Lipoma in Dogs: All About Benign Fatty Skin Tumors That Look Scary

Dog with lipoma
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

You are grooming your dog one day and you noticed a lump that wasn’t there before. What could it be? Before you panic and make an emergency visit to your vet, relax for a bit because the bump might just be a condition that is incredibly common – lipoma in dogs.

In this guide, all pertinent questions about the condition will be answered to facilitate better understanding and handling of the situation.

So what is lipoma?

Quite common especially in older canines, it is a condition that involves the growth of subcutaneous masses filled with fat. In simpler terms, it is the formation of fatty lumps or bumps beneath a dog’s skin. They have limited mobility so you might see a lump at one area of your pet’s body one moment but when you inspect again,  the lump seems to have moved several inches from where you saw it last.

Dog with big lipoma

These bumps are basically non-cancerous tumors although vets will mostly call them ‘growths’ or ‘masses’ as a lot of people start panicking upon hearing the word tumor. Overall, they are not a health risk (unless there is a complication, see below). Despite that they are common, it is still advisable to have each lump that appears checked by your vet to ensure that the condition is indeed benign lipoma and not something malignant.

What causes them?

To this day, the precise cause of these masses remains undetermined. One of the simplest possible explanations is that they are fatty cells that grew more than they should. For example, if your dog likes to run, some parts of his skin might be torn from the exertion. During the healing process, cells will grow in the area more than normal, become lipocytes and a mass appears. Another school of thought points to too much carbohydrates intake as a main contributor. This might also be the reason why the condition is very common in obese canines.

In the video below, Dr. Karen Becker touched on lipomas and discussed that many holistic veterinarians subscribe to the idea that the vitality of the dog and how well he is able to metabolize fat are correlated to the quantity and size of the bumps that dog gets. Just like humans who obtain belly layers or love handles when gaining weight, when a dog starts to put on the pounds, fats are concentrated in some areas leading to the growth of lumps.

Other vets point to genetics as the cause of these fatty cysts, but more studies need to be conducted in this area, especially because the lumps can appear on any dog – male, female, young, old, thin or obese.

Which dogs are predisposed to the condition?

There is no definite age, sex or breed predisposition as any dog can have these fatty lumps and bumps. Middle aged to older dogs commonly get lipoma however. Also, if your pet is female and she is overweight, there is a higher chance of her getting these lumps. There are also certain dog breeds that acquire these bumps more often than others such as Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Doberman Pinschers and other mixed breeds.

The lumps appear anywhere on a dog’s body but are commonly found on the belly area and upper legs as well. Once a dog gets lipoma, more lumps tend to develop soon thereafter.

Are there any complications?

In most cases, lipoma is benign and there is nothing immediately serious to worry about. However, the growth do become locally invasive or infiltrative sometimes, which means lumps can form and mesh with muscles or connective tissues making the situation more complicated and dangerous. When this happens, it is recommended to have the lipoma removed as soon as possible.

Pre lipoma removal

In rare instances, subcutaneous (beneath the skin) masses can become malignant. When this happens, the condition now becomes Liposarcoma, a tumor that can metastasize or spread to important organs such as the lungs, and even reach the bones. This is a serious medical condition and that is why any mass that forms should not be dismissed right away as a harmless bump. A consultation with your trusted veterinarian is still advised.

How to identify lipoma in dogs?

There are several characteristics that can help identify the condition. These include:

  • The masses are growing just beneath the skin.
  • They are round or oval in shape.
  • They often appear on or near the general belly area; they can also grow on the upper legs (the growths are not limited to these areas however).
  • They are firm to the touch.
  • They are moveable, although movement is limited in scope

They are not however related to infections or hair loss. Most often, vets would conduct a few tests to make sure and then advice pet owners to just observe the condition for a period of time. If the masses grow at an alarming rate or if they start impeding movement, this is the time that doctors might require more tests as the lumps may be something else entirely or are malignant.

How do veterinarians diagnose lipoma?

