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My Dog Has a Lump—What Is It?

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Lumps on Dogs

Every day, somebody across the globe will discover a lump on their dog and ask themselves or people around them, "My dog has a lump, what can it be?" We may start wondering whether the dog was bitten by a bug or whether it's just temporary swelling that may go away.

Some owners may even ignore the lump, thinking it is just something minor, especially if it's small in size. Others may take a "wait and see" approach, which means they'll keep an eye on it and see the vet only if it gets bigger. Finally, some will see the vet the next day because they are concerned. Different people have different approaches in dealing with the appearance of a lump on their dogs, but who is ultimately right?

There is really no correct approach in these cases, as it highly depends on what the lump ultimately turns out to be. The owner who ignores it may be lucky if it turns out to just be a local reaction to a bug bite. The owner who waits may be lucky if the lump just stays the same size over the next few weeks and months. The owner who sees the vet the next day may be lucky he did so since he caught a malignant growth in its earliest stages, but things don't always turn out this way.

Learn why all lumps, regardless of appearance, should be seen by your vet. In this article, we will take a look at some answers to the common question: "My dog has a lump; what can it be?"

My Dog Has a Lump—What Could it Be?

So you found the lump on your dog, and now you are skimming through websites and the entire blogosphere trying to figure out what it could be. In this article, I will be doing you a big favor and saving you a great amount of time. The truth is that you may never find out. This may burst the bubble of many of those hoping for a straight answer and a possible Internet diagnosis courtesy of Mr. Google.

There are many reasons why you cannot know exactly what that lump is unless you saw a bug bite your dog and you are 100 percent sure that's why your dog got that temporary local irritation. But then again, if you knew, you wouldn't be searching the web, would you?

Here are some reasons why you won't ever be 100 percent sure what a lump is until you see your vet and why it's not safe making assumptions about what it is when it comes to lumps. Of course, it doesn't hurt to do some harmless research just to look at possibilities and get an idea of what to possibly expect, but you should never assume what you read or see can offer a diagnosis and can be used as a substitute for veterinary advice!

Your Vet Won't Likely Know Either!

Countless owners bring their dogs to the vet and ask their vet "my dog got this lump, do you know what it is?" They are often hopeful their vet says it's nothing and sends them home. They are then surprised when the vet shrugs their shoulders and confesses that they don't have a clue what type of lump it is exactly.

You may think, without saying it out loud: "What do you mean you don't know? You're the vet, you should know!" Please, don't take your frustration out on your vet; they are being totally honest, and you should thank them for their integrity in not making assumptions.

Veterinarian oncologist Susan Ettinger says it crystal clear.

"No one—not a vet, not an oncologist, and not you—can tell what a lump is just by feeling. Not even the most experienced veterinarian can look at or feel a mass and know if it is cancer or not."

So if your vet, who has gone to vet school for many years to get their degree and license, doesn't know what the lump is, how can somebody on the Internet tell you exactly what it is? How can you figure it out? You may wonder at this point: Why is that? Why can't your vet over the years learn to recognize what kind of lump your dog has? Read on to learn more about why lumps are so difficult to diagnose.

Found a Lump?

Keep track of your dog's lumps with this helpful body map!

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Read More From Pethelpful

Courtesy of Southern Arizona Veterinary Oncology, this is a wonderful resource for treating cancer in pets. This body map helps dog owners record their dog's lumps.

Why You Should Always Get Your Dog's Lump Checked Out

You may at times feel tempted to wait to have that lump checked out because it's small, looks innocent, and isn't growing much. Perhaps even your vet suggested you do so. This is a scary trend that pet owners should be aware of.

There have been cases where vets have told their clients to take the "wait and see" approach because the lump was as small as a pea or because the dog has had many similar lumps in the past and they all turned out to be benign. It's easy to get a sense of false reassurance just because the dog has had many lumps in the past and they all turned out benign.

