Dog Parent Guide to Lumps on a Dog

What to do about lumps on a dog

A lump appears on your dog. What should you do next? Do not panic but do not sit idly and hope it goes away.

When a tiny raised lump appeared on my Cocker Spaniel’s shoulder blade about two weeks after getting her then yearly vaccinations, I felt a twinge of “something isn’t right” course through my veins. But I waited – after all a raised, small but swollen area at the site of vaccination is common, according to the veterinary literature I read. (at the time that didn’t mean Internet, it meant the UC Davis Book of Dogs). My dog’s veterinarian at the time tried to “squeeze” the lump and said it was probably nothing more than a pimple. Whew.

“Come home quick, Brandy’s lump is bleeding,” my wife called me at work to flip my day upside down.

“Your dog has cancer and we need to send the pathology out for confirmation of the stage,” said the man in the white lab coat.

The C Word. You could have knocked me over with a pin.

An emergency veterinarian (and second opinion) were summoned to examine Brandy’s “bleeding lump.” After laser excising it, initial reports showed cancer, with an outside laboratory confirming stage II mast cell cancer.

You cannot tell what a lump is by visually inspecting it. Unless you have a super power greater than Superman, some sort of laboratory testing is needed in order to assess the lump. You may not even know that your dog has a lump.

Read this article on 10 touches that may save your dog’s life.

Touches to save a dog life

Here is what you should do if a lump or bump appears on your dog: Anywhere: In any location:

1) Do not panic: Easier said than done. Since my last Cocker Spaniel had cancer from a seemingly innocuous lump, I do react and do not wait unless said lump is an obvious bug bite.  Thank goodness the vet aspirated our dog’s lump: Cancer is nothing with which to fool around. Ask your veterinarian about performing a fine needle aspirate.

It is a simple test, the dog only feels the gentle prick of the needle (if anything), and no anesthesia is required. A thin needle is gently inserted into the lump. Fluid within the lump is drawn up into a syringe and then the veterinarian can assess it. Our veterinarian would look at the slide in his office for a first glance and to ease our minds. The pathology is then sent out and assessed at a laboratory. This is a first line of screening for most lumps and depending on the results, the pet parent knows how to respond.

There are pros and cons to the FNA (fine needle aspirate).

Pros

It takes minutes to complete

No anesthesia involved

No sedation or in-clinic stay overs

Cons

A FNA cannot discern if cancer cells have moved to cells or other areas of the body. So if the FNA comes back as cancerous or malignant or suspicious, more testing/procedures will be needed.

Sometimes the results are inconclusive:  Maybe there are not enough cells for accurate pathology reporting.

There can be a false positive with an FNA or an incorrect diagnosis.

As a first line of defense, I have the FNA done. I do not have every single lump that is found on my dog removed unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so. It is my experience that there are some in the veterinary community who will remove every single lump and bump on a dog, and I wonder if sometimes this is because is a profit maker. I digress.

Sometimes a lump should be removed.

cocker_veterinarian

FNA Concerns

There is a school of thought that sticking a needle into a potentially cancerous tumor can actually spread the disease.

“For tumors under the skin, or in the skin, the benefit of a diagnosis far outweighs cancer spread risk,” says Demian Dressler, DVM on his Dog Cancer Blog.  Fine needle aspirate is almost always a good idea.”

Dressler says that at this time, there is not enough data to suggest that in the dog doing surgical biopsies causes distant spread of cancers. This may change later, time will tell. There are some tumors in other species where biopsy does increase tumor spread odds, but very slightly.

For me, I err on the side of doing the aspirate and will continue to do so, especially for a lesion on the skin.

dog_veterinarian
At the vet’s office waiting for testing to begin.

More Tips:

2) Do not attempt to squeeze or pop the lump unless you have a directive from the veterinarian to do so. For example, sometimes a sebaceous cyst will respond to warm compresses, but a veterinarian should direct you on if the lump is a benign cyst and how to manage it. Squeezing or attempting to treat a lump on your own can lead to infection and dogs can get very sick, especially if the infection enters their bloodstream.

