It’s a common scenario; you’re peacefully brushing your pet, when you are startled to discover a soft lump under his or her skin. Your mind races, wondering what the lump could be and what could have caused it. Should you call the vet immediately, or is this simply a natural part of the aging process?
Many pets develop non-cancerous growths as they age called lipomas. While lipomas in pets are normal and usually benign, pet owners and veterinarians should monitor their growth over time, and intervene if needed.
What Are Lipomas?
Lipomas are soft, round, free-floating lumps of fatty tissue under the skin. Lipomas are common in dogs as they age (less so in cats), and because they don’t cause pain, infection, or hair loss, are usually spotted during routine grooming or petting.
Lipomas are generally located on the chest, belly, sides, or front legs, but can be found anywhere on the body. Middle-aged and older pets, as well as those that are overweight, are more likely to develop a lipoma.
Diagnosing and Treating Lipomas in Pets
Although the majority of lipomas don’t pose a threat to your pet, you will still need to bring him or her in to see us. Besides performing a complete physical exam, we will make sure your pet’s lump is benign by:
- Palpating the area to determine the texture and nature of the bump
- Measuring each lump and recording its size and location on a chart in order to keep an eye on the rate of growth
- Performing a biopsy of the lump using a fine needle to make sure that the growth is not cancerous
A lipoma may be removed surgically if it is growing rapidly or is located in a place that interferes with your pet’s movement, such as in the armpit. Surgery is not recommended for most lipomas, however, and we generally just monitor the growth over time and reevaluate as needed.
Not All Lumps Are Created Equal
Most lipomas are harmless, but there are certain instances when a growth on a pet is a cause for concern, including:
- Infiltrative lipomas – Occasionally, lipomas will invade the tissues that surround them, and can cause problems for the pet depending on their location. Infiltrative lipomas don’t spread to other areas of the body, they are more difficult to remove surgically, and usually need to be treated with radiation or other means.
- Liposarcomas – Liposarcomas are malignant tumors made up of fatty tissue. Although they are the least common growth, they are the most concerning and must be removed using surgery and/or radiation to reduce the risk of recurrence.