Last updated on July 18, 2018
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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.
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).
- It takes minutes to complete
- No anesthesia involved
- No sedation or in-clinic stay overs
- 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.
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.
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 on Amazon. They are accurate if used correctly. The human eye cannot discern whether a lump increased in size ever so slightly. Calipers minutely measure the width of a lump. Document it in Dog Journals. Write it down or even better, take a photo of the location and print that photo for your dog’s wellness book. 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. Our dog’s veterinarian does this.
5) Keep in mind that you can never ever tell what a lump is simply by looking at it. I don’t care if you are a veterinarian or someone who stares at lumps on dogs all day long. The type of lump on a dog can only be determined with a biopsy, and in many cases, a fine needle aspiration.
6) Know that some breeds (Akita, Poodle, Cocker Spaniel) produce more sebaceous oil in their skin, and therefore they may produce more lumps and bumps.
7) 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:
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.
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.
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. A high quality diet is imperative. Garbage in, garbage out.
- 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. Use safer flea and tick preventatives, like we do.
- Poor quality shampoos and skin treatments/conditioners: Shampoos can harm your dog: Be aware. Use a safe shampoo, like the ones from Only Natural Pet.
- Household cleaners. I am very careful about whatever I use in my house and especially any place my dog walks. We have been using the Clean And Green Line for over a decade.
- 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. Here’s the Air Filter Allergen Removerwe use year-round in our household for a cleaner quality of air. We are not smokers. Once you see the filters after a few months, you (and your lungs) will be grateful.
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. When our dog was ill, we did use an Immune Strengthener from the folks at Only Natural Pet with success. Antibiotics tore her down, so this helped to build her back up. We have used it with success on our dog, Dexter, too.
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?
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