As our pets get older it is quite common for them to develop various lumps and bumps. There are several types of masses that can develop on our pets, ranging from aggressive and cancerous to benign and slow-growing.
Any time you notice a new growth on your pet it is best for you to bring them in to the clinic to be seen by the veterinarian. Ideally the veterinarian will aspirate a sample from the growth by inserting a needle into the tissue. The cells from the needle are then placed onto a slide and examined under the microscope. If the veterinarian can not make a definitive diagnosis from this slide it is recommended that the sample be sent out to a pathologist. The pathologist is a specialist who uses specific stains and preparations to identify various cells. In some cases a mass can not be identified using cytology and a small biopsy or complete surgical removal of the mass is necessary for a diagnosis. Early and correct identification of masses allows you to communicate with your veterinarian and develop the best plan of action for your pet.
One of the most common types of masses that we see on dogs and cats are adipose tumors, also known as lipomas. Lipomas are more common in overweight dogs, and occur more frequently in females, but can occur on cats as well. Lipomas can occur within the skin or inside the body. Most lipomas grow relatively slowly and are almost always benign (non-cancerous). Lipomas usually only cause problems when they become so large they inhibit physical movement. For this reason lipomas located in high-movement areas such as under the legs are sometimes surgically removed. In most cases the veterinarian will likely advise you to watch the growth of the lipomas and have it removed if your dog undergoes general anesthesia for any other reason.
If lipomas are surgically removed they are usually cured and do not return in that area. In some cases they can be more infiltrative and difficult to remove completely- allowing for local recurrence after surgery. Lipomas can become troublesome if they become too large causing damage to the skin. In these cases the skin can become necrotic and infected. Removal of these infected masses is always recommended.
The vast majority of lipomas will not cause any discomfort or problem for your pet, but a definitive diagnosis as well as careful and consistent monitoring are certainly recommended. Noting any changes in size or appearance to existing masses as well as informing your veterinarian of new masses will ensure that your pet has the best care and treatment possible in order to prevent any uncommon but potentially troubling effects from adipose tumors.