3) If the lump is benign, and most end up being benign, then you need to monitor it. Photograph each new lump and keep the image safe and secure. Be sure to note EXACTLY where it is located on the dog’s body. When you write “ear,” that might not make a lot of sense if more lumps develop.

4) Invest in calipers. I got mine at a hardware supply store. Calipers minutely measure the width of a lump. Document it. Monitor the lump for any sign of growth or physical change. See the veterinarian. Your dog’s veterinarian should be measuring the lump in office with calipers as well.

5) Know that some breeds (Akita, Poodle, Cocker Spaniel) produce more sebaceous oil in their skin, and therefore they may produce more lumps and bumps.

6) Malignant diagnosis: If a malignancy is confirmed, your dog’s veterinarian will discuss any number of next steps with you. In most cases, the lump will need to be removed. Factors such as age, overall health, chemo and/or radiation if needed, and tumor location will need to be considered.

Let’s Play the Lump Game

See if you can determine which of the following lumps are benign and which are cancerous.

Just look at the images first and then scroll down for the answers:

dog lump

 

lump on dog

mast cell tumor

The first picture is of a dog with panniculitis. Not sure what that is? Read here about panniculitis and one woman’s journey through it with her dog.

The second picture is a benign lipoma on my dog, Dexter, that we are monitoring. The diagnosis was made with in-office fine needle aspiration.

The third picture is a mast cell tumor stage III: Cancer.

So you see, you cannot just look at a lump and know exactly what it is: A veterinarian should always assess. If a lump changes suddenly, please seek a veterinarian’s care immediately. Sometimes what you see in the last photo could be benign. And a seemingly harmless looking lump can be malignant. You must have them tested to be certain.

Due Diligence

Dedicated dog mom Nancy B., regularly runs her fingers through her Cocker Spaniel’s coat. She touches his skin and ensures to examine his body, armpits, belly, and gives him a thorough scan with fingers and eyes. Of course, her dog, Mayor, thinks he is getting a puppy massage. Thank goodness for Nancy’s due diligence: Twice she found small lumps on her dog and twice they have been removed. Both times, mast cell cancer was the diagnosis. Mayor has been given a stage II, so now they must seek the help of a veterinary oncologist. He has had two lumps appear on the skin within months of each other.

Cute cocker spaniel with stage II mast cell cancer
Mayor has a dedicated dog mom.

Should Benign Lumps Be Removed?

Yes, sometimes. In her fantastic blog, Dr. Karen Becker recommends, “The only reason other than cancer that I recommend surgery for lumps or bumps is if the patient’s quality of life is compromised. For example, skin tags that grow on the margins of a dog’s or cat’s eyes are entirely benign, but because they are on the eyelid, as the pet blinks it can cause corneal irritation and pain. In a situation like that, even though the mass is not cancerous, I do recommend surgical removal because it’s causing the animal discomfort.”

Also warts may cause itchiness and a dog may lick or bite at them. Even though the wart is harmless and benign, if it becomes bothersome to the dog, it should likely be removed.

How Can an Immune System Become Compromised?

  • Poor diet
  • Sugars and dyes and artificial colorings
  • Genetically modified organisms in the diet (GMOs)
  • Over vaccination/adverse reactions to vaccines: Read here for the reality of dogs and vaccines
  • Chemical-based topical treatments and preventatives for fleas and ticks
  • Poor quality shampoos and skin treatments/conditioners: Shampoos can harm your dog: Be aware
  • Household cleaners
  • Pesticides, walking on chemically treated lawns, roads and sidewalks with ice salt/chemicals
  • And the list goes on: Very much like people, dogs react to their environmental: Both externally and what we put into their bodies.

Can Lumps and Bumps Be Prevented?

According to Dogs Naturally magazine, statistics show that 1.7 million dogs in the United States are treated for lipomas every year. WOW! Some experts believe that lipomas and associated fatty tumors are the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins and other unwanted materials. These growths, they say, are a sign of an underlying issue and are not acute.

