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Lumps, Bumps, and Cysts on Dogs

Skin health in dogs is indicative of their overall well-being, often revealing lumps, bumps, and cysts which could stem from aging or underlying issues. These formations on dogs typically fall into two categories: malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Yet, distinguishing between them visually is challenging. To determine the type and severity of a growth, it’s essential to consult a veterinarian who can extract a cell sample for diagnosis and recommend an appropriate treatment course.

Types

Below are various typical skin growths observed in dogs, accompanied by descriptions of their appearance and indications to monitor:

Benign Tumors

Benign tumors are characterized by their non-invasive nature and low likelihood of spreading to other parts of the body.

Histiocytoma

Histiocytoma is a type of benign skin growth commonly observed in dogs younger than 2 years old. Typically, they appear on the anterior part of a dog’s body, notably on the head or limbs. While less frequent, they may also manifest in older dogs or on different body regions.

Histiocytomas exhibit a pink, fleshy appearance and may initially increase in size and appear more inflamed before showing signs of improvement. Typically, these tumors regress spontaneously over time without requiring treatment and originate from the immune cells within the skin. Diagnosis usually involves examining a microscopic sample of cells obtained from the growth.

Lipoma

Lipomas can manifest anywhere on a dog’s body, though they commonly appear on the trunk and legs. They originate from fat cells beneath the skin or within muscle tissue and tend to develop in older, overweight dogs. Lipomas may grow quite large or emerge in multiple locations.

Veterinarians diagnose lipomas by extracting a small cell sample from the growth to examine for fat droplets. While no treatment is necessary, it’s important to monitor them for any sudden changes. Over time, lipomas gradually enlarge and may cause discomfort for the dog, particularly if they hinder movement. Surgical removal becomes an option when lipomas start to affect your pet’s well-being.

Papilloma

Papilloma, commonly found in young dogs, presents as a contagious, wart-like growth primarily in and around the mouth, while in older dogs, they may occur around the eyes or elsewhere on the body. These growths stem from a virus that spreads through direct contact with an infected dog or contaminated items like toys or feeding bowls.

Typically, papillomas are small, fleshy, and round with a cauliflower-like texture on the surface. Many will naturally dry up and detach within a few months as the dog’s immune system matures. In severe cases where eating or swallowing becomes challenging, surgical removal may be necessary. Other treatment options include medications and methods like crushing the warts to stimulate the immune system.

Another variant of papilloma manifests as a skin wart, more prevalent in older dogs. These growths are usually singular and not viral in origin. They may exhibit a hardened surface resembling cauliflower. Additionally, inverted papillomas may appear in young adult dogs, particularly on the lower abdomen. Surgical removal becomes an option if the growth causes discomfort to the pet.

Skin Tag

Skin tags develop in areas where a dog’s skin experiences friction. They result from overgrowths of connective tissue within the skin and typically match the skin color but protrude from the surface on thin stalks.

Common among older dogs and specific breeds, skin tags do not necessitate treatment. However, surgical removal is an option if they cause discomfort or bother the dog.

Sebaceous Gland Tumor

Sebaceous gland tumors are frequently observed in older dogs and are usually smaller than a pea, appearing in various locations on the body. Some may bleed or discharge a substance that forms a crust. Larger breeds commonly develop these growths on their head, particularly on their eyelids, where they may exhibit a black coloration.

While treatment is not obligatory, surgical removal becomes an option if the growth causes discomfort or inconvenience to the dog.

Meibomian

A meibomian gland tumor is a slow-growing, benign lump that develops within the meibomian gland located at the edge of the eyelid. The tumor may protrude outward or grow inward into the eyelid. It can lead to inflammation, irritation, pain, or ulceration and may also result in corneal and conjunctival inflammation.

Large tumors may disrupt normal blinking in dogs, causing increased tearing and tear staining. Diagnosis is typically based on the appearance and location of the tumor. Surgical removal or cryotherapy (freezing of tissue for removal) are treatment options. While regrowth is rare after removal, it remains a possibility.

Epulis

Epulis is a common benign growth often found in the mouths of dogs. They typically develop when a tooth rubs against the gums, especially in brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds with underbites.

These smooth, fleshy, pink bumps emerge on the gum tissue near the outer surface of incisor, canine, or premolar teeth. They can either grow on a stalk resembling a mushroom or as a stationary mass, sometimes containing a bony interior. Certain types have the potential to invade surrounding bony tissue.

Diagnosis of an epulis relies on recognizing its appearance and confirming it through biopsy. X-rays of the dog’s head can determine if the growth has spread to surrounding tissues. Surgical removal of these growths, along with the adjacent tooth and any affected bony tissue, is typically recommended. Complete removal usually prevents regrowth. In cases where surgical removal isn’t feasible, radiation therapy may offer assistance.

Follicular Cysts

Follicular cysts are sizable, benign skin bumps that emerge from the hair follicle. They might discharge a dense substance, appearing white, yellow, or brown when pressure is applied. With increased size, they can provoke itching or discomfort.

