It’s happened! You’ve found a lump on your dog and your mind immediately thinks cancer. After all, what else could it be?
When you feel a lump on your dog, it’s not unusual to jump to the worst case scenario. And it’s true … the lump may be something serious like cancer. But more often than not lumps are benign and treatable. In fact, many go away on their own without treatment.
So let’s take a look at common causes of lumps and bumps on dogs. Then I’ll talk about what to do if you find one on your dog.
9 Common Types Of Lumps On Dogs
There are many different lumps and bumps you may find on your dog with varying locations and sizes. Some bumps like bug bites and abscesses may be easier to identify if you know what your dog has been up to. Others may need a diagnostic assist from your veterinarian.
To help you figure out your next steps, here are some of the most common lumps found on dogs and what they look like.
1. Fatty Tumors (Lipomas)
The word tumor can be scary but it’s important to remember not all tumors are cancerous (malignant). Tumors are simply the accumulation of abnormal cells.
Fatty tumors, called lipomas, are benign tumors (non-cancerous). And they’re one of the most common non-cancerous lumps on dogs. They’re often found on middle aged and older dogs, as well as dogs who are overweight. Some breeds are also predisposed to fatty tumors including: Weimaraner, Labrador Retrievers, German Pointers, Springer Spaniel and Doberman Pinscher.
Fatty tumors are soft, round and feel fatty to the touch (hence the name). They can show up anywhere but they’re usually seen on the chest, abdomen or front legs. They’re slow growing and rarely spread.
Most often, you’ll want to use natural remedies to shrink the tumor. But in some cases they may need to be removed. Later in this post I’ll talk about when removal of lumps may be necessary.
2. Reaction To Vaccination
If your dog recently got a vaccine, you may find a small, firm lump near the injection site.
That’s because vaccines stimulate an exaggerated immune response using harmful ingredients. And that can lead to many adverse reactions including …
- Lumps at the injections site
- Anaphylactic shock
- Chronic illnesses like autoimmune disease and cancer
The best way to prevent these reactions is to avoid over-vaccination. In fact, experts like veterinary immunologist Ronald D Schultz PhD, have shown that a single shot protects most dogs for many years. In some cases it’s enough for an entire lifetime. That means your dog’s annual vaccinations put him at risk AND they aren’t providing any additional protection.
You may also want to work with a holistic vet. Holistic vets focus on protecting your dog in the least invasive way possible. They’ll only prescribe conventional treatments when absolutely necessary. Otherwise they’ll look for safer alternatives that keep your dog healthy without damaging his immune system and well being.
If your dog has had a vaccination and a lump appears at the injection site, it should go away on its own. If it persists for more than 2 weeks, gets larger or becomes painful, you’ll want to speak to a holistic vet.
RELATED: Why holistic vets don’t vaccinate …
These raised skin welts that are red and itchy. They appear suddenly and can show up anywhere on your dog’s body. If they’re an allergic response, you’ll often see other symptoms, including …
- Loss of appetite
In most cases your dog’s hives will begin to resolve once the trigger gets removed. Keeping a journal of the food your dog ate and his daily activities can help pinpoint the cause.
RELATED: 7 natural remedies for allergies …
If hives started after your dog had medication or a vaccine, contact a holistic vet to find a safer, more natural approach.
4. Insect Bites
Insect bites from fleas, mosquitos, spiders and other pests can leave behind a small bump. Most bug bites will be red, swollen and itchy. Some will have a red ring around them and others may have a blister or welt similar to hives.
If you feel a bump that you think might be from a bug bite, take a closer look. You want to make sure it isn’t a tick still attached to your dog. You’ll usually find ticks between the toes, in the groin or around the ears. Ticks also like the area around the anus, tail and eyelids. If your dog has a tick, you’ll want to remove it quickly but make sure you do it the right way.
Abscesses are pus filled pockets found on the skin. They’re usually from an insect bite or puncture wound that has become infected. Abscesses are swollen, red and warm to the touch. They can feel firm or like a water balloon under the skin.
In a perfect world, your dog’s body will fight off the infection and the abscess will heal on its own. If not, the bump will continue to accumulate pus, create pressure and may rupture.
