What is Lipoma in Dogs?
Not all tumors are cancerous, and lipoma in dogs is one of the more common types your dog can suffer from. Here’s what you need to know about this benign growth.
The word “tumor” can be scary for anyone, and it is definitely not a word you want to hear your veterinarian utter. It is important to realize, however, that not all tumors are cancerous and there are some that