These cysts are typically diagnosed through physical examination and may be confirmed via microscopic analysis of a small cell sample obtained through needle aspiration. In cases of infection, antibiotic treatment may be necessary. Surgical removal is an option if the cysts expand or cause discomfort, and they generally do not recur after removal.

Perianal Adenomas

Perianal adenomas are benign growths frequently found in older, intact male dogs. They originate from oil glands near the anus but can also arise in similar glands along the abdomen, back, and near the tail.

These growths typically present as multiple small lumps. Larger tumors may develop bleeding ulcerations and exert pressure on the anal canal, leading to difficulties with defecation.

Castration alone generally resolves the condition in nearly all male dogs. However, for large or ulcerated tumors, surgical removal may also be necessary. In female dogs, surgical removal improves the condition, but recurrence of the growths is common. Laser surgery or cryotherapy may be required to prevent fecal incontinence when the surgery involves the anal sphincter.

Hemangiomas

Hemangiomas are benign tumors found in adult dogs, closely resembling blood vessels. They commonly appear on a dog’s legs and trunk, existing either as single growths or multiple, compressible, reddish-black circular lumps reminiscent of a blood blister. Some hemangiomas may grow large and even ulcerate. Surgical removal is the recommended treatment.

Nevus

A nevus refers to a dark, raised, or flat benign growth on the skin, often known as a mole. These typically occur in regions susceptible to trauma, such as the legs, head, and neck, commonly in older dogs. Surgical removal is the recommended treatment.

Trichoepitheliomas

Trichoepitheliomas are petite, benign lumps that emerge from the hair follicles of adult dogs. They resemble cysts and are filled with compacted, yellow, cheesy, granular material. While they can appear anywhere on the body, they are particularly common on the face and trunk. Surgical removal is the typical treatment, although they are prone to reoccur in other locations even after surgery.

Cornifying epitheliomas

Cornifying epitheliomas are benign growths that protrude from the skin surface, resembling horns. They originate from hair follicles and can develop anywhere on a dog’s body, although they are most frequently found on the back, tail, and legs of adult dogs. Treatment is unnecessary unless there are signs of self-trauma, ulceration, or secondary infection. Surgical removal is considered the optimal treatment.

Basal Cell Tumors

Basal cell tumors are benign growths that emerge on the head, ears, neck, and forelimbs of older dogs. They present as raised swellings, usually firm, solitary, dome-shaped, and small. Some may appear hairless, ulcerated, and protrude like stalks from the skin’s surface. Dark in color, they may also develop cysts that rupture and discharge fluid or pus. Surgical removal is the preferred treatment, particularly when the dog experiences discomfort.

Malignant Tumors

Malignant tumors are cancerous growths capable of infiltrating tissue and metastasizing to organs.

Angiosarcomas

Angiosarcomas represent highly malignant tumors originating from blood vessels, exhibiting various appearances. These tumors commonly manifest as one or more red lumps on the skin or underlying soft tissue, though they can also resemble poorly defined bruises.

They exhibit rapid growth and aggressive invasion of surrounding tissues, often metastasizing to the lungs and liver. While angiosarcomas may arise due to sun exposure in dog breeds with short, white coats, they can also develop in dogs with dark, thick coats.

Typically found on the underside of the trunk, hip, thigh, and lower legs, diagnosis requires a biopsy. Smaller surface tumors can be managed with freezing and laser surgery, while tumors beneath the skin’s surface necessitate surgical removal. Chemotherapy may be recommended to address any remaining tumor cells.

Basal Cell Carcinomas

Basal cell carcinomas are either flattened or raised growths that can emerge anywhere on the body of an older dog. While they may extend to surrounding skin, resulting in additional ulcerations, they typically do not metastasize to other organs. Surgical removal is advised, ensuring an adequate amount of skin surrounding the tumor is excised to eliminate any remaining tumor cells.

Liposarcomas

Liposarcomas, although uncommon, may arise in older male dogs, particularly on the chest and legs. These growths can present as either soft or firm lumps and typically exhibit slow progression to other sites. The primary treatment involves surgical excision, yet recurrence is frequent. In cases of recurrence, radiation therapy may also be necessary.

Lymphosarcoma

Lymphosarcoma seldom originates directly on a dog’s skin but may manifest as a surface tumor or alongside internal tumors. Its appearance can vary, resembling flaky skin, red patches, raised and ulcerated areas, or lumps deep within the skin.

There are two distinct forms of skin lymphosarcoma, each with different expected progressions and responses to treatment, underscoring the importance of early determination of the type affecting your dog. Treatment options encompass surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, administered individually or in combination. While these treatments may ameliorate the disease’s symptoms, they do not prolong the dog’s life expectancy.

Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cell tumors rank as the most prevalent malignant tumor observed in dogs. While they commonly affect older dogs, they can also manifest in dogs of any age.

These tumors develop as solitary growths anywhere on the body, with a predilection for the limbs, lower abdomen, and chest. Larger or rapidly growing tumors, as well as those located in specific areas, are more prone to metastasis. Their appearance varies considerably, but most are raised and exhibit a soft or firm texture upon palpation.

