You’re on the couch, cozied up with your canine buddy, and you feel a bump. You try to remember when you last nuzzled this exact little spot. And before you know it, your mind is racing with questions. Is this lump new? What is it?
Quickly, this leads you to the ultimate concern: Could it be cancer? Without a vet’s expertise or test results, it's easy for our minds to get carried away and think the worst.
It’s normal for puppies and dogs to chew on objects as they explore the world. Chewing accomplishes a number of things for a dog. For young dogs, it’s a way to relieve pain that might be caused by incoming teeth. For older dogs, it’s nature’s way of keeping jaws strong and teeth clean. Chewing also combats boredom and can relieve mild anxiety or frustration.
Most lumps are fatty tumors, though. These are benign, meaning not cancerous. Fewer than half of lumps and bumps you find on a dog are malignant, or cancerous. Still, they can look the same from the outside, so it’s hard to tell.
Unless you’re sure about the cause of a lump or bump, bring your dog in for an exam. If you see fast growth, redness, swelling, pus, an opening, or if the dog is in pain, make that appointment even sooner.
The same goes for lumps that are in certain areas, like the face or paws, where surgery -- if needed -- is more complicated, the bigger the growth.
Your vet will want to know:
If the lump appeared suddenly
Whether its shape, color, or size has changed
Whether your dog’s behavior, such as his appetite or energy level, is different.
Often, the vet will remove some cells from the lump with a fine needle. She'll then look at them under the microscope. Sometimes she can tell right away if it’s a fatty tumor.
If it’s too hard to tell, your vet will take a small tissue sample from the lump and send it out for a biopsy. In a few days, you'll find out if it's cancerous. If so, surgery can usually remove the lump.
The bigger concern is if the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. If so, your pet may need radiation or chemotherapy, or both.
Types of Lumps and Bumps
These are common in dogs:
Fatty tumors happen most often in middle-aged or older dogs, especially around the ribs, although they can show up anywhere. They're considered a natural part of aging. Any breed can have them, but larger dogs and those who are overweight are more prone to them. Usually, no treatment is needed, unless they give the dog pain or cause trouble with moving around.
A sebaceous cyst is a blocked oil gland that looks like a pimple. When it bursts, a white, pasty substance comes out.
Warts are caused by a virus and can be found around the mouths of young dogs. They'll go away by themselves. Older dogs might need surgery to remove them.
An abscess is a buildup of pus under the skin. It can be caused by an insect bite or an infection.
A mast cell tumor is the most common skin cancer in dogs. They’re most often found in boxers, Boston terriers, Labradors, beagles, and schnauzers.