As a pet parent, you love touching and pampering your fur baby, even while sitting down and watching your favorite show. You run your fingers against its fur, but suddenly, you come across something that was not there before. You feel something bulging against your hand—a lump on your dog! Suddenly, you become worried because this was something you’ve never had to deal with before. The first frightening thought that comes to your mind: Is it cancer? My advice is not to fret immediately. Pet owners tend to over think things and always expect the worst possible scenario.
Although most lumps are actually fatty tumors and are considered benign or non-cancerous, it is still difficult to tell whether it may be malignant or cancerous because most bumps and lumps on dogs may look similar. Unless you are aware where the bump came from, such as an injury or recent rough play, it is highly recommended that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian the moment you observe such physical changes.
Moreover, if you see something coming out or oozing from the lump, such as pus or blood, the appointment should be set as soon as possible. If your veterinarian is available on call, then you could try to schedule an immediate emergency visit.
Kinds of lumps and bumps on dogs’ skin
There are different kinds of lumps and bumps that you may encounter with your dog in its lifetime. Several predisposing factors determine what the lump might be.
- Fatty tumors. Middle-aged or older dogs are the most prone to develop fatty tumors, particularly in the midsection, although such tumors can also be found in other parts of the body. It is one of the signs of aging. No breed is exempted from developing fatty tumors. However, larger breeds or dogs that are overweight are more likely to develop them. Fatty tumors are generally harmless lumps that will not require intervention unless they cause pain or discomfort. These are also called «lipoma» and you can learn about them in this article on fatty tumors on dogs.
- Sebaceous cyst. A sebaceous cyst occurs when an oil gland is blocked. It yields a white paste-like substance when it bursts. Cocker Spaniels are the most prone to develop this kind of cyst.
- Warts. Warts are usually caused by a virus. These growths can form around the mouths of puppies and young adults. Warts are considered to be a self-limiting type of lump and are likely to go away on their own. However, adult and aging dogs might need surgical intervention for wart removal.
- Abscess. An abscess is a buildup of pus found under the dog’s skin. Such buildup might be attributed to an insect bite or even to localized or generalized infection.
Cancerous growths can be either malignant or benign and may occasionally even share the characteristics of both. Malignant lumps tend to spread rapidly and can metastasize to other areas of the body. Benign growths tend to stay in the place of origin and generally do not metastasize. However, these lumps can grow to huge proportions. Below is a list of the most common malignant types of tumors in dogs.
- Hemangiosarcoma. Hemangiosarcomas are malignant tumors of the skin that arise from endothelial cells. Endothelial cells comprise a layer of cells and are collectively referred to as the endothelium, which lines the inner surface of blood vessels, such as arteries, veins, and intestines. To learn more about this debilitating condition, please read more in hemangiosarcoma in dogs.
- Canine Fibrosarcoma. Fibrosarcomas are malignant, slow-growing tumors commonly found in the connective tissue of the skin and under the skin surface. Such tumors can be successfully removed by a veterinarian. Unfortunately, recurrence is quite common after surgery. Although it rarely occurs, fibrosarcomas can spread to other parts of the body.
- Mammary gland tumors. While approximately half of all mammary tumors in dogs are benign, the other half of such tumors are malignant. It is highly recommended that mammary tumors be identified through a biopsy to develop the medical management approach for the specific type of cancer. If you’d like to learn more, check out this great article we have on breast cancer in dogs.
- Mast cell tumor. Mast cell tumors are considered to be the most common kind of skin cancer in dogs. Although any breed can develop such tumors, studies show that this type of tumor is most often found in Boston Terriers, Labradors, Boxers, Schnauzers, and Beagles.
During your dog’s appointment, your veterinarian will likely ask the following questions:
- When was the first time you have observed the lump on the dog?
- If it is a previously existing lump, did it change in appearance, size, or color?
- Were there any behavioral changes, such as loss of appetite or fatigue, after the appearance of the lump?
Oftentimes, your veterinarian will conduct a quick specimen retrieval by taking a sample from the lump with the use of a fine needle. The specimen will be checked under a microscope to determine whether it is a fatty tumor. If it is, then more conservative options will have to be implemented, especially if the tumor does not affect the dog at all.
Even if the results come out as benign, you should record the current position of the observed lump or bump, and always conduct routine inspection every now and then. Be sure to put the results on record. The sooner a new lump or bump is observed, the greater the chances of healing and prompt intervention.
However, if the lump or bump is quite difficult to identify, the veterinarian will take a tissue sample to be sent out for analysis. Results will be available after a day or two, and they will reveal whether the lump is malignant or benign. If it is malignant, surgery may be required to remove the lump. The dog will also undergo further tests to verify whether the cancer has already spread to other organs. If this is the case, chemotherapy or radiation are some of the available treatment options.
