You’re lying in bed with your furry friend (yes, admit it, you share your bed with your pet), and you feel something that you don’t remember feeling before. If it isn’t a tick, what could it be? The answer is a lot of things and here are some possibilities.
Cutaneous masses (lumps in and on the skin) are quite common, particularly in dogs and less often in cats. In dogs, many are benign. Lipomas, or fatty lumps, can get quite large can interfere with movement if they are in the armpit or groin area, but do not metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body. Sebaceous cysts are associated with the oil glands and are also benign but can become infected and rupture. Papillomas, or warts, are quite common especially in curly or wavy-coated dogs. Some of those bumps, however, can be more sinister. Of particular concern are mast cell tumors, which can potentially be life-threatening if left to grow. Female dogs, especially if they had more than two heats before being spayed, are predisposed to mammary tumors. About half the time they are benign but the other half are malignant. Hard or irregularly shaped lumps can be chondrosarcomas, fibrosarcomas, osteosarcomas and other similar types of tumors which can all be very serious.
Cats tend to be less prone to skin masses but the ones they do get can be much more dangerous. Fibrosarcomas are an unusual tumor that in cats can be the result of certain vaccines. The cause is thought to be the adjuvant, or carrying agent that helps stimulate the immune response. With an incidence of about one in ten-thousand, they are rare, but they are also difficult to remove completely and readily recur. Newer, non-adjuvanted vaccines are now available to reduce this risk. Also in cats, 90% of mammary tumors are malignant. Lymphosarcoma, the most common cancer in both cats and dogs, can sometimes manifest as lumps in the skin that can become ulcerated.
So what should you do if you find a lump? During the physical exam, we will check the lump and surrounding area, including lymph nodes. One option is to do a fine needle aspirate. In this simple technique, a needle and syringe are used to aspirate, or pull out, some of the cellular material in the lump. This is put onto a slide and submitted to a pathologist for evaluation. In many cases, a presumptive diagnosis can be made. If the lump is potentially serious based on the exam or an aspirate, it should be removed if possible and sent out for a biopsy to see what exactly it is and what more, if anything, should be done.
I recently lost my beloved dog Molly to mast cell tumor so I know how heartbreaking it can be. If you find any lumps or bumps or other abnormalities in your pet’s skin, please have us examine him to determine the best course of action. At Blairstown Animal Hospital, we want you and your pet to have a long and happy relationship.