Monday, December 12, 2011


Helpful Buckeye got a lot of e-mails about last week's topic of cancer in your pets.  Many of those were from pet owners who have lost their pets to cancer, while several came from pet owners who were concerned that some type of cancer might affect their pet.  As with cancer in humans, there are many forms of cancer seen in pets...some of them much worse than others. 

From the e-mails received, a lot of you have had some experience with lipomas in your pets, particularly the dog owners.  Dogs and cats do have a lot of "lumps and bumps" that show up on their bodies, ranging from abscesses to hematomas to scar tissue to tumors.  Take a look at this'll see how common growths can be:

Top 10 Reasons Dogs Go to the Vet

Dogs commonly go to the vet for a variety of reasons including various health problems and routine wellness exams and vaccinations. Veterinary Pet Insurance, the largest insurer of pets in the United States, recently tabulated their 2006 claims to determine the most common reasons dogs go to their veterinarians.

In addition to vaccination and preventative health topics, these are the most claims reported in dogs :

1. Skin allergies
2. Ear infections
3. Stomach upsets
4. Urinary tract infections
5. Benign tumors
6. Pyoderma
7. Sprains
8. Osteoarthritis
9. Enteritis
10. Eye infections

Adapted from:
Right there, sitting at #5, you find "benign tumors".  Of all the types of benign tumors, lipomas are one of the most common seen by veterinarians:

A lipoma is a benign fatty tumor usually composed of mature fat cells. They are usually soft, well defined, and subcutaneous (under the skin). Lipomas are variable in size and shape and may occur anywhere, although they are commonly found on the ventral (under) surfaces of the chest and abdomen.  They are not usually painful to the dog or cat.

All breeds may be affected, but they are most common in older animals, especially older female dogs. Lipomas are very common in dogs, and less common in cats.

Infiltrative lipomas (often referred to as lipomatosis) are those that develop in deeper tissue and between muscle layers. These lipomas tend to be firmer and more broad-based than typical lipomas. These tumors also grow slowly, but are more invasive and less well defined. They grow by expanding into the tissue and may cause pain. Infiltrative lipomas are much less common than typical well-defined lipomas.

What to Watch For

• Skin swellings
• Lumps and bumps
• Usually they are spherical or oval in shape

Your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic tests:

• Fine needle aspirate. This easy diagnostic test involves placing a needle attached to a syringe into the mass and withdrawing a sample of cells. The contents of the needle and syringe are expelled onto a glass slide for analysis.
• Cytology. The slides are evaluated microscopically for evidence of adipose (fat) cells.
• Biopsy. If there is no conclusive evidence on aspiration, a biopsy (tissue sample) may be taken. If the mass is small, an excisional biopsy, which is a biopsy where the entire mass is removed, may be done. Biopsies usually require sedation with local anesthesia or general anesthesia.


If a lipoma is small and slow growing, your veterinarian may advise an owner to observe the mass for any changes. If there are no significant changes, treatment is not necessary. In other cases, the following treatments are available:

• Excision (removal) of a lipoma should be considered if it is growing rapidly, causing discomfort, or it interfering with the mobility or life style of the animal.
• Infiltrative lipomas should be aggressively treated with a wide surgical excision. Most of the times, excision will be incomplete, as some of the tumor cells will remain on the body. If the remaining tumor is slow to return, this may be all the treatment needed.
• Radiation therapy is available if the lipoma is invasive and cannot be completely removed.
• If surgery is required to remove a lipoma, preoperative blood work (complete blood count and profile) are generally recommended.

Home Care

Note any changes in previously diagnosed lipomas that are not being treated. Significant changes should be re-evaluated by your veterinarian.

After a lipoma has been removed, watch the incision for any swelling, redness or discharge. Make sure your pet is not licking or chewing at the incision line. Sutures are generally removed in 7 to 10 days.

There is no way to prevent the occurrence of lipomas. Once lipomas are noted, they should be closely monitored. Lipomas should not be allowed to become so large that they are difficult to remove or they interfere with function.

Infiltrative lipomas may need more aggressive treatment.

Adapted from:

To give you a clinical example of a couple of owners' concerns about growths on their dogs, here is an interesting column from Dr. Michael Watts, in the Culpeper, VA, Star-Exponent:

Q: My dog has developed a fatty tumor on her back leg that doesn’t seem to bother her. My veterinarian says it is probably a lipoma. What are lipomas and where do they come from?

