If you find a lump or bump on your pet, what should you do?
There are many possible causes for lumps and bumps, especially as your pet ages. A lump or bump can arise from trauma, inflammation, infection or benign or malignant tumors, among other causes. The clinical consequences for each can be vastly different, so work closely with your veterinarian to get any lesions checked out as soon as possible.
Take an active role in your pet’s care by following a set of simple rules. You see your pet much more frequently and in a more relaxed state than your veterinarian does. So think of yourself as an extension of your veterinary team by routinely screening your pet.
If you establish a weekly or biweekly routine of evaluating your pet from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, you will increase the likelihood of detecting a lump or bump early. Check less obvious places, too, such as in the mouth, between the toes, under the tail, in the ears and on the eyelids.
If you find a lump or bump, make sure to document where it is (because inevitably when you try to find it again, you can’t). A simple drawing or photo can be invaluable. As pets age, some will develop more lumps and bumps than others, and maintaining a “map” of their locations will help your veterinarian monitor and diagnose problems.
Next step: Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian – even if your pet is due for an exam in a few months. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your pet and address concerns. Remember that although your veterinarian may have a clinical suspicion as to the cause of a lump or bump, diagnostics may be needed to precisely identify the lesion.
One of the least invasive procedures to evaluate a lump or bump is known as fine needle aspiration and cytology. During this procedure, a veterinarian uses a small needle to collect a sampling of cells. The cells are placed on glass slides, spread evenly and stained for review under a microscope. Many lumps and bumps release cells easily; for these, diagnosis is often immediate. Other cells may be too immature to reveal the tissue of origin without biopsy.
Biopsy procedures vary a bit, but basically your veterinarian will send a piece of the lesion to a laboratory for a veterinary pathologist to look at the tissue and determine its origin. Not all biopsy samples require sedation or anesthesia; your veterinarian will make that decision for you.
Addressing the Issue
Once the lump or bump is sampled and a diagnosis is made, your veterinarian can guide you in forming a plan to address the lesion(s). Some lumps and bumps may resolve on their own, and some may require immediate action.
Some malignant lumps and bumps can carry an excellent prognosis or outcome if they are removed aggressively and early. Other malignant tumors may require something other than surgery, such as radiation, which is becoming more readily available than in years past. They key is early treatment, but we can’t treat early if the lump or bump is not found early.
You are the extra hands that your veterinary team needs to help them care for your pet. By performing your examination for lumps and bumps weekly to biweekly, you have the power to help preserve the relationship with your pet by getting any lumps and bumps that you find mapped, diagnosed and – if needed – treated as soon as possible.
By Michael Canfield, DVM, DACVD