You’re petting your cat or bathing your dog when—wait, what’s that?
Finding a lump or bump on your pet can be a worrisome experience, but don’t panic. Masses of all kinds, from harmless skin growths to malignant tumors, are fairly common. While most are benign, it’s always better to err on the side of caution by following these steps.
Take a Closer Look
The moment you discover a new lump on your pet’s body, take the time to examine it. Is it on the surface of the skin or is it underneath? What is the size and shape? Use references—is it closer to a pea or a golf ball? Is it flat or raised? Bumpy or smooth? Is it firm or soft? Does it move? Is it bleeding?
During your inspection, be sure to scan your pet’s body for any other masses and make note of them as well. How long have they been there? Have you noticed any changes in size, color, texture, shape, or firmness? Does your pet have any sores or open wounds that aren’t healing?
The more information you can give your veterinarian, the better.
Mark the Spot
If you have an older pet or one who is prone to masses, it can be especially difficult to keep track of new growths. Once you’ve given your pet a thorough once-over and identified all lumps and bumps, it’s important to write down or otherwise mark the location of each one. This will help you to be able to successfully locate the mass again and keep track of any significant or rapid changes.
See Your Veterinarian
Most lumps and bumps are harmless, but it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for every new growth you find just in case.
Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam, checking for masses on the neck, trunk, and limbs as well as under the chin, on the front of the shoulders, and behind the knees. She will also palpate your pet’s abdomen to feel for any potential masses within the body. In addition, an examination of your pet’s mouth may allow detection of malignant cancers that are often missed until they become advanced.
Like you, she will also keep a record of each mass and its location to help monitor any changes that may occur over time.
When it comes to cancer, early detection is the key to successful treatment. The first step in diagnosing any new lump or bump is to perform a fine needle aspiration, or FNA. This simple procedure allows your veterinarian to determine the nature of the growth by collecting a sample of cells and viewing them under a microscope. Keep in mind that malignant masses are not painful; therefore the only definitive way to know whether a growth is cancerous is to examine the cells.
Occasionally, an FNA does not provide enough information and a biopsy is also needed. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), while an FNA can provide basic information about the tumor type and identify certain types of cancer, a biopsy “is often necessary to confirm the diagnosis and help determine if the neoplasm (abnormal mass) is benign or malignant.” This procedure involves collecting a small tissue sample and sending it to a laboratory for examination.
Consider the Options
Once a mass has been identified, your veterinarian will decide whether removal is necessary. Fatty tumors known as lipomas are benign and typically do not require additional treatment, unless their size or location is bothersome to your pet.
If a mass removal is recommended, there are a few options depending on the cell type, location, and size of the growth.
Surgical excision involves your pet undergoing local or general anesthesia to remove the mass. This procedure is best for large or malignant growths, as well as those located in areas that may affect your pet’s quality of life. Occasionally, excision may be scheduled with another procedure, like a dental cleaning, to minimize your pet’s time under anesthesia.
Noninvasive cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery, is the process of rapidly freezing tissue to destroy unwanted growths on the skin. This is a great option for small, superficial masses and lesions such as warts or skin tags.
Regular annual or semiannual exams with your veterinarian and monthly examinations at home can help you stay on top of any changes in your pet’s existing lumps and bumps—and quickly detect any new ones.