Some things you can do to prevent lumps and bumps as best as can be expected – keeping in mind that sometimes even the most well-cared for dogs can and do develop lumps in their lifetime.

1.Feed a healthy diet. A healthy diet running on the front of a bag of dog food does not mean the dog who eats that food will be healthy. Know how to read a dog food label. Want to know what I feed my dog? Click here for my dog’s healthy diet.

2. Ensure your dog drinks a good supply of clean, filtered water daily.

3. Avoid over vaccination. I am not anti vaccine: I am anti over vaccine. Read here as to why.

4. Maintain a healthy weight: Overweight dogs, like overweight people, tend to have more health issues.

5. To prevent sebaceous cysts, try to keep your dog well groomed and brushed: Stimulating the oil gland and hair follicles helps keep oil from building up. I give my dog essential fatty acids in his diet and supplement with omega 3 in the form of fish oil. I rotate with organic coconut oil to help maintain a healthy overall sense of well being.

6. Maintain a clean air quality and do not smoke around your dog. Second hand smoke isn’t healthy for any family members: Human or pet.

My last Cocker had several sebaceous cysts – they burst and were subsequently removed under a twilight anesthesia. She was a puppy mill rescue dog and had a multitude of health problems, and we loved her heart and soul. She has a number of immune system issues as she aged and a weakened immune system leaves the dog’s body prone to infection and illness.

cocker spaniel
I miss my little girl.

We raise our sparkling water dish in a wish that your dog lives a life free of lumps and bumps. Don’t take chances should one (or more) appear: Seek veterinary care.

Has your dog ever developed a lump or bump? How was it treated?

Comments

  1. Great post Carol!

    I love the fact that you included images of a few lumps found on dogs. This could definitely help a pet parent identify what sort of lump they are dealing with (although a vet should always be contacted in my opinion). Helping pet parents to understand what to keep an eye out for ensures that readers of this post know the potential risks, as well as the proper steps to take when dealing with a lump on their dogs body!

    Keep up the awesome work!
    Matt

  2. Brilliant advice. Lumps are scary, and should always be checked out promptly by a veterinary professional as soon as they’re spotted.

    sumskersandearlskers13.blogspot.com

  3. I think I would DIE if I ever found a lump on my dog. I would be sick with worry until I could get to the vet.

  4. Lumps are very scary. I had first one at 2 and is scared Mom to death until the results came back. Now we know I get them and they go away on their own in a couple months, but Mom still keeps tabs on them all the time. Katie has a benign lump that is egg sized. We watch that one too. You have to know your dog and breed, and know some of those lumps are obviously bad. Even though mine come and go, we always have the vet check them when we go in.

  5. I love how you said “don’t panic” because we would be camped out at the vets until we could be seen.
    So sorry your pup had to fight with cancer..that adorable face broke my heart and I can see why you would miss her so.

  6. It’s so scary and my first instinct is to panic.. about any lumps ever. My old dog had quite a few.
    It’s really helpful for parents to be able to understand what to look for and what it might mean.

  7. This is such good information. Your mini-test with photos really made me realize that you cannot diagnose lumps and bumps by just looking at them. It’s really important to involve your vet and to monitor it closely.

  8. oh how precious our dogs are all of them like family members. When ever health conditions come up on them or us it is important to know what to do. Thank you for sharing this information

  9. Great information ! The dog of the next farm is sadly dying from cancer. He has very big lumps on his back. Mum will show your photos to the farmer, because she’s not sure they know that those small bumps can lead to cancer and have to be shown to a vet ; they are rather thinking “it’s okay, nothing serious” for such “small and insignificant” things.

  10. I’m so sorry that you had to go through this with Brandy! My very first pet, who was a black lab/collie mix passed away from cancer. It was a very difficult time. She had been a wonderful dog and the best friend a girl could ask for.