However, there are countless stories of dogs who end up with cancer just because of that "wait and see" approach. What happened? In many cases, the owner wasn't too diligent in keeping an eye on the lump until they noticed it was three times the original size, or the owner may have forgotten what it looked like in the initial visit six months prior (it helps to take routine pictures and measurements of the lump to keep track).

A needle aspirate is then done and pathology report reveals the big "C," and the vet calls the owner, who is in disbelief. The surgery now is much more invasive than it would have been if this were caught earlier, and the prognosis may be guarded. If the owner waited a bit longer, the cancer could have metastasized to internal organs, which could have been a death sentence. Not a nice ending to a story that could have had a totally different outcome!

The bottom line? Play it safe, and have your vet check the lump. Chances are high that most vets will recommend a fine needle aspiration. If your vet tells you to remove the lump surgically without doing a fine needle aspirate first, consider that the surgery can be a shot in the dark—meaning risky business.

Always have lumps removed once you know exactly what you are dealing with! "Why?," you may wonder, "Isn't it good to remove the lump once and for all?" The thing is, depending on what the lump is, the surgeon will need to take a conservative or a more aggressive approach. For instance, in the case of a mast-cell tumor, the skin will need to be excised with a very wide margin, whereas with a benign growth that bothers your dog, a small cut may do. Veterinarian Karen Becker suggests always getting a confirming diagnosis so the surgery can be carried out accordingly based on the type of tumor.

A last piece of advice? If it turns out your dog has cancer and you can afford to treat it, your best bet is to have a specialist deal with the surgery. This way your dog will be in the best hands possible, and you will up the chances for clean margins and potential one-time surgery.

Further Reading

  • Understanding Sebaceous Cysts in Dogs
    What are sebaceous cysts in dogs, and how do they occur? How are they treated? Learn why it's important to see your vet if you notice any unusual lumps and bumps.
  • Causes of Lumps on Dog Paw Pads
    Wondering what may cause unusual lumps and bumps on a dog's paw pad? Learn possible causes for why your dog has a lump on their paw pad, and why it's so important to see the vet.
  • Causes of Lumps and Masses in the Mouth in Dogs
    What causes unusual growths in your dog's mouth? There are several causes for growths, lumps, and masses in a dog's mouth, and all of them should be investigated by your vet.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 27, 2015:

Hello MarieLB, thanks for the update. I don't remember if last time when we talked I had my female's lumps or my male's checked. I'll post both: my female ended up having 2 lipomas and a follicular cyst. Was told to monitor them. My male turned out having a benign melanoma on his leg, we removed it as it was bothering him. Luckily everything was benign:) Oh, and about the fur color changes you are seeing, they are not unusual after surgery. We often had people reporting them to us. If I recall well, it's something that has to do with the hair follicles, producing a different texture/color from the skin being injured during surgery.

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on September 18, 2015:

Hi Adrienne, My apologies for neglecting it seems [I thought I had done this] to let you know the results on Goldie. The vet suggested that we have all four lumps removed, which he did. The large one -abt 3cm diameter- left quite a gash, but the others were smaller gashes and healed quickly. The lumps were not cancerous. The vet mentioned sebaceous glands. . . One curious fact is that where the wounds were, Goldie has developed mid-brown fur. She had been a light blonde with touches of gold in some areas, now she has tufts of brown! She has recovered well. I have noted a small nodule, and I am keeping tabs on it.

How about your dog, Adrienne. You were concerned about a lump and were looking to get a second opinion. Hope it all turned out well.

Thank you for a great article. You keep reminding us that you are not authorized to give advice, but through our experiences with your writings, many of us put much store in what you say and how you say it. It is very helpful indeed.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 17, 2015:

I am not a vet so cannot diagnose anything or provide treatment advice. All I can say is that back when I worked for the vets, every now and then, there were dogs who developed abscesses that required repeated treatments. This was happening when bacteria were still trapped under the skin, there was a foreign item stuck under the skin that got left behind, the antibiotics didn't cover the right strains of bacteria or the bacteria was somewhat resistant. Perhaps a culture and sensitivity test may be helpful if that wasn't done yet, to determine what you may dealing with, so perhaps ask your vet if he/she believes that's something worth trying at some point? Sounds like he/she is taking a wait and see approach for now to determine if the lump goes down with the compresses. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, keep me posted if you wish!