A: Lipomas are well-encapsulated, benign tumors made up of fat tissue. They are reported to occur in 16% or more of dogs. They are more common in middle aged or older dogs and may be more frequent in overweight pets. Lipomas can be found anywhere in the body, although most commonly occur under the skin of the trunk or limbs. Like most tumors, the exact cause is not known. It is probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Like all benign tumors, lipomas do not spread to other places on the body. However, sometimes they still cause problems. If located in a high-motion area, like under a leg, a large lipoma can interfere with mobility. Lipomas inside the skull can push on the brain and cause neurologic symptoms. Lipomas in locations prone to trauma or that press on nerves or muscles can cause pain.

The largest lipoma I have ever removed was the size of a basketball. Obviously it was causing distress to the dog, despite being technically benign.

If a lipoma causes symptoms, it should be removed. Complete excision is curative. Most lipomas do not cause problems and can be safely left alone. Before treating with “benign neglect,” however, it is important to differentiate lipomas from more serious imposters.

Infiltrative lipomas are not encapsulated and can spread between tissue layers deep into the body. Infiltrative lipomas are difficult to cure without limb amputation, although early excision offers the best hope. Liposarcomas are cancerous “fatty masses” that can spread throughout the body. Liposarcomas are typically fatal. Mast cell tumors are benign-looking skin cancers that can be mistaken for lipomas.

In a dog with any new mass, I recommend examination by a veterinarian. I typically recommend a fine needle aspirate and microscopic evaluation of the cells. With this technique, I have caught several cancers masquerading as lipomas.

Generally lipomas should be slow growing, should not bother the pet, and should not ulcerate to the surface. If that ever stops being the case, I recommend prompt excision of the mass and a full biopsy. Sometimes early diagnostics can miss important cells, leading to an inaccurate diagnosis. Other times, another type of tumor develops on the surface or nearby.

As with any condition, the best advice is to have a close working relationship with your veterinarian and to have any new problem checked promptly.

Q: I have a nine month old Boston Terrier. She has what appears to be a wart on her leg. She licks at it and it has become raw and bleeds. It also seems to be growing. What should I do?

A: Fortunately, most skin growths in young dogs are benign. Warts are seen, but not as commonly as in older dogs. The mass could also be a histiocytoma, a benign mass usually no larger than the size of a nickel. Histiocytomas commonly occur in young patients and commonly ulcerate. Usually they resolve spontaneously within three months.

It is also possible that the mass is actually due to the licking behavior. Chronic licking can lead to a raised area of inflammation, called a granuloma. Young dogs adapting to new experiences can develop anxieties that lead to licking.

The fact that the mass appears to be bothering your dog is reason enough to visit your veterinarian. Sometimes inflammation of a benign mass can be treated in a way that minimizes the stimulus for licking. If medical treatment does not work, or the mass looks worrisome to the veterinarian, surgical removal may be the best option.

Adapted from:

So now you know what to consider when you find a lump on your pooch or cat.  An examination and consultation with your veterinarian should be your first step.  If observation of the lump is what they recommend, you'll then have a good idea of what it looks and feels that you'll be able to judge if the lump is changing in any way.  Normally, if the lump starts to grow faster, becomes ulcerated, no longer is freely movable, or becomes painful to your pet, it's time for a re-evaluation by your veterinarian.


The Pittsburgh Steelers won another ugly game this week, although our QB sustained a pretty serious ankle injury and that affected our offense.  Whether or not he'll be able to play next Monday in San Francisco remains to be seen.
The Ohio State basketball team could have moved into the #1 spot yesterday since Kentucky lost their game...however, we also lost our game.  Our All-American center couldn't play due to an injury and that was a killer.

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye got to see a really stellar eclipse of the moon early Saturday morning just before sunrise.  That apparently will be the last lunar eclipse for 3 years.

In response to the much-asked question by The Baha Men, in their big hit song of 2000:

we finally have the answer....

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~


  1. Hi Doc:
    My big dog, Yoki, had a lypo in the armpit of his front leg, of all places. We watched it for a long time and just kept an eye on it until it got so that it was effecting his gate. So he went in for surgery.

    That was hard because there's no way to keep a dog immobile and it was very sore each time to poor boy took a step.

    At any rate, the first night home, he was so 'confused' about what had happened and how bad he felt, that I decided to sleep next to him on the floor. That was great until I was awakened at 3 in the morning to a dog crying.

    Turns out, that he decided while I was out like a light, to crawl under the bed which was where he preferred to sleep, and then once there, began to hurt and couldn't crawl out!

    It's truly amazing what an owner will do for their pet, because the next thing I knew, I was dead lifting a queen sized cherry bed up so he could make his way out. Yeah, thanks for that Yoki, and thanks God for adrenaline!

    Happy Holidays, Doc!

  2. Thanks for sharing that article. Its so interesting! Ear Infections in Dogs