Lumps & Bumps in Dogs: When Should I Be Concerned?

Canine lumps and bumps

Finding a new lump in a dog can often lead the owner to spiral out of control. Some lumps are benign and to be expected as the dog proceeds into old age. But other lumps are cancerous and, in this case, it’s only right to be concerned. How do you know when you should be concerned about your dog’s lumps and bumps?

Well, the bottom line is that all lumps and bumps deserve our attention because it’s always good to stay on top of your dog’s health. Therefore, this article comprehensively discusses lumps and bumps, so that you can feel a bit more at ease and capable of dealing with these nasty growths.

What to Do When You Find a Lump:

One of the most important factors to know is the cause of the lump. Some of the causes can give you a good idea of whether you should be concerned and the treatment will depend on the specific cause. So, let’s look at some of the common causes of lumps and bumps in dogs:

Excess Fat

In overweight and older dogs, fat deposits under the skin sometimes form lumps and bumps. These lumps are benign though they may be removed if they interfere with the dog’s movements.

A preventative measure you can take to avoid your lumps and bumps from excess weight is to provide a balanced diet

Canine Abscess

Abscesses present as firm or fluid-filled lumps that have variable shapes and sizes. Pus accumulates in these lumps. The cause may be an infection but other factors such as injuries are also common with abscesses. If it is an infection, then the dog will also show other symptoms such as fever and a loss of appetite.

Acral Lick Dermatitis

Sometimes, dogs will develop an obsessive habit of licking themselves to such a point that they cause trauma or lesions on the skin. This is often brought on by stress, anxiety, or boredom. The lesions that result tend to red, well-rounded, and raised bumps. Controlling the underlying issues such as anxiety or stress is often the solution. Fitting an Elizabethan collar on the dog also helps to manage the obsessive behavior.

Cancer in Dogs

front leg splint for dog

Several forms of canine cancer present with lumps as symptoms. This includes lymphoma, mammary cancer, mast cell tumor, and melanoma. Lymphoma presents as an itching, red, and ulcerous lymph. Mammary cancer is common in unsprayed females and about 50% tends to be benign. Mast cell tumor appears in various sizes, amounts, and appearances, and it is usually graded from stage 1 to stage 4, depending on its severity. Lastly, melanoma appears as a single, dark-colored bump that usually ulcerates (appearing like an open sore).

Whatever form of cancer may be underlying the lump, a biopsy and/or other medical examinations are very important. Quick and easy cancer detection tips such as whether a cancerous lump tends to be hard or soft will not cut it – mast cell tumor, for instance, comes in varying appearances (hard or soft, big or small). So, it’s good to consult your vet as soon as you find the lump.

What You Need to Know about Your Dog’s Lumps and Bumps

It’s not always easy to pin down the exact cause of the lumps on your dog. Therefore, it’s better to consult your vet for a proper check-up and examination of the lump(s). Some of the things your vet will want to know are;

  1. Whether the lump suddenly appeared or if it developed gradually over time.
  2. Whether the size, shape, or color of the lump has changed over time.
  3. Whether there are other symptoms you have noted for your dog, such as a loss of appetite.
  4. Medical history of your dog, especially if he or she has experienced lumps and bumps in the past.

Tip: While looking forward to the above questions in your vet visit, it can be helpful to provide a picture of the lump or bump when it first appeared, along with a ruler or some other manner of measurement (someplace a quarter beside the lump or bump). It’s also good to show the location of the lump in those images. Progressive ‘evidence’ of this kind can inform the vet more than anecdotal accounts.

The Most Common Types of Lumps and Bumps in Dogs

Some of these lumps may seem familiar, especially after going over the causes of lumps above;

Lipomas

These are also known as fatty lumps; they appear as soft, rounded masses just under the skin and they are not painful.

They are the most common type of lumps you’ll encounter and are more prevalent in elderly and overweight dogs. Most lipomas are harmless or benign but some may be removed if they are irritating for the dog.

Mast Cell Tumor

This is another common type of lump in dogs. Breeds such as Boxers, Boston terriers, Labradors, schnauzers, and beagles are more prone to developing mast cell tumors. Mast cell tumor is a form of skin cancer and can become malignant if not checked. As mentioned above, mast cell tumors come in varying shapes, sizes, and appearances.

Sebaceous Cyst

These are usually non-cancerous, harmless bumps on the skin caused by plugged oil glands, dead cells, or sweat. Eventually, these bumps will rapture and the skin heals properly. If the sebaceous cyst becomes severely irritated or infected, though, it may require removal. In these cases, a pathologist may examine the cyst to ensure that it was not something more serious.

Sebaceous cysts are more common with breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, schnauzers, Yorkies, and poodles, but any dog can develop sebaceous cysts.

Warts

Warts appear as small skin tags or as a series of small lumps on the head and face. They are more common in elderly dogs, puppies, or in dogs that have a compromised immune system. Warts are caused by canine papillomavirus and may be transmitted from one dog to another through social contact. The good news is that warts are benign and they usually go away after a short while. However, they may irritate your dog a great deal and, in that case, it may be good to look into removing warts.

Melanoma

This is another form of skin cancer that we touched on above in the causes of lumps discussion. Certain cases of melanoma are benign especially if their cause is not associated with harm from sun rays – these can be treated through surgery. Severe forms of melanoma may metastasize into the mouth, legs, and other organs of the body. Therefore, it’s important to consult your vet as soon as you notice an ulcerated lump or a dark-colored lump on your dog.

Hive

These lumps appear as red, round umps, or a series of round or oval, raised bumps on his or her skin. Hives itch a lot. The cause of a hive could be an allergen such as a harmful substance from a plant that your dog made contact with, a bee sting, or some other allergen. Hives usually go away on their own but due to the itching discomfort your dog may feel, a vet may provide an antihistamine to hasten that healing.

When You Should Be Concerned

Lumps that appear in these ways deserve to be handled as soon as possible:

wheelchair dog plays fetch
  1. Lumps that grow at a rapid pace over a month or a few weeks.
  2. Lumps that are painful when touched or when a part of the dog body makes contact with the lump, for instance in an armpit when moving about.
  3. Lumps that ooze a discharge or a lump that discolors the skin in that region. In this case, it is likely an infection is the underlying problem and it needs to be addressed immediately.
  4. Lumps and bumps that grow and then shrink again. Mast cell tumor has bumps that appear in this fashion because of the repeated discharge of histamine (that substance that causes swelling in allergies). Scratching or poking these bumps may cause even more histamine to be released. So, it’s best to address it quickly before they can grow large due to the dog scratching or poking the bumps.
  5. Bumps or lumps that grow in size in a matter of minutes. This is often a sign of an allergic reaction and immediate treatment is recommended.

Final Thoughts

Noticing a new lump on your dog’s skin can be a scary thing. But it doesn’t have to be this big anxiety-inducing experience if you have all the information about lumps in dogs.

One of the best snippets of wisdom you’ll get as a dog owner is that you should regularly monitor your dog’s body. Often, dogs can develop health issues and not give a whiff to notify you until the problem has progressed too much. Therefore, it’s wise to keep yourself apprised of what is normal in your dog’s body and what is abnormal. Run your fingers over his or her coat to check for lumps and bumps. This regular exam will also come in handy when the Vet asks such questions as whether the lump appeared suddenly. 

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