like it or lump it: when to worry about lumps on pets
Have you ever had a strange lump appear on your pet?
Earlier this week, one of my coworkers came to me with a picture (on her phone) of a lump that appeared overnight on her dog. She wanted me to take a look at it and let her know if her dog needed to be seen. As you can imagine, diagnosing a bump with a picture on a phone is not exactly an easy thing to do. The situation did, however, bring up a great question: when is a bump and/or lump something to worry about?
Although it seems like this topic should be straight forward and simple, this is medicine – few things are ever that simple! Regardless, let’s take a moment and tackle this very broad subject together.
What causes lumps and bumps on pets?
First and foremost, please understand that there are a zillion different things that can cause lumps, bumps, growths and masses to appear on your dog's skin, leg, neck, or anywhere really. Sometimes these occur because your pet is sick internally. Usually there will be other associated signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, inappetance, increased thirst, increased urination, etc. to indicate that there is more going on than just a “skin thing.” If you notice any combination of new skin lumps, bumps, growths or masses along with other signs of illness, your pet needs to be seen as soon as is reasonably possible.
But what if the new lump isn’t associated with other clinical signs of illness? Is it something to worry about? Should I rush my pet in? Wait a while? Disregard? These are valid and difficult questions to answer. So, here is my quick cheat-sheet on what to do if you find a lump, bump, growth or mass on your pet.
If in doubt, call your veterinarian and take your furry friend in for an examination. As I have said many times before (and will say many more times), it is always better to hear, “that’s nothing to worry about,” instead of, “I wish we had caught this sooner.” Plus, if you have pet insurance, your visit will likely be covered (at least a good portion of it!).
If this is a brand new lump that you had never noticed before:
If it is small, your pet is not bothered by it, and you can easily play with/move it without resistance, it is reasonable to keep an eye on it until your next visit.
If it is large, seems to bother your pet (they lick or scratch at it, they can’t walk because of its location, etc.), or it changes drastically or quickly, take your pet in sooner. Changes may include size, shape, texture (it was soft, now it is hard lump), or the appearance of more lumps that were not previously there.
Other indications that your pet needs to be seen sooner rather than later:
1. The lump is black or purple in color
2. It is ulcerated (looks like an open sore, or becomes this way)
3. You notice lots of little pink spots or larger bruised looking areas (these aren’t necessary lumps or bumps but can indicate a bleeding problem).
If this is an old lump that has been checked before:
It is reasonable to keep monitoring it for the following changes, and if noted, your furry friend should see their veterinarian:
1. Drastic changes in size (slowly increasing in size may not be a problem unless its location poses a problem to your pet)
2. Changes in color
3. Changes in texture. For example, it was soft and easily movable, but now it is hard lump or seems to be attached to underlying tissues.
4. Your pet suddenly becomes aware of it/bothered by it and is licking, scratching, etc.