Several lumps can be evaluated through a needle biopsy rather than a total excision. Needle biopsies are performed by inserting a sterile needle into the lump, pulling the plunger back, and «extracting» cells from the lump.
The collected cells are then smeared onto a glass slide for further pathological examination. Needle biopsies are generally painless, and the procedure can usually be completed without agitating the patient. This is one of the advantages of this procedure. However, total excision of the mass might be attempted if the class of the identified tumor requires surgery.
There are ulcerated masses that can be easily collected and identified by using a glass microscope slide. The collected specimen is dried and forwarded to a pathologist for staining, evaluation, and diagnosis. The attending veterinarian can sometimes make a diagnosis via the smear. However, a veterinary pathology specialist is still the one with the authority to determine tumor type and malignancy staging.
Radiographic evaluation is generally used to collect evidence of internal masses, much like a CT scan. Most tumors, like lipomas, are superficial and are found under the skin or muscles. Lumps can be palpated by your veterinarian through manual physical examination. Internal lumps, however, may require further imaging for identification of the mass and its origin or extent. Such information can be revealed best by a CT scan.
Lumps and other superficial bumps do not require CT Scans to be identified. However, if potential spreading to other internal organs is suspected, this procedure has to be conducted. A CT scan is extremely helpful in determining the extent of metastasis, especially if the patient has multiple superficial lumps in the patient.
Cancer in dogs: support as a pet parent
If the tests come out positive, the results will have a mutual impact on both the dog and the pet parent. The patient will need emotional and physical support that only the pet parent can provide. The pet parent, however, will need emotional support from family members and other pet parents. It is an instance in which the emotion invested on the pet may cause depression and the disruption of daily activities.
Cancer is a very powerful word. It can bring fear and dread to any conversation. It is a sensitive topic that is not widely discussed among us, humans, and the case is no different when we discuss cancer in pets. No pet parent will be prepared for hearing this diagnosis from the veterinarian.
This is one of the biggest emotional challenges when you have a pet. However, this situation might occur for any pet parent, regardless of what level of dog expertise he or she has. This is also one of the most difficult situations for veterinarians because it is their responsibility to disclose the results. It is important to identify what to anticipate so that you can somehow be prepared.
It can also help you manage the anxiety and tension that you are likely to experience as you go through this situation:
- Openly discuss your concerns and fears with your veterinarian. The only professional who can completely understand the situation and the prognosis of your dog is your veterinarian. He or she is the only person who can give you realistic expectations about your dog’s health. Treatment options, fears, expectations, and other things can be talked about. Your veterinarian is the first level of support that you can have. The discussion can also reveal expectations about the cost needed to perform additional procedures.
- Do not make hasty decisions. The situation is tough, but allowing it to sink will enable you as a pet parent to make a sound decision regarding treatment and further medical intervention. Making hasty decisions due to clouded judgment may lead to regrettable actions in the future. Tell your veterinarian whether you will need more time to decide, especially if the situation calls for a drastic or radical procedure for your pet.
Join support groups for people who are going through similar situations. There are many support groups that can provide support for your emotional needs. Support groups vary, and they may be breed or illness specific. The members of these support groups can share experiences that you can relate to and help you cope with your current situation regardless of what stage of malignancy your dog is going through.
Always remember that support groups do not always dwell on the sad stuff. There are still inspiring stories about surviving the battle and how these survivors live a healthy life now.
Family members are always there, even your neighbors. Cancer in dogs is quite a painful experience, especially when you consider your dog as your family member and you tend to live alone. If you are living alone, you can reach out to family members who have the same level of pet understanding as you do. You can discuss what you are feeling about the situation.
Always remember that you may seek support from close friends, loved ones, and even spiritual counselors to help you realize, share, and express the deeper, harder feelings you are currently going through, such as guilt, hopelessness, despair, and fear.
- Do not forget your other babies. Because pet parents have a high tendency to focus their energy and attention on their sick pet, other pets may be left wanting for attention. Please do not forget your other fur babies even if one of your pets is going through a difficult time. Your other dogs and pets will need your time and attention as well, and if you don’t allot enough time to feed them and cater to their needs, you might end up with more sick pets.
Prevention is better than cure. This is also applicable to pets. You should be vigilant about observing any physical changes or lumps that appear your pet’s body. Remember, the success in curing an illness—be it a disease, a lump, or a bump—completely depends on your initiative.
Your fur baby cannot complain or speak about its concerns, so you should be able to notice such changes at the soonest possible time. That way, you ensure its physical well-being by providing prompt treatment. You are also guarding your emotional well-being as a pet parent because you are saving yourself from the anxiety and stress a pet illnesses can bring.
Like humans, dogs are prone to physical changes and illnesses. This is something that is part of the living process. The best thing you can do is to be healthy as a pet parent, and keep your fur baby healthy too. This way, illness becomes less likely to occur, and even if it does, proper intervention can be done through early detection and prompt medical attention.