There sure are a lot of lumpy dogs.

It’s tune-up time for the poodles – time for their annual vaccines, dental cleanings, and blood tests. This year, we’ll also be taking off a few lumps.

Dogs seem to get a lot of growths under their skin, at least compared to cats. I’m not sure about humans. While examining some fatty tumours on a little dog a few years ago, I joked with his elderly owner that people are lucky we don’t get so many lumps and bumps.

“Just you wait, Dear,” she said with a wry grin.

Most of the superficial, soft, movable growths we see on dogs are benign. Some dogs like our Cliff are prone to forming cysts full of sludgy secretions from glands in the skin. Others, particularly Labradors, are lipoma factories.

Lipomas are masses formed by abnormal growths of fat cells. They are “tumours” but mostly benign. Usually we don’t remove them unless they are in areas where they interfere with movement. I lost the record at Hillcrest for removing the largest lipoma when my boss took off a six-pounder a few months ago.

Recently, I mapped and tested 14 growths on a retriever mix that all turned out to be lipomas. We’ll keep an eye out for changes in the existing tumours and watch for new ones to test, but for now the dog’s owner has some peace of mind.

As I already mentioned, most of the growths we see in dogs are not malignant, but early testing is crucial. Otherwise, you may lose the opportunity to remove dangerous cancers before they spread or become inoperable. There are some malignancies such as mast cell tumours that can appear just like lipomas or skin tags on the surface.

With most simple fatty masses and cysts, a needle biopsy is all that’s required. A small needle is passed into the growth several times, collecting cells that are then stained and assessed under the microscope. Many vets will do this test themselves in the clinic. If unidentifiable cells are seen, assessment by an expert pathologist will likely be recommended. In some cases, solid tissue biopsies are needed.

Without identifying a growth, we just can’t know what to do about it. Sadly, sometimes we do find bad things that are not treatable, but in other cases, early intervention saves lives.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton
January 2013