Conventional vets will most often prescribe antibiotics or drain the abscess while your dog is under sedation. Neither of these treatment options is necessary and can do more harm than good.
RELATED: 11 natural antibiotics for dogs …
Cysts are fluid or air filled pockets under your dog’s skin. Certain breeds are more likely to get cysts. This includes Welsh Terriers, Huskies, Coonhounds and English Cocker Spaniels.
The most common type of cyst in dogs are sebaceous cysts. They develop when a sebaceous gland, which produces oil, becomes blocked or damaged. These cysts resemble a pimple and are most often found on older dogs. Sebaceous cysts are non-cancerous and in most cases they’ll go away on their own. Don’t squeeze your dog’s cyst as this can lead to infection.
Sometimes a cyst can become red, swollen and sore. They may even rupture. If a sebaceous cyst ruptures, it will discharge a white pasty substance. When this happens, you will want to keep the area clean to avoid infection.
If your dog has just interacted with other dogs at a kennel, daycare or dog park then you’ll want to consider warts. Warts are also a common type of lump found on dogs and are very contagious. They’re often located around the mouth of young dogs. Warts also like the areas around the eyelids, mouth, genitals, lower legs or feet.
Warts appear suddenly but usually disappear on their own. They’re textured like the head of a cauliflower and can appear individually or in clusters.
If your dog has warts, keep him away from other pets. You don’t want them to spread.
8. Skin Tags
Skin tags are fibrous growths on the surface of your dog’s skin. They can look like a mole or wart and are usually skin colored. Sometimes they are a bit darker or lighter than the surrounding skin.
Skin tags are commonly found on the chest, legs, face, back and armpits. They can appear on any dog though larger breeds and older dogs tend to be more prone to skin tags. It’s not necessary to get a skin tag removed unless it’s bothering your dog.
RELATED: 8 herbs for common skin problems …
Skin tumors are the most common tumors in dogs. There are many types of skin cancer but the most common are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Mast cell tumors
Location and predisposition depends on the type of cancer but many forms of skin cancer are more common in older dogs.
What To Do If You Find A Lump On Your Dog
Early detection is important so you should make it a part of your weekly routine to inspect your dog for lumps and bumps. If you find a lump, don’t panic. Make a note of where it is and take a picture … this will help you track any changes.
Unless it’s something obvious like a bug bite or abscess, which should go away within a few days, you’ll want to reach out to your vet. You also want to reach out to your vet if the lump grows rapidly or changes in any way.
Depending on what your vet gathers from the initial physical exam, she may want to run more tests. This may include an impression smear or culture using discharges from the bump. She may also recommend:
These tests are non-invasive.
Your vet may also want to fine needle aspirate or biopsy the lump. You should avoid these procedures. While they help confirm a diagnosis of cancer, they can also disrupt the cancer cells and cause the cancer to spread.
Keep reading to find out what you should do if your vet thinks a lump is cancerous.
Why Surgery Isn’t The Best Option
If it’s a benign mass (non-cancerous) and isn’t affecting your pets day to day, removal is unnecessary. Surgery and anesthesia have their own set of risks that range from swelling to anaphylactic shock or death. Other complications can include organ failure, clotting problems and seizures.
Not to mention it puts unnecessary stress on your dog and his immune system. And that could lead to bigger problems down the road.
When To Remove A Lump
If your vet believes the lump is benign, then only remove it if it’s affecting your dog’s quality of life. This is common with large fatty tumors that hinder movements or bodily functions. Or cysts that are recurring and get infected regularly.
If your vet believes the lump is cancerous, have it removed. They can test the mass afterwards to confirm the diagnosis and determine next steps. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to avoid biopsies and aspirations and these can cause the cancer to spread.
At the end of the day lumps are a fact of life. Finding a lump can be scary but you shouldn’t let it stress you or your dog out. Often, they’re non-cancerous and manageable, which means your dog can continue to enjoy life as if the lump never existed.
O’Neill DG, Corah CH, Church DB, Brodbelt DC, Rutherford L. Lipoma in dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK: prevalence and breed associations. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. 2018;5:9.
Lipoma in dogs: How common are they and what breeds are affected? Veterinary Ireland Journal. 2019.