You are relaxing with your pet and notice that you feel something unusual while caressing them. Have you felt that lump before? Do not be alarmed, but it is always a good idea to have lumps and bumps (aka. masses) evaluated by a veterinarian.
Although they appear more commonly in older animals, and the majority are benign, it is impossible to know definitively what a “mass” is without having your veterinarian take a sample and evaluate it. This is a painless procedure that can be done at any veterinary visit. If the mass is ulcerated, an impression smear would be taken by pressing a glass slide onto the area to obtain some cells. The sample is then dried, stained, and looked at under a microscope during your visit or sent out to a pathologist to evaluate. If this procedure cannot be done, a needle biopsy, or fine needle aspirate, can be taken, which consists of vacuuming cells into a sterile needle, propelling them onto a glass slide, and looking at any cells that are obtained under a microscope. There are some situations where masses don’t “exfoliate well,” which means that not enough cells were shed to obtain a good sample. At that point, a biopsy may be recommended if the mass seems worrisome. This requires removing a piece of or the entire mass under sedation or general anesthesia to send out to a veterinary pathologist for evaluation.
Common masses seen on animals include:
- Sebaceous cysts, which are blocked oil glands. These are not considered harmful unless they rupture externally and become secondarily infected, after which removal is often recommended.
- Warts, are benign smooth or cauliflower-like growths that often appear on the skin of aging dogs. These are sometimes surgically removed because they can become a source of chronic irritation and infection when located in an area that the pet continues to lick and chew at.
- Lipomas, or fatty tumors, are a benign build-up of fat that do not metastasize. These masses can get quite large and uncomfortable, so some owners elect to have them removed to improve quality of life.
- Abscesses are a build-up of pus under the skin, often caused by a bite or puncture wound. These need to be drained and treated with antibiotics to avoid persistent systemic infection.
- Mast cell tumors are the most common skin cancer in dogs and can look very similar to the above masses. This demonstrates the importance of having masses assessed. These tumors are malignant and have the ability to metastasize, however, surgical removal is curative for some stages.
It is important to monitor masses for change in size, shape, or color and to report them to your vet if noticed. If specific masses have been tested and confirmed to be benign, it is important to retest them if extensive change or growth has been observed.
Ultimately, if the mass seems to be bothering your pet or is in a place where it inhibits movement, it is recommended to have it removed and biopsied. This is done under general anesthesia and can be combined with other procedures such as dentals to avoid additional anesthetic episodes in the future. Further steps will be recommended based on biopsy results.
Call Norwalk Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment to have your pet’s lumps checked today!