  11. My “humom” and I understand and feel for what you have been through!
    This past February a lump appeared in the fold under my nose. Of course my humom was beside herself, and even though she wished the vet could tell her it would be alright and that it “was nothing”, that was just not the case.
    We kept an eye on the lump for a week but it increased in size so the vet removed it and had a biopsy done.
    Waiting for the result was just as difficult. Thankfully, it was a benign cyst.
    I think it’s very important to have any lumps, bumps or abnormalities checked out as soon as possible.
    Hugs to you and Brandy

  12. My dogs are my babies, so if I ever found a lump we’d be right at the vets. I freak out but I couldn’t let anything happen to them!

  13. This is a great post! And can I add something?

    Any cancer check should also include a mouth check, and spots found there should also be brought to the attention of the veterinarian. That’s a topic near-and-dear to my heart, as my first Boston terrier had a terrible mouth tumor at 2 years old that needed a massive surgical correction. If I hadn’t seen it, he would have needed an even bigger surgery. Diligence is key.

    My pug now has a fatty tumor we’re monitoring. And thanks for the tip on the calipers! Gonna go get some of those this weekend.
    Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

    • Spot on, Jean! We always watch when we brush teeth to see the gum color and examine the mouth. Great point.

  14. This is a wonderful post Carol! Very informative and down to earth while still giving us great information! I like how you used the photographs for comparing, this is what they do for my Nurse Practitioner continuing education for humans as well. 🙂

  15. This is a great and very informative post!

    I really like the part about having owners be proactive! I work in a veterinary clinic and I have seen dogs with “just fatty lumps” that the owners left to grow in odd places [like an armpit] when the fatty tumor really decided to take off, surgical removal was risky and difficult because the owners waited until the mass got HUGE and was impeding movement. So, while it is okay to watch them, be mindful that if they get big enough they can cause an issue!

    Two of my dogs have had warts zapped off of their faces. One of my dogs had a lump show up out of nowhere on his hip. I chose to have the lump removed. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, it was benign but is a tumor that could reoccur. We had clean margins for removal. Knock on wood no one in my crew is really lumpy and I hope it stays that way!

    • You make a fantastic point, Suzanne: Sometimes the benign lumps can become dangerous if pressing or impeding something. Then the location and side effects or dangers of surgery need to be assessed, with potential removal.

  16. I didn’t know second hand smoke was bad for dogs. I don’t smoke, but I grew up in a house where people did.

  17. I always opt to get bumps aspirated just so I know what’s going on. I love your advice about taking a photo of the bumps to compare later. Great advice on those dreaded lumps and bumps, Carol!

    • I remember when our Brandy Noel was diagnosed with cancer, the vet at Cornell gave us a diagram of a dog’s body. He told us to mark lumps. Well it ended up looking like connect the dots and not very helpful. So we started photographing and measuring with calipers as well as watching them.

  18. Great post! Luckily my dog Kitsune, at 6 years old, is the picture of health. I did, however, have a rabbit who ended up passing due to cancer. The first sign that anything was wrong was a small lump and slightly swollen lymph nodes. He was still acting normal – eating, playing, etc. It’s important to get any abnormalities you notice checked out, just to be safe. I’m a huge proponent of regular grooming sessions, as it can be a great time to not only bond with your pet, but to also carefully check them over for any abnormalities.

    • You are a good pet mom to diligently screen your pets. And I totally agree about grooming and having the opportunity to look (*and feel*) the pet. I am very sorry about your rabbit.

  19. Mickey has a grape-sized lump on his back between his shoulder blades. It is moveable under the skin and does not cause him any discomfort when I touch it. We noticed it shortly after he had his yearly vaccines last month. We’re keeping an eye on it at home, but we haven’t taken him back to the vet yet. I’d be beside myself to find out it’s something serious. Honestly, I don’t like our vet and I don’t think he takes our concerns seriously enough, but he is the vet my boyfriend has been using since he was a child and he really likes him or else feels comfortable going there. I’d prefer we switched to a different vet.

