We’ve all been there. Happily watching Die Hard (the original is always the best) on the couch with a glass of wine in one hand, and the other on your pup (cuddling by your side). As you’re scratching around, you notice a weird bump under his skin. Wait.. what? How long has THAT been there? Maybe it’s the only one, or maybe you notice a second or third. Your brain is going a mile a minute; “well, THAT wasn’t there before”, “is it serious?”, “could it be cancer?”
There are a number of reasons for lumps and bumps on your pet (some not serious at all, and others more worrisome), but the only way to find out is to chat with the Doc! And don’t worry about “going in for something small”. Lumps are among the top 10 reasons why owners head to the vet. They’ve seen ’em all.
Mass Exam 101- What Your Vet Will Want to Know:
- Is this a sudden appearance?
- If not, has the shape, color or size changed?
- Has Fido’s behavior, appetite or energy level changed?
Pulling Out the Wand of Immediate Answers- Not So Fast.
Masses are tricky, because no one can predict with 100% accuracy what they are by touch, and also what they’ll do in the future. After doing a full exam, your vet is going to recommend a few options. They’re being thorough, because again, you can’t always tell what a lump is without looking inside. Here are the main options:
- A fine needle aspirate: (Doesn’t that just sound dandy?) This is the most common. Your vet will poke Sir Mass with a needle (the goal is to collect some cells from the inside), and look at what they see under a microscope. Most of the time that gets you answers, but occasionally that slide will need to be sent to the lab to make sure.
- An incisional biopsy: A small bit of the mass is removed and sent to a lab. That gives them more of the lump to work with and hopefully find the evidence Doc needs to let you know what your next step is.
- An excisional biopsy: This gives you the best chance of a definitive diagnosis because the lab gets the entire lump! Usually means sedation or anesthesia to get it all.
Masses, Tumors & Cysts, Oh My!
So at this point, your vet has a good history and a sample of your pet’s mass (in one form or another). Here are the top 5 lumps and bumps you’ll see:
- Fatty Tumors: Also called lipomas, these are the most common lump found in the vet’s office. Usually benign, they are fatty deposits that generally don’t spread, but grow to a certain size and then hang out. Occasionally, depending on the location, they may grow big enough to be a bother.
- Sebaceous Cyst: Nothing to worry about! Easily treated, these are blocked skin glands that fill up with dead cells and/or fluid. Sometimes these guys burst on their own (picture a nice, big zit…), or your vet can remove the gland if it gets infected.
- Warts: These are caused by a virus, and are usually harmless!
- Abscess: Usually caused by an infection (did Fido get in a fight recently?), the lumps are full of puss. Even if they burst at home, they still need to be cleaned out, and your pet may need antibiotics.
- Mast Cell Tumor: This is the most common skin cancer. Not only can these spread around the body, but the mast cells inside release a chemical that can cause a lot of systemic problems (think GI, allergy symptoms, etc.).
To Cut or Not to Cut
This varies widely depending on the mass and the vet. Obviously the more serious, the more likely Doc is going to recommend taking it out. Remember what I said earlier about not being able to predict 100% what a mass will do in the future? That also comes into play: even fatty tumors can spread and in very rare instances be malignant.
The Rule of Thumb? Keep a close eye and track any changes to a lump or bump your pet has. Don’t wait until tumor-row to check any you are worried about! 😉