The dreaded “C” word—cancer—springs to every pet owner’s mind if they discover a lump or bump on their cherished companion. However, despite the common occurrence of cancer in cats and dogs as they live longer, an unusual bump on your pet is not always cause for concern. Before working yourself into a tizzy, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis, remembering that many lumps and bumps on pets are benign.

Are lumps and bumps on pets always cancer-related?

At the first sign of an unusual lump or bump on their pet, most pet owners immediately panic, believing their beloved companion has cancer. However, cats and dogs are routinely afflicted with all manner of masses, and many are not cancerous. Some of the more common benign lumps in pets include:

  • Lipoma — A classic lump that worries pet owners, lipomas are benign fatty tumors that commonly form under the skin in middle-aged to older dogs, especially Labradors. Typically, once a pet develops one lipoma, more will crop up. While these tumors are benign, they may require surgical removal if they grow too large, or develop in an area, such as behind the elbow, where they restrict movement. 
  • Histiocytoma — Most common in young dogs, histiocytomas appear as small, red, button-like bumps, generally on the legs. These bumps typically resolve on their own in a few months, and are thought to be associated with an overgrowth of protective immune-system cells. However, they can mimic mast cell tumors and other malignant cancers, so you should have them checked by your family veterinarian.
  • Skin tag — Like aging people, older pets can develop skin tags. These growths generally sprout up on stalks and are harmless, but they can occasionally grow too large or dangle from the skin, potentially catching on objects and bleeding. If a skin tag develops in a less-than-ideal area, such as an eyelid, where they bother the pet, surgical removal is recommended, but they are typically left alone.
  • Sebaceous cyst — A sebaceous cyst is essentially a large pimple on your pet’s skin. These clogged oil glands can rupture and ooze, but they generally don’t bother pets unless they’re inflamed and painful. They often bother the owner more than the pet, as a ruptured cyst can leave a mess on furniture and bedding, so surgical removal may be indicated.
  • Abscess — An infection pocket, or abscess, can be caused by a bite or other traumatic injury, such as a stick or thorn puncture. Abscesses can form under the skin, creating a painful lump that requires draining and flushing by your family veterinarian, or our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center.
  • Hives — If your pet comes in contact with an allergen—from a bee sting, lying in the grass, or frolicing in plant pollen, for example—you may notice a rash of small, red swellings (i.e., hives) that can be incredibly itchy. A mild case of hives generally resolves unassisted, although more severe allergic reactions may require an antihistamine or steroid. 

You may be tempted to panic at the first hint of an unusual bump on your pet, but schedule an appointment as soon as possible with your family veterinarian for a diagnosis, and try not to worry in the meantime. Masses are benign as often as they are malignant, and your furry pal’s lump may be a lipoma, rather than a sarcoma or carcinoma.

What are common cancer signs in pets?

Like people, a wide variety of cancers can afflict pets, which makes early, accurate diagnosis essential for the best prognosis. If you notice any of the following issues with your furry pal, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian for immediate evaluation:

  • Abnormal or rapidly growing swellings
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Bleeding or discharge from body openings
  • Difficulty eating, swallowing, or breathing
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating

Keep in mind, though, that odd lumps and bumps do not always equal cancer in pets. However, lumps that begin to grow rapidly, or change in appearance, may have developed a malignant quality.

Any unusual mass on your furry pal should be checked immediately. As with all diseases, treatment is most effective in the earliest stage, especially if your pet does develop a cancerous tumor. Contact your family veterinarian for an appointment or, if they are not available, turn to our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center for help, if your pet has developed an unusual mass, or other serious illness signs.