To confirm diagnosis, your veterinarian will need to examine a sample of cells from the growth under a microscope. There is variability in the aggressiveness of these tumors. Surgical removal is imperative, and if the tumor recurs or spreads, additional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be employed.

Malignant Melanomas

Malignant melanomas represent another form of skin tumor commonly found in older dogs. They typically emerge on the lips, mouth, and nail beds, particularly in male dogs. Presenting as raised, ulcerated lumps, they can exhibit various colors such as dark, light gray, or pink. In cases where they appear in the nail bed, swelling of the toe often occurs.

These tumors demonstrate rapid growth and have a tendency to metastasize to other organs. Complete surgical excision is the preferred treatment, although it may be challenging and necessitates removal of adjacent tissue to prevent recurrence. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are not effective in treating these tumors. However, a vaccine is available that aids in shrinking the tumor size, potentially prolonging the dog’s life expectancy.

Fibrosarcomas

Fibrosarcomas are prevalent malignant tumors in dogs, known for their rapid growth. They predominantly occur on the trunk and legs, exhibiting a variety of appearances and sizes. Those situated beneath the skin’s surface often appear lumpy, while deeper ones may feel firm and fleshy.

While these tumors have the potential to invade underlying muscles, they typically do not metastasize to other areas of the body. Treatment primarily involves surgical excision, although complete removal may not always be feasible, and recurrence is frequent. Additionally, fibrosarcomas may be addressed with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Squamous Cell Carcinomas

Squamous cell carcinomas can manifest in two locations on a dog: on the skin’s surface or beneath a nail. Typically, they present as firm, raised, irregular, and ulcerated areas. While many tumors are solitary, areas subjected to prolonged sun exposure may develop multiple growths. These tumors infiltrate surrounding tissues and exhibit varying rates of spread, with some progressing slowly and others more rapidly.

Treatment entails the complete surgical removal of the tumor, along with the excision of some normal tissue.

What to Do If You Find a Lump or Bump on Your Dog

If you discover a lump or bump on your dog, schedule a veterinary appointment for a thorough physical examination. Be sure to provide details such as the location of the lesion, its duration, any changes observed since discovery, and whether your dog appears uncomfortable with the growth.

Diagnosis

To diagnose lumps, bumps, and cysts on dogs, veterinarians may need to collect a sample of cells for microscopic evaluation. This can involve taking an impression of the growth’s surface, performing a fine needle aspiration using a syringe and small needle, or surgically extracting a small tissue sample (biopsy) under local or general anesthesia.

Typically, veterinarians assess impression smears or fine needle aspirates by staining the slide and examining it under a microscope in the veterinary office. Trained veterinary pathologists are also available to analyze these samples or small tissue samples to establish a diagnosis. Subsequently, your veterinarian can devise appropriate treatment recommendations and clarify the anticipated outcome.

Treatment

Treatment options for dog lumps, bumps, and cysts may involve:

  • Observation for any alterations
  • Removal using freezing or laser procedures
  • Surgical excision of the lump, potentially including the removal of surrounding normal tissue
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

How to Monitor Your Dog’s Lumps and Bumps

To monitor your dog’s lumps and bumps effectively, maintain a detailed log noting the following:

  • Date of initial observation
  • Number and locations of the lumps or bumps
  • Size, color, and texture of each
  • Mobility or fixation to underlying tissue
  • Presence of any discharge

Additionally, take photographs and record any changes in these factors daily. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian promptly and bring your log, photos, and any questions you may have to the consultation.

FAQs

What does a sebaceous cyst on a dog look like?

A sebaceous cyst typically presents as a smooth, elevated swelling containing sebum from the oil glands connected to hair follicles. These cysts can undergo infection and inflammation, sometimes leading to rupture and the discharge of a thin, yellowish fluid.

What can you do for a dog with a sebaceous cyst?

A sebaceous cyst requires monitoring for alterations in size or contents. If the cyst ruptures from scratching, the area should be gently cleansed with warm water and left to air dry. Any indications of infection or sensitivity should prompt evaluation by a veterinarian for treatment suggestions, which may include surgical removal if necessary.

How do I get rid of bumps on my dog?

The most secure approach to remove bumps from a dog’s skin is to have a veterinarian identify the type of bump. Subsequently, they will devise a suitable plan for surgical removal using either local or general anesthesia.

Can a bug bite cause a bump on a dog?

Indeed, an insect bite can induce a transient swelling on a dog. These swellings may also provoke itching. However, it’s essential to note that while bug bites typically recede over time, growths tend to be more distinct and seldom diminish, often maintaining the same size or enlarging over time.

Is a belly lump normal after a dog spay?

No, a belly lump may suggest a reaction to a buried suture or, in rare cases, a hernia of the abdominal wall. If your dog develops a lump in their belly after being spayed, it’s advisable to contact your veterinarian for further evaluation.

Should I have my dog’s lump removed?

The decision to remove the lump depends on its type. While many benign growths may not necessitate removal, any changes in appearance, discomfort to the dog, or interference with movement should prompt a veterinary examination to ascertain the suitable course of action. In cases of malignant growths, your veterinarian can advise on the appropriate treatment.

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