If a lump suddenly appears on your dog’s body, it is highly advisable to see your veterinarian about it. Be prepared with your dog’s health history as well because you will certainly be asked about that. Afterwards, any or all of the following tests may be conducted on your pet:

Palpation – this simply means that the vet will examine the mass using his hands or fingers. If he thinks it is lipoma, then normal procedure would be to record how big the growth is as well as where it is located. Often, the recommendation would be for you to watch over your pet and see if there are any sudden changes to the mass, such as rapid growth.

If the lump is on or near the dog’s legs, you will also be tasked to monitor any difficulty in walking or moving. If these complications do arise, inform your vet immediately.

Dog with fatty lump

Fine needle aspirate – this involves injecting a hollow needle into the mass and then applying suction in order to obtain a sample of the growth, which would then be examined via a microscope to confirm the condition.

Biopsy – another method of obtaining a sample of the bump. This process however is done by surgically removing a small amount of the tumor for further examination.

Microscopic evaluation – the small sample that your vet has procured will then be sent to the lab for closer inspection, basically to determine if you are dealing with a benign or malignant tumor.

By conducting these tests, your veterinarian can come up with a more accurate diagnosis and, of course, a more effective treatment plan. Some people do wonder if going through a fine needle aspirate can turn the cells into malignant ones or spread them faster if they are already malignant. No substantial medical evidence supports these worries.

What are the possible treatments?

For the most part, veterinarians will recommend leaving the lumps alone, that is unless rapid growth is observed or they impede movement, in which case surgical removal might be required. If no immediate medical procedure is needed, it is still important to monitor the growth. Although they don’t pose serious health risks most of the time, lipomas can still grow large enough that your pooch might find them uncomfortable and bite or scratch the lumps. When that happens, injuries or infections might occur so talk to your vet about further actions you can take.

Stitches after surgery for a lipoma on a dog

Some pet owners are really not okay with seeing lumps on their dogs’ body though. If the mass is small enough, doing a fine needle aspirate may be enough to remove it. Again, discuss with your vet if this is an option.

Why surgery should not be done right away?

Vets often advise against surgically removing lipomas due to the possible complications with anesthesia. It doesn’t make sense to risk the health of your dog by letting him undergo surgery for a benign tumor that poses no health risks. Additionally, it can be expensive to opt for surgery even with pet insurance. This is because before the operation, a battery of tests needs to be conducted to ensure that your dog is healthy and that there won’t be major complications later on.

As a whole, choosing surgery simply for cosmetic reasons is ill-advised. Of course, this does not mean that dog owners should routinely dismiss bumps and lumps as harmless. A thorough discussion with your vet is still necessary.

It must be noted as well that the lumps appearing on your pet’s body might be related to back or muscle injury. There might be an energy flow issue or a spinal injury as well. In these cases, surgery isn’t what your dog needs but a reliable and experienced animal chiropractor or a physiotherapist who can treat the underlying problems through intramuscular stimulation.

What happens when surgery is needed?

Lipomas can grow between the legs or beneath the armpits. They can also develop near the eyes or even on the eyelids. In these cases, the lumps are bound to cause major discomfort or mobility impairment.

Pre surgery preparation

These are the times when veterinarians would recommend surgical removal. As mentioned, several pre-surgical tests will be conducted prior to the operation to minimize possible complications. The tests are necessary to determine your dog’s health and ability to handle the strain of the anesthesia and the surgical procedure. These can include any or all of the following:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) – to see if there aren’t any blood-related illnesses that are causing the lumps or that might complicate the surgery.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – to check the heart rhythm and see if there are abnormalities present, which could mean an underlying heart illness. When indeed there is a problem with the heart, then surgery will be very risky and might not even be possible.
  • Antibody tests – to rule out tick-related diseases or other infectious conditions.
  • Chemistry tests – needed to evaluate if important organs such as the liver and kidney are functioning properly and if there aren’t any pancreatic complications. Sugar levels will be checked as well.
  • Urine tests – these are required to ensure that your dog is free from any urinary tract infection and to see how well the kidney is able to concentrate urine.
  • Electrolyte tests – will be conducted to see if your dog isn’t suffering from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, which increases the risk of surgery.
  • Thyroid test – to check if the thyroid gland is producing enough thyroid hormone. Note that any hormonal imbalance in the dog’s body can lead to surgical complications as well just like any abnormalities detected by using the other tests on this list.

