Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Let No Lump or Bump Go Unchallenged


Pet Column for the week of September 15, 1997


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D.
Information Specialist

Dogs routinely get wart-like bumps in their skin and fatty lumps under their skin as they age.
Most often these lumps and bumps, or tumors, on old dogs are as benign as wrinkles on
old people. However, Dr. Kristin Boyce, veterinarian and clinical oncology resident formerly at the
University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital at Urbana, cautions, "We don't
ignore any lumps or bumps on dogs or cats. Cats don't normally get benign tumors with
age; a tumor in a cat is likely to be malignant. But you can't tell by looking and touching
whether a tumor is malignant or benign. Any lump or bump, especially in an older dog or
cat, should be seen by a veterinarian and tested for malignancy."

Dr. Boyce recommends that dog and cat owners make a habit of looking for irregularities
on their pet while petting and grooming, paying close attention to the most common sites for
tumors. In dogs and cats, these are the skin, mouth, mammary glands, and lymph nodes.
Pet owners should also be aware of changes in their pet's attitude and appetite.

Dogs and cats over seven years of age should visit their veterinarian once a year for a
thorough physical exam. A complete blood count, chemistry panel, and urinalysis can help
detect internal problems that would otherwise go unnoticed.

By using a syringe and needle your veterinarian can aspirate (withdraw by suction) some of
the cells from a tumor on your pet. The cells, examined under a microscope, will look like
normal healthy cells if the tumor is benign or will be abnormal if the tumor is malignant. If the
cells do not cleanly fit either the benign or the malignant category, then your veterinarian
may recommend removing the tumor for a biopsy.

Any new lump or bump should be examined by your veterinarian right away. "Of most
concern," says Dr. Boyce, "are lumps that grow fast, change size or shape over weeks or
months, ooze or break open, are firm and tightly fixed in the body tissue, or are abnormally
colored, like melanomas." These tumors are more likely to be malignant. However, there
are no specific criteria to tell benign tumors from malignant tumors by just looking at them.
A dog can have twenty identical wart-like bumps, of which only one is malignant. That one
can only be found by aspirating them all. Also, benign tumors have the potential to change
over time and become malignant. Benign tumors should be monitored by owners and
examined yearly by your veterinarian.

"If a cancerous tumor is discovered early, options for treatment will be greater and your pet
will have a better chance of recovery," says Dr. Boyce. "Later in the course of the disease,
options become limited and treatment is more difficult."

For more information on maintaining the health of your pet, contact your local veterinarian.