Skin Lumps and Bumps Q&A

It can be quite alarming to find a sudden lump or bump on your pet.  It’s hard not to have the scary “C” word in the back of your mind; cancer.  Before you start panicking, not all lumps and bumps are necessarily threatening.

What should I do if I find a lump or bump?

First thing to do is call your vet clinic and schedule an appointment.  It’s always best to be safe than sorry when it comes to bumps under the skin.  A veterinarian’s opinion is only really an assumption until we look at it at a cellular level under the microscope.  We can do this by making an impression smear of the mass is ulcerated and a microscopic glass slide can be pressed directly on the raw surface of the bump.  The cells will dry on the slide that can then be sent to a pathologist for staining and diagnosis by microscopic evaluation.  If it isn’t ulcerated or open, we can do a needle biopsy of the mass.  This procedure doesn’t usually take very long, animals tend to take well to taking a sample and most of the time don’t even react to the poke.  This is performed by taking a sterile needle and inserting it into the lump, pulling back on the plunger and sucking/collecting cells from the mass.  The cells are then smeared on a glass slide and sent to a pathologist for diagnosis.

What could it be if it’s not a tumor?

It could be anything from plugged oil glands in the skin, cysts, warts, infected hair follicles or even hematomas. It could be many things, this is why its always good to get the bump checked by a vet to make a proper diagnosis.

What does it mean if a tumor is benign or malignant?

First off, what is a tumor?  It’s a mass caused by an abnormal growth of tissue.  If your pet gets the diagnosis of a tumor, the pathologist will either add the term benign or malignant with it. What do these mean exactly?

Benign: tumors that tend to stay in one place of the body or don’t spread. They can though get quite large in size.

Malignant: these tumors tend to spread in the body and grow rapidly.

What treatment options are available for my pet?

Treatment really depends from individual case to case.  Your veterinarian will work close with you in making a treatment plan that suits your pet’s needs.

Surgery: Should the vet try to surgically remove the tumor? This really depends on a case to case basis.

  • Is the tumor malignant or benign?
    • Potential danger to pet’s health.
  • Is it worth the risk of putting your pet under anesthetic?
    • Consider potential surgical complications with pet being older aged, being overweight…
  • Consider the pet’s discomfort level from the lump.

Chemotherapy: The use of chemicals that are highly toxic to rapidly dividing cells.  These unfortunately don’t come without side effects that can include: bone marrow suppression, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss…  Some drugs can be added on to the treatment plan to help decrease the gastro intestinal effects from the chemotherapy drugs, like anti-nausea medications.  As opposed to humans, animals tend to have fewer and less severe side effects from the chemotherapy because we use lower doses of drugs.

Radiation: Not a common treatment available in small animal practices.  These will mostly be offered by specialists or veterinary medical schools. This treatment is good for tumors that don’t have well-defined borders, that make it harder to ensure the vet has surgically removed all of the tumor.

Homeopathic: The less invasive, “natural” approach to treatment. This practice is usually derived from homeopathic human alternative treatments that have been found to be safe for animals. There hasn’t been much study to prove its efficacy, but some say their methods have helped reduce the size of tumors.

Experimental: Examples of these are gene therapy and immunotherapy. These are newer methods seeming to be promising for combating tumors in the future.

Written by: Jenna B, RVT