Finding a lump in your dog, cat or pet of any type can make anyone overcome with anxiety. Most owners will immediately think of cancer and begin the emotional process of experiencing loss. While this is a possibility, it is not always the case. Only through bloodwork, imaging and surgery can a lump be appropriately diagnosed.
If your pet has a lump, follow these steps to give yourself and your pet a chance at peace of mind:
- Don’t panic. It’s scary to find a lump. Stay calm and don’t assume the worst. A large number of lumps turn out to be cellular masses which are benign, rather than cancerous.
- Measure the size. Once you’ve identified a mass, watch its growth. Using a sharpie to outline with a dotted line and take a photo. Repeat every few days and you can now look to how fast it may grow, possibly changing locations, coloration or even the shape of the lump. However, it is ALWAYS recommend having lumps evaluated by a trained veterinarian as soon as they are identified.
- Pinpoint the location. Especially in long-coated pets, finding a small mass again following the initial discovery may be difficult. Take a picture, make a detailed description of the location, or carefully shave the area around the lump so it is easily identifiable during an exam. A little bare patch might look cosmetically unpleasing, but it will help to keep an eye on things.
- Monitor habits. Take note if the lump bothers your pet. Are they scratching it? Does it seem painful? Does it ooze or bleed? Is your pet eating, drinking, and acting normally?
Common Types of Masses Found On Pets
- A benign tumor is a lumpy mass and it is not a malignant tumor. Malignant tumors are cancer. Benign tumors do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts the way malignant tumors (cancer) are able. Benign tumors can be serious if they press on vital structures such as blood vessels or nerves. Therefore, sometimes they require treatment and other times they do not.
- Lipomas are the most common masses found on pets. “Fatty tumors” are almost always benign growths and are usually just under the skin. They remain relatively mobile (skin moves around them freely) unless they invade local muscle and connective tissue. Removal is at the discretion of a veterinarian.
- Histiocytomas are an abnormal growth of immune cells and can look irritated, because of their bright red color and “bubbled” surface. Surgical removal may be recommended after speaking with your veterinarian.
- Skin tags or cysts are generally benign, unless they grow large. Dangling skin tags can get caught, bleed, and cause pain, while cysts can rupture and ooze. Surgical removal may be recommended by your veterinarian.
- Malignant tumors are cancerous. They develop when cells grow uncontrollably. If the cells continue to grow and spread, the disease can become life threatening. Malignant tumors can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. It is important to note that there are different levels and types of malignant tumors, with different treatment options.
Diagnosing masses found on pets
When a suspicious lump or mass is found, several diagnostic tests may be performed, such as:
- Blood work — often the first step, blood work assesses to see if the mass has an infective component, is making your pet anemic, or is affecting organ function.
- Fine needle aspirate — Using a small needle, cells are pulled from the mass into a syringe and examined under a microscope by a pathologist.
- Biopsy — This diagnostic test requires sedation or anesthesia to remove a portion or the entire mass, which is sent to an outside laboratory for identification.
- X-ray — If your pet has an unknown mass, X-rays of the chest and occasionally the abdomen might be performed to check for metastasis (the spread of cancer cells to another part of the body).
- Ultrasound — In some situations, an ultrasound can provide more information than X-rays and give a clearer picture of the size of an internal mass and how it is affecting nearby organs.
Did you discover a lump on your pet?
You owe it to your pet and yourself to stop worrying about what it could be and meet with a professional to find out what it really is —schedule an appointment with Banning Vet to get it checked.