  20. OK see this is where I get confused,angry,sad! When my baby’s lumps swole(happen to be her lymphs and all seemed to appear out of nowhere of course I’m thinking she was fighting a bacterial or fungal infection because her itchy skin hadn’t gone away last winter and wasn’t diagnosed in fact I was told a flea allergy but even so it probably had gotten an infection along the way. So dry,flaky,itchy but no puss or scabs! Anyway her lymphs were swole and she had an appt coming up that next week but her tummy actually swole up after a walk one afternoon to the point she wouldn’t even sit, that’s when I checked on her and noticed while she did her best to get her head to her rear so she could bite an itch it made her tummy look as if it were going to bust! I thought for sure it needed to be drained! Even read that it could be . we took her in and this vet barely touched her,no listening to heart,or things vets do! When I mentioned I was worried it could be cancer its as if she latched on to that and told me it probably was. I ask her if there was anything she could do for her now, the issues that caused the swollen lymphs and itchy skin!? No not really. I said she’s in fact pain, I gave her wet food for two days and her little bumhole seemed to be infected to me,can’t you give her anything can’t you drain the lump on her tummy!? No,not at all. She said she could do an aspiration to see if it was cancer. Do she took her back I never saw a thing, came back in a cpl mins and said she was sorry, I got all upset and crying, I ask are you sure how do you know what do you mean. She said it was deffinate and had spread into her organs and blood and she was late stage and had maybe 2 weeks! My dog was never symptomatic,never sick,never lost her appetite! Only reason she had diareah was because I gave her wet food because I thought it would be better in case she had trouble eating. She said there were cancer cells and it was all she could do but since I was so upset she said shed give me tramadol for pain, prednisone for swelling and an anti biotic. No blood work or other test were done, I had to change her diet to brown rice and chicken well I was going to spoil her so I bought lamb,calf liver,chicken liver and breast, I had tumeric,and milk thistle and that tea everyone claims is so great. After medication started she would have a bad day every other day but still never lost her appetite or acted sick! So this vet this lady said she could not drain nor remove lumps! And said the cancer was not just in her lyphs but bones and blood and all this from a needle aspiration. I also had ask her 2 or 3 times that day if the lump was going to drain by itself since she had aspirated,she told me no more than once and said she was absolutely sure! Yet it did that night! I’m angry because after 4 weeks she got to a bad day so bad I made the decision I had been dreading. Now I read these articles that talk of false positives and other reasons all her lymphs could’ve been swollen! I really wonder if this lady no girl she was very young the vet I wonder if she made a conclusion based on something say like high white cell count!? Did she have me make a terrible wrong decision!? I’m so freaking out! Can she tell by looking at fluid only that it was late stage cancer!? Why couldn’t she drain it because i he read that ppl drain their dogs lymphs when lyphrmdectomy occurred!? Plz advice!!???

  21. I feel a tight knot in my stomach reading this. A few years ago I found a lump in the fold above Edie’s nose. I don’t need to tell you how my heart dropped to the floor. It was decided to wait a week to see if there was any changes. Within a week that lump grew and Edie was scheduled to have it removed and biopsied. All kinds of things went thru my mind! When the vet phoned with the results I thought I was going to be sick! “Just tell me, wait, I don’t know if I want to know the results!” Benign! The emotional roller coaster was almost too much. However! I can’t stress enough that one should never ignore any lumps and bumps on your pet. Get them seen and dealt with as soon as possible – no matter how much you are afraid of the results.

    • I soooooo hate lumps. And with Cockers, they have so much sebaceous oil in their skin, it is common. I am glad Edie is okay and all is benign.

  22. I thank goodness have an ask the vet online with my vet clinic so when I find lumps or anything else on Layla I just email them and get a reply within a couple of hours so do not have to stress her out with running there. We have thank goodness been lump free till now but I do watch her plus she gets bi-annual check ups a year too.

  23. The C word is so scary, there’s still so much to be learned and improved upon in terms of treatment. I try to examine my Husky’s skin, it’s difficult because her fur is thick & double coated but I do my best. This is so helpful, thanks for sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv them

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