Dr. Kim Freeman, DACVIM Oncology

As pets age, they get lumps and bumps. It’s pretty common. But, how do you know if it is a bump that you need to worry about? Good question!

The terms lump, bump, mass or tumor can all be used interchangeably. Cancer means that there is unregulated growth of the cells forming the lump or mass. There are benign and malignant cancers. Cytology or biopsy are required to determine whether a mass is cancer or not, and whether that cancer is benign or malignant.

As a veterinarian and oncologist, I feel it is important that every mass be well documented and tested to confirm whether it is a bump to worry about or not. There are many advantages to having a bump tested as soon as you find it:

1. Size matters: a small malignant growth has a better chance of being cured, if it is diagnosed early.
2. Peace of mind: if the bump is benign, you often no longer need to worry.
3. Keeping track: if you document bumps as they arise, it is easier on your pet when you take them in to have one or two bumps tested rather than 10 or more!

What should your veterinarian do about the bumps?
All lumps and bumps should be looked at and felt by your veterinarian. If a mass is under the skin but soft and moveable, we may be less concerned than if it is hard, attached to underlying tissue, and growing fast. We may be able to look at a little skin mole and tell you if we are concerned or not.

Your veterinarian should document the bumps on a map. We have these nice drawings of dogs and cats that allow us to draw where the bumps are located to help us, and you, keep track of them. Be sure to get a copy of your dog’s or cat’s bump map, so you can draw on it, too. This way you can check and make sure whether a lump is new or whether it has grown.The bumps can be measured to keep track of their size.

Click on the link for a Bump Map to help you keep track!

Often times, bumps can feel benign, but should still be tested. A soft, squishy lump under the skin may be a lipoma, which is a benign tumor made up of fat. Lipomas generally do not require treatment. However, there are cancers that can feel like lipomas, but are malignant and should be treated.

Your vet will want to do a fine needle aspirate and cytology to make certain that these bumps are truly lipomas and not something more concerning, like a mast cell tumor. Mast cell tumors can sometimes feel like lipomas, and it is very important to know for certain, because your pet’s prognosis and treatment depend on it.

The bottom line is that all bumps should be examined by a veterinarian. Take an active role in your pet’s care! When you are petting your cat, rubbing your dog’s belly, or giving them a bath, take an extra minute to feel for lumps and bumps. Your extra love can be a life saver!