Mish on September 17, 2015:

My 4yr old Yorkie ("Abby") had a 'puncture' wound similar in size for that of a pencil eraser and it was painful, very painful. Our Vet placed her under anesthesia to clean the wound and check for possible debris. We have no idea what caused this wound, but gave Abby 2 wks of antibiotics, along with 'doggy Tylenol' and warm compress treatments.

The wound healed beautifully...but...NOW Abby has a rather large (1 inch+) lump to the left of the original puncture wound. Returned to Vet and advised to continue warm compress treatment. One week later: the lump has grown and is warm to touch, which usually means an infection. Something isn't adding up... This lump did not exist until *after* the puncture wound healed, along with 2 wks of oral antibiotics.

I very much appreciate the "canine lump documentation" download, as I will use this now and any future issues that might arise.

Any personal feedback, suggestions, thoughts, etc are welcomed with gratitude by a worried "Yorkie-Mom" ~thanks!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 20, 2014:

MarieLB, let me know as well what your vet's finding are, fingers crossed they're nothing major!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 20, 2014:

Thank you for this very useful hub and for sharing the excellent advice. My dogs have had lumps over the years. They were all benign except for one, which was luckily removed in time. I always take my dogs to the vet when a lump appears, as you recommend.

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on November 20, 2014:

I am due to go in a few days. Last 2 years she only had one that I was aware of and each year I ask the vet and they both said "Don't Worry". But now she seems to have other, smaller ones and I am worried. I had to wait until I knew I could pay for any lab tests, which I know are very pricey here. Your chart is going to be very helpful in this matter, thanks.

I do hope your dog has nothing alarming. Let us know the results pls.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 20, 2014:

Good luck on the lump Marielb! My dog is seeing the vet for a lump tomorrow. I needed a second opinion.

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on November 20, 2014:

Hi Alexadry, I just cannot tell you how useful your article is to me. It is just what I needed and have printed your "lump map" ready to take to the vet next week. Thanks for the great work.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on November 20, 2014:

My dog venom hd a lump like the one in your first pic, he has had it for many years, never took him to the vet. Just watched it while to see if it would go down or break out, it never did, the lump just sits there and he is still a happy and hungry dog

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 20, 2014:

You are so right, we need to be the voice for our pets and take action when we notice something out of the norm. Lumps in dogs are nothing to take lightly.

Mary Craig from New York on November 20, 2014:

Another excellent hub with excellent information. Like babies, dogs can't tell us how they feel so the best way to be sure about something you are unsure of is to head to the vet. I'm always worried there is pain involved so I want to be sure.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 19, 2014:

They seem to increase as the dogs age. My dogs never seemed to have any until they officially turned senior. At age 7, already found 2 in my female and one in my male:( I always tend to over worry when I find one.

nanderson500 from Seattle, WA on November 19, 2014:

I have a chihuahua mix. Luckily he hasn't had very many issues with lumps yet. Great information here! Voted up and interesting.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 19, 2014:

So far, every single lump or bump my dogs have had they were aspirated by the vets. And I am happy it's been this way, as I can't relax until I know exactly what they are. The only one not aspirated is a pin-point growth on a paw, but as you, I let the vet look at it every time we see the vet. I feel for you as schnauzers are prone to all sorts of lumps and bumps! Thanks for the votes up!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on November 19, 2014:

My Miniature Schnauzer, Baby, has had a small lump on her side for over a year. I have the Vet look at it every we go for other reasons. He just shrugs and says it's probably a harmless cyst, and not to worry.

She did have a new lump on her left shoulder several weeks ago, and within hours after I noticed it the lump has burst open and bleeding. Turned out she had what the Vet thought was a spider bite! I was bitten by a spider shortly before this, and her bite looked just like mine did. I wrote a Hub about that ordeal!

Voted this Hub UP, etc. and shared.

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