In case of invasive or infiltrative lipomas, where the growths have meshed with muscles or tissues, successful surgical removal is more difficult to achieve. Not only that, but the lumps tend to re-grow after they have been removed. As such, vets need to exercise more caution before proceeding with any operation.

What can dog owners do to prevent these fatty bumps from appearing?

Since the factors causing lipoma in dogs are for the most part still undetermined, there are no definitive preventive measures.

This is not to say that there is absolutely nothing you can do. Since these lumps and bumps are made up of fats, it is a good idea to keep your dog from getting overweight. To accomplish this, watch his diet. Feed him with healthy foods, ideally those that are rich in fiber and with minimal carbohydrates. Experts also recommend the use of digestive enzyme supplements to aid in the digestion and inhibit the formation of fatty deposits.

The idea here is to keep your dog from getting fat. Not only is this a useful cautionary measure against lipoma, this will also help your pooch avoid a host of other weight-related illnesses.

Check your dog shape

It is also advisable to schedule regular checkup with your vet because fatty cysts may not always be lipoma. Hormonal imbalances can be an underlying cause and these are a far more serious medical condition you need to watch out for. The symptoms that signal hormonal imbalance include oily skin, insomnia, agitation, increased thirst and urination, and appearance of acne in the face area.

Aside from all these, aiming to maintain your dog’s overall health is a great idea any day. Make him exercise regularly although be careful not to overtire your pet as dehydration might become a recurring problem and lead to complications. Also, as mentioned above, too much exertion can lead to tears and injuries on your dog’s body where new cells might grow more than necessary resulting in the formation of lipocytes.

Take advantage of whole food anti-oxidants and minerals as well. These are excellent in keeping your dog’s immune system functioning properly. When using supplements and vitamins, go for natural options. Do your best to stay away from synthetic supplements as they might just lead to more harm than good since they can create imbalances in the body.

Are there any holistic approaches to fatty tumors?

Definitely yes! Holistic veterinarians believe that one way to get rid of those benign bumps is to tackle the stagnation of fats and the build-up of toxins in the body. They strongly advise to improve your dog’s diet right away when lumps appear.

More important, toxic materials should be eliminated promptly and there should be increased blood flow in the body as well. To achieve all of that, they recommend:

  • Letting your dog take Omega 3 fatty acids which are great for the heart, kidney and liver. With these organs functioning well, there will be improved fat metabolism and your pooch’s body will become better at eliminating toxins.
  • Look into the benefits of Cell Tech Super E12 Enzyme supplement.
  • Consider letting your pet take Red Yeast Rice, a supplement that slows down the buildup of fat cells.
  • Improve blood circulation and flow through any of these methods: chiropractic care, massage and acupuncture.
  • Benefit from heart supplements such as CoQ 10 and antioxidants.

What is the ideal diet for dogs with fatty lumps on their bodies?

A healthy diet will always be helpful. For dogs with lipoma, eating the following is beneficial:

  • Fresh, whole foods (fish, pureed vegetables)
  • Food that is not made of flour. Best to avoid corn meal and rice meal as well. These contain simple carbohydrates that easily become fat in the body.
  • Premium kibble that does not contain harmful preservatives and other chemicals, and have fish or meat as the primary ingredient.
  • Food that don’t contain artificial coloring and other toxic synthetic materials that your dog’s body cannot metabolize.

In conclusion

All in all, have every lump that develops on your pet’s body checked by a trusted veterinarian.

Vet checking dog

If it is lipoma, do not panic because most of the time they are not a health risk. Surgical removal is the recommended treatment only if the masses are impeding mobility, are growing rapidly or are severely deteriorating your pet’s quality of life. A thorough discussion with your vet is required before committing to any operation.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.

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