Skin Lumps and Bumps in Your Pet – What Should You Do?
Many pets will develop skin lumps or bumps over time, and thankfully many of these are benign. So if you find a lump on your dog or cat, what should you do? The straightforward answer is this: have it checked by a veterinarian.
There are many causes of lumps, so not all lumps mean the pet has skin cancer. Lumps and bumps can develop due to things like infections, granulomas, sebaceous cysts, fluid-filled cysts, insect bites or other allergic-type responses, warts or papillomas, benign skin tumors, or malignant skin tumors.
Lumps can range dramatically in size, from hardly noticeable to softball size or larger. They can occur almost anywhere on the body surface. Some animals will develop numerous lumps over their lifetime.
When our veterinarians examine a lump, we consider characteristics such as:
- Lump size
- Lump depth or invasiveness
- Lump location
- How the lump feels (squishy, firm, smooth, rough, etc.)
- Whether pain or discomfort is also present
- Date of first appearance
- How rapidly the lump has been growing
- Any possible underlying explanations or causes of the lump
- Whether there is a history of other lumps
Although the above characteristics are important and can guide recommendations, no one can know definitively what is inside the lump unless we take a sample. The most common procedure used for sampling lumps is called a fine needle aspirate. This is a quick and easy procedure that can be performed at the time of the visit. Most animals will tolerate a fine needle aspirate as well as, or even better than, getting a vaccine. A needle and syringe are used to aspirate the lump contents. The aspirate sample is then placed on a slide, stained, and then the cytology sample is evaluated microscopically. Many times we can make a diagnosis with this cytology sample. Sometimes the cytology is inconclusive which may lead us to recommend a skin biopsy. Biopsies are typically performed with the animal sedated.
There are some important final considerations about skin lumps:
- If an animal develops more than one lump, the lumps may not all be the same type. This means it is important to have each lump evaluated individually.
- If a lump is aspirated and determined to be a benign skin growth, you should continue to monitor the lump for any changes over time. If something changes, the lump should be re-evaluated.
- Some benign lumps like lipomas can grow quite large in size. If the lump is growing in an area that can interfere with mobility or comfort, the lump may need to be surgically removed.
- If a lump turns out to be a malignant type of skin cancer, early detection is key. For many malignant skin tumors, early removal can be curative. If removal is delayed, it can be harder to get “clean margins”, and some cancers will spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Does your dog or cat have a lump that needs to be evaluated? Then schedule an appointment today!
Author: Dr. Clarissa Noureddine, DVM, MS