The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Addressing Lumps and Bumps on Dogs

By Dr. Laci Schaible

Beagle at the vet

As a veterinarian, the most frequent question I get is, “I found a lump on my pet; what is it and what should I do?” Some pet parents mistakenly think it is okay to keep an eye on a new growth on their dog, but that may come at their pet's expense.

There are many possible causes for lumps and bumps in dogs and cats. A swelling or new growth can arise from trauma, inflammation, infection, or benign or malignant tumors, to name the most general categories. Because there is so much variation among these, it is important to not dismiss a new growth or mass but to call your veterinarian right away.

Practice Home Exams

You see your pet much more frequently than your veterinarian does, so you are the extra hands that your veterinary team needs to help them care for your pet. Establish a weekly or biweekly routine of examining your cat or dog from nose to tail to increase the likelihood of detecting a lump or bump early.

Check less obvious places too, including:

  • Their Mouth (if your pet will safely allow you to do so)
  • Between the Toes
  • On the Eyelids
  • Under Armpits

If you find a growth or bump, take a picture of it. An easy trick for size reference if you zoom in for a close-up is to put something next to the mass, like your finger or coin. A simple photo can be invaluable, especially if the mass changes in appearance or size.

Get Answers Quickly

The next step is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian – even if your pet has a routine exam scheduled in a few months. At the appointment, remember that although your veterinarian may have a clinical suspicion as to the cause of the lesion, diagnostics are needed to precisely identify it.

The tests:

Fine Needle Aspirate and Cytology

One of the least invasive procedures to evaluate a lump or bump is known as fine needle aspiration and cytology. During this procedure, a veterinarian uses a small needle, such as one used to collect blood, to “withdraw” a sampling of cells. The cells are placed on glass slides and stained. Some veterinarians prefer to send these slides out to be interpreted under a microscope by a board-certified veterinary pathologist, while other veterinarians will read these slides in their own hospital.


Biopsy procedures vary, but, essentially, your veterinarian will send a small tissue sample of the lesion to a laboratory for a veterinary pathologist to look at to determine its origin. There are instances where your veterinarian will suggest moving straight to a biopsy. Not all biopsy samples require sedation or anesthesia; your veterinarian will make that decision for you. In general, biopsies take a couple more days to get the results from than cytology.

Make a Treatment Plan

After a diagnosis is made, your veterinarian will guide you in forming a plan to address the lesion(s). Some masses may resolve on their own, and some may require action. Some malignant tumors can carry an excellent outcome if they are removed aggressively and early. This is why it is so important to visit the vet when you first note a new growth on your pet. Other malignant tumors may require treatment beyond surgery, such as radiation.

The key is early treatment, but we can’t treat early if the lesion is not found early. By performing regular home examinations for lumps and bumps, you have the power to help preserve your pet’s health by getting any lumps and bumps that you find mapped, diagnosed, and treated as soon as possible.

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