What Do Lumps on Dogs Mean?

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Dog with lump on earIf you have an older dog then you are no stranger to finding miscellaneous bumps and lumps on them. In fact, most dogs over the age of 7 will have developed one or more of these bumps upon inspection. But what are these lumps and bumps on dogs and when should an owner be concerned?

What Does A Lump on a Dog Mean?

Just the other day I was reaching down to give an affectionate scratch to my older dog when I felt a new bump on her head. Now she is 13 years old, so this is not our first “lump” but I always get concerned when I find a new one. Especially because this one did not seem like the other lumps and bumps that she has developed in the past. So, off to the vet we went….

How Many Different Types of Lumps Are There?

The vet explained to me that there are many kinds of lumps and bumps that can develop on older dogs, just like on older humans. These include: Lipomas (fatty tumors on dogs), Sebaceous cysts (skin cysts), warts, hematomas (blood blisters), infected hair follicles, benign tumors, and the dreaded malignant tumor. How do we as pet parents know what to be concerned about and what not to be concerned about? Lucky for me, my vet is very patient and educated me on the questions an owner should try to answer before they bring their pet in to their appointment.

What Questions to Ask About that Lump or Bump?

If you know the answers to these questions before you get to the vet, it will really help them diagnose your dog’s “lump” quicker and will also help you know if it is potentially something serious.

  1. Has the lump or bump appeared suddenly or has it been there a while?
  2. Has the bump or lump stayed the same consistency or had the same appearance or has it recently changed?
  3. Does the lump seem to separate from the underlying tissue or does it seem fixed in place?
  4. Is there only one lump that you have found recently or are there multiple bumps?
  5. Finally, has your dog had any changes in behavior such as loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or a dramatic change in overall attitude?

 The bumps that are of most concern are those that:

  • Grow fast
  • Change size or shape over a few weeks or months
  • Ooze or break open
  • Are firm and tightly fixed in place
  • Are abnormally colored like melanomas.

The vet was quick to point out that there are no specific criteria to use to tell if any given tumor is benign or malignant, so I was right to bring my dog in when I discovered something new.

How Do Vets Know Which Lumps Are Bad?

It can be difficult to tell just by looking and touching a lump if it is the dreaded “C” tumor that we all fear.

Because of my dog’s age and how quickly the lump developed, my vet moved onto the next phase in diagnosis: the Fine Needle Aspiration. This sounds a bit more complicated than it actually is. He just took a long thin needle and pulled a sample of tissue out of the lump to send off to a lab to be checked.

If the results had come back “suspicious” then he would have proceeded to more tests such as: blood work, radiographs and/or abdominal ultrasounds.

All of this helps to guide the vet’s treatment options if a tumor is discovered. Sometimes dog tumors are benign and can be easily removed via surgery. Or sometimes it cannot be removed and needs to be treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy.

This short video explains more about how vets diagnose lumps on dogs:

How To Track lumps on dogs?

The most important thing you can do as an owner is regularly check your dog for any new lumps and bumps. You don’t have to drive to the vet the minute you find something new, but do monitor your pup closely for changes.

Another good idea for any dog over age 7 is to have regular annual exams (like a human physical) where the vet can take more time to check your dog and ask overall health questions. During these appointments, they can make sure any new lumps are on their “lump and bump map” for your dog. Remember that lumps can change over time so just because it’s been there forever doesn’t mean you can forget about it.

Is That Lump On My Dog Cancer?

After a few tense days for us, I am happy to report that my dog had a benign cyst that was easily treated, and not a canine tumor. The vet added the location to her “lump and bump” map so that he will know to track it at her next visit. Both my dog and I had an extra spring in our step when we left the vet office that day; however, I’ll make sure that I continue to monitor all her lumps and bumps as she ages.

Has your dog had a lump or bump? Let us know how you diagnosed it and what happened.

Nicole is a freelance writer and a hobby historian who has always had dogs in her life. For the last 12 years, she’s been the proud mom to 2 rescue pups: Angie and Dana. Her days wouldn’t be complete without their love, companionship and daily walks together.

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