As many animals age, lumps and bumps can appear, and frequently cause concerns to their owners. Thankfully most lumps are not life threatening, contrary to their owners’ belief, and many require no further assistance from the vet than reassurance that their pet will be fine.

Dogs most frequently present with lipomas- these are common in older dogs from 8 years onwards, and are no more than accumulations of fatty tissue, and are typically soft, non painful and slow growing.

Surgical removal, is usually only carried out for larger masses that physically restrict the animals movement- sometimes they can grow to the size of a small football!

They typically occur over the truck of the body and are usually just beneath the skin, or muscle tissue.

They are generally easy to remove, and tend not to reoccur. In many cases they are monitored for changes, and managed conservatively, and left alone.

Another benign growth frequently seen in young dogs, particularly around the head, ears and feet are histiocytomas- these are benign skin growths that will spontaneously regress and disappear within 3 months of occurrence and only require removal if persistent irritation occurs.

They are easy to surgically remove, generally no larger than 1cm in size and confined to the skin only. They are most usually removed as a precaution as they can appear similar to another skin cancer type, known as a mast cell tumour.

Mast cell tumours may present as solitary skin growths that sometimes appear suddenly very inflamed. This occurs because some of these tumours contain histamine, which can be released rapidly, causing a similar skin reaction to a bee sting. These tumours should be surgically excised as soon as possible, as they can be cured by early removal.

Sebaceous cysts frequently occur, and are due to accumulation in the oil secretions that waterproofs the dogs skin, and are generally benign. Removal is often carried out if the patient is irritated by these, and removal is curative.

The most common skin lump is the simple wart, and is usually benign and often bleeds easily if traumatised- for example the dog scratching. These are often left alone, or removed with local anaesthetic or cryosurgery if troublesome.

Lymph node enlargement may occur in dogs and the most common nodes involved are the submandibular nodes, located at the top of the dogs neck on the underside of the jaw.

Lymph nodes most usually enlarge due to local inflammation- in this region dental disease, or upper respiratory infections may trigger their enlargement. Usually once infection has subsided, the node returns to its original size, and only treatment of the original infection source is required.

Occasionally, persistent lymph node enlargement can be seen in lymphoma- a cancer of the lymphatics, which is identified on pathology of a lymph node biopsy.

Suspicious lumps can be investigated in several ways:

  • Fine needle aspiration – a small needle is inserted into the mass and negative pressure applied to aspirate the cells into the needle, the contents of which are sprayed onto a slide for microscopic examination. This procedure is carried out on conscious patients.
  • Biopsy- tissue is collected by cutting into the mass and removing a small portion of tissue for microscopic examination. This procedure is carried with local or general anaesthetic.
  • Lumpectomy-removal of the mass usually under general anaesthetic- this technique has the advantage that the mass is not only identifiable, but also potentially cured in one procedure.

If in doubt about a new lump on your dog, get it checked out by your vet – most lumps are benign.