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Addressing Lumps and Bumps - Don’t Just “Keep an Eye on it”

By Dr. Laci Schaible

Lumps on Dogs

Probably the most frequent question I am asked as a veterinarian is, “I found a lump on my pet; what is it and what should I do?” Some pet parents mistakenly assume it is enough to simply keep an eye on a new growth, but to do so may come at their pet's own 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.

Home Exams

As you see your pet much more frequently than your veterinarian does, you are the extra hands that your veterinary team needs to help them care for your pet. Establishing a weekly or biweekly routine of examining your pet from nose to tail will increase the likelihood of detecting a lump or bump early. Check less obvious places too, such as in the mouth (if your pet will safely allow you to do so), between the toes, and on the eyelids.

If you find a growth or bump, whip out your smart phone and put that camera to use. An easy trick for size reference if you zoom in for a close-up is to put something next to the mass, whether it is your finger or coin. A simple photo can be invaluable, especially if the mass changes in appearance or size.

Getting Answers

The next step is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian—even if your pet has an 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. Not even your veterinarian has x-ray vision that will allow him or her to see the mass on a cellular level and know what it is. In fact, even having x-ray vision would not provide a diagnosis.

The test: 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. Many 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 the tissue and 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.

The 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 prognosis or outcome if they are removed aggressively and early. This is why it is so important to not postpone a veterinary visit when you first note a new growth. 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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