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How to Spot and Treat Tumours, Growths and Cysts in Dogs

Written by: Helena Lawrence



Time to read 7 min

It's not uncommon to come across lumps and bumps on adorable pooches of all kinds. Growths, tumours, cysts, and masses can unexpectedly pop up on dogs of any age, but they tend to be more common among our dogs as they get older. As a devoted dog owner, it's important to familiarise yourself with the different types of growths you might encounter. That's what we're going to discuss in our article so you'll be armed with more information about any lumps and bumps you might spot on your dog.

If you ever notice a persistent or unusual lump or growth that concerns you, don't hesitate to speak to your vet!

Spotting Symptoms of Tumours, Growths & Cysts

These abnormal growths can appear anywhere on your furry buddy's body or in their mouth. Keep an eye out for the following signs:

- An irregular lump or bump on the skin, ranging from small to large

- Swelling in specific areas, particularly within the body

- An oral growth

- Enlarged lymph nodes

- Limping or swelling affecting a bone

1. Abnormal Lumps & Bumps

Spotted a strange lump or bump on your dog? Don't worry, we have more information on the world of skin cysts and tumours below. 

Sebaceous cysts, adenomas, and adenocarcinomas are common types of skin cysts that contain sebum, a thick, oily material that can collect around hair follicles and these cysts can pop up anywhere on your dog's body. Sebaceous cysts are mostly harmless, but sometimes they can masquerade as sebaceous gland adenocarcinomas (malignant tumors) or sebaceous gland adenomas (benign masses). 

If the cyst isn't bothering your pup, your vet might just let it be. However, if need be, it can also be surgically removed. It's typically sent off to a lab for a veterinary pathologist to confirm it's nothing more than a sebaceous cyst or if it's an adenoma or adenocarcinoma, which might need extra attention.

Histiocytomas are those red bumps that seem to appear out of thin air and vanish in a few months. Sometimes though they can grow pretty quickly and annoy your pup. In those cases, your vet might advise removing the larger or more irritated histiocytomas. Just a heads up, these cheeky growths are more common on younger dogs.

Skin tags; yes, dogs can get them too! But don't worry, these tags are usually harmless and not removed unless they cause your four-legged buddy discomfort, or they decide to get big and irritated.

Malignancies like malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These can appear on the skin or even in the mouth, and gone of the main causes of them is sun exposure.

Mast cell tumours can show up as skin bumps or lurking inside your pup's body. Be careful though, because when these masses are disturbed, they release histamine, which can upset your dog's system. So, if your vet suspects a mast cell tumor, they might start with a little diphenhydramine action to minimise the histamine release. And don't worry, once the mass is removed, a pathologist will assess it and give the tumor a grade (I, II, or III) to determine how advanced it is and the likelihood of it spreading to other parts of your dog's body.

2. Swollen Area in the Body

It's not uncommon for our beloved senior dogs to develop internal masses in their chest or abdomen. These masses can be detected through symptoms like difficulty breathing or vomiting, or even during a routine check-up. Whether they turn out to be harmless or cancerous, your vet will be able to provde a diagnosis using a combination of radiographs, ultrasound, tests and biopsy.

Mammary tumours are more commonly found in female dogs, especially those who haven't been spayed, but they can still occur in spayed females too. Although some mammary masses may be benign, many can be cancerous. But here's the good news: early detection and surgical removal of these masses greatly improve the prognosis, especially when they're still small.

Another typical type of tumour in dogs is a lipoma. Don't worry, lipomas are usually harmless fatty masses that can be found anywhere on your dog's body, typically just below the skin. They're usually soft and moveable, causing little to no pain or discomfort for your dog. However, if they start interfering with your dog's mobility or comfort, grow rapidly, or even rupture causing skin damage, they can be surgically removed. 

It's worth noting that in rare cases, what may appear as a lipoma could actually be a malignant tumour called liposarcoma, but don't worry, your vet will be able to differentiate the two.

What is a Lipoma? - A lipoma is a fatty tumor just below the skin. It is a benign (non-cancerous) lump made up from fatty tissue.

3. Oral Growths: What you Need to Know

Did you know that there are various types of growths that can appear in your beloved dog's mouth? These growths may not always be immediately visible, but they can cause troublesome signs like bad breath, chewing difficulties, mouth pain, and even pawing at the face. Some types of oral growths are:

Papillomas - These are warts caused by the papillomavirus and can pop up on your pup's lips, face, or inside the mouth. Although they are relatively harmless, they are highly contagious. Don't worry, though - in most cases, they tend to disappear on their own.

