So you are relaxing with your fur baby one night, watching some TV and giving him a belly rub when you feel it. A lump! “When did that show up?” you wonder. And more importantly, “what the heck is it?”
First of all, don’t panic. As our fur babies age, they are more likely to get lumps and bumps. Very often, these are benign, which means that they are not cancerous. The only way to know if these random lumps and bumps are something to worry about however, is to have them checked out by your family veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will be looking for things about this lump that may indicate a problem. For example, bumps that come up very suddenly, have an ulcerated or discolored surface, or lumps that are very hard, can be suggestive of a cancerous process.
How do we determine whether the lump is benign or malignant (cancerous)? One of the easiest things that your veterinarian can do is something called an aspirate. What this means is that they will insert a needle into the lump to extract some cells that can be looked at under the microscope. The aspirate itself is fairly painless and does not require general anesthesia, so it is commonly the first step we take in investigating lumps and bumps.
The cells that are taken out of the lump are placed on a slide and evaluated. Analyzing cells on a slide using a microscope is called cytology. Your veterinarian may feel comfortable looking at the cells in the clinic or they may need to send the samples out for a specialist to review.
One of the most common causes of lumps that we see in older dogs are things called lipomas. These are benign tumors that are made up of fat. If what your pet has is a lipoma, your veterinarian will record the size and location of it in your pet’s record and tell you to keep an eye on it. Surgery to remove these masses is often not necessary unless the mass is growing rapidly or it is in an area that is uncomfortable, easily traumatized, or impeding your pet’s movement (e.g., in the armpit, between toes, etc.).
If your vet is concerned about the appearance or behavior of the lump, or there is something worrisome on the aspirate, then surgical removal may be recommended. Your veterinarian can then send the mass into the laboratory as a biopsy so that a diagnosis can be made.
Sometimes, these masses can be malignant. If that is the case, the next step in terms of treatment will depend on what type of cancer it is. Your veterinarian may recommend a referral to see our oncologist, Dr. Novosad, at SLVS. Rest assured that if that happens, Dr. Novosad and his team will answer all of your questions and help you make the best treatment decisions possible based on your pet’s condition.
Remember though, the only way to know what the lump is, is to have it checked out. Being a proactive pet parent is the best way to make sure our fur babies have long and healthy lives.
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Sugar Land Team