk for the kind of tumor your pup has, and they didn’t say anything, you may want to consider going somewhere else for that second opinion.

    Hope this helps.


  6. Chris on December 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    My story’s even worse – my little girl had TCC of the bladder, but thanks to an incompetent (and, yes, that’s exactly how I see him, and I’ll explain why later) radiologist, we didn’t treat it when it was first detected. Six months later, when we had a second ultrasound performed, we were told that it was indeed cancer, and that now it was inoperable.

    So why do I call the first radiologist incompetent? His diagnosis was, “normally when we see this kind of tumor, it’s cancer, but I’ve never seen it in this location before, so I’m pretty sure it’s benign.” When I asked him later if we should get it removed, he said, “I probably would if it were me.”

    Now, bear in mind that our little girl was 12 and 1/2 years old at the time, and that the operation was going to cost minimum $3K. Assuming that I was being given an expert diagnosis, my wife and I were scared to put her through that, and to spend that much money on something that we believed was unneccesary and could be a risk for her. However, what he didn’t bother to tell us was:

    1. About 95% to 98% of the time a dog has a tumor in its bladder, it’s TCC (and I was told by another professional that in his 27 years of veterinary care, of the five cases he’d seen that weren’t TCC, three of them were still so threatening to the dog’s health that it was irrelevant). So referring to that frequency as, “normally,” was more than a bit misleading.
    2. The reason that bladder tumors are not usually seen in, “this position,” is simply because they aren’t usually detected this early, which is also the reason that they’re almost never operable – usually by the time they’ve been detected, they’ve grown beyond the position in which her’s was found, and into a location in the bladder from which it is too small to successfully remove the cancer. So, paradoxically, we should have been incredibly lucky, but we had the incredible misfortune of getting one of the few veterinary “professionals” in our area to give us such bad guidance.
    3. As many of you who read this blog already know, cancer is now responsible for approximately 50% of canine deaths today. I had no idea of this at the time, and he never said a word to me. Between him not boethering to give me this statistic, and the one cited above regarding the percentage of canine bladder tumors that are TCC, he completely failed to give me the full information I needed to make the right choice for me and my little girl. Had I known this, I wouldn’t have hesitated to spend the $3K, and I’d give anything to be able to spend 2 or 3 times that if it could save her.

    We’re doing what we can for her now, but this particular cancer is a bad one, and we have to be realistic about her chances. If I could do one thing over again, it would be to have gotten a second opinion. I was so unsure of what I should do, and it never occurred to me to do that – if I had, we would almost certainly have been given the right information, and at least had a chance to beat this at the outset through surgery. Early detection can save lives, so if you have ANY questions at all, take your pup to another vet, and ideally a clinic that has specialists in oncology and surgery, and tell them you need to know what they think. Even if it costs an extra $300 to $500, I can tell you from painful experience that you won’t regret it.

  7. Jan Rasmusen on December 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    It is my understanding that aspiration may cause some cancers to spread as the needle comes out. Please clarify. Thanks.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on January 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      Dear Jan
      If we are dealing with a internal mass (abdominal masses in particular, sometimes within the chest cavity) and the mass contains cancer cells within a fluid, one could possibly see the inner cavity with some cancer cells if they emerge from the hole created by the needle. This is very, very rare, and has little bearing masses felt under the skin (epidermal, subcutaneous, dermal, etc) with the fingertips.

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