Epulis - An oral growth that commonly forms around the gum area. While many of these growths are harmless, some can be a bit more sinister. That's why further diagnostics are essential to nip any potential trouble in the bud.

Gingival hyperplasia - an excessive amount of gum tissue that looks like a tiny tumour but don't let the name scare you! It's usually harmless and can be removed if it affects your pup's teeth or annoys them. Just to be extra cautious, any removed tissue might be sent to a veterinary pathologist for a thorough check.

Oral melanoma, which might appear as a black growth, squamous cell carcinoma and fibrosarcoma, are types of cancer that can rear their ugly heads in your dog's mouth. If you spot any growths that cause you concern it's important to speak to your vet.

4. Enlarged Lymph Nodes in Dogs

Did you know that lymphoma, a cancer of certain cells within the immune system, can initially show as swollen lymph nodes? These lumps, which resemble tumours, are commonly found in the neck area but they can also appear in the armpits, lower abdomen near the thighs, or even behind the knees. If you notice any of these signs, don't hesitate to take your dog to the vet for a fine needle aspiration or biopsy. Chemotherapy is typically the go-to treatment for lymphoma.

Now, let's talk about the causes. Just like with humans, determining the exact cause of tumors, growths, and cysts in animals can be challenging. However, it is thought that environmental factors or illnesses could play a role in leading to canine skin problems. Additionally, genetics can have a significant impact on the development of various types of tumors, growths, and cysts.

5. Lameness & swelling

Lameness or swelling affecting a bone can also indicate a problem. If you notice your dog limping, favouring a leg, or displaying signs of lameness, it could be due to an underlying growth or cyst that, unfortunately, you can't feel. Regardless of whether it's a tumour, growth, or cyst, your dog is likely experiencing discomfort and pain. To bring them relief, a visit to the vet is necessary to get a proper diagnosis.

Causes of Tumours, Growths & Cysts

Now, let's talk about the causes. Just like with humans, determining the exact cause of tumors, growths, and cysts in animals can be challenging. However, it is thought that age, environmental factors, illnesses could play a role. Additionally, genetics can have a significant impact on the development of various types of tumours, growths, and cysts.

Preventing Tumours, Growths & Cysts in your Dog

While some lumps and bumps are inevitable, there are measures you can take. For instance, spaying your dog before her first heat cycle significantly reduces the chances of mammary tumours developing.

But that's not all! To keep your dog in tip-top shape, make sure they follow a healthy diet, enjoy an active lifestyle, and receive regular check-ups from your vet. 

Don't forget to stick to a regular grooming routine, giving you the chance to spot any new lumps or bumps. It's always better to be safe than sorry. So, snap a photo and keep a written record. If you notice any rapid changes, don't hesitate to reach out to your vet right away.

What Happens if My Dog Has a Tumour, Cyst or Growth?

When a suspicious lump pops up on your pup and you take them to the vet they'll give your dog a thorough examination to identify the origin of the lump. While sometimes it could be a temporary hitch like a bug bite or vaccination reaction, sometimes extra detective work is needed to pinpoint the cause. This usually involves analysing a sample from the lump under a microscope to unravel its cellular composition.

These samples are then evaluated by pathologists who can determine whether the mass is cancerous, and if so, what kind of cancer your dog is up against.

If cancer is confirmed, your vet may recommend further detective work, including:

- Lab tests like blood chemistry, complete blood count, and urinalysis

- Radiographs (X-rays) to search for any signs of spreading or other issues

- Ultrasound scans to look into internal organs and check for metastasis

- CT scans or MRI scans to closely inspect your pup's tumor and internal structures

If your dog is diagnosed with cancer then aside from showing them even more love and attention you can also help them by making sure they have the best diet possible. Treatments can be tough on their body so it is important to make sure they are getting the right nutrients to help them stay as healthy as possible. There are also some foods such as mushrooms, like the blend in our Super Shrooms supplement, that are thought to be beneficial to dogs due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Remember, if you think your beloved dog is unwell, contact your vet immediately. And for any health-related queries, your vet is the expert to consult. They've examined your dog, know their medical history inside out, and can give you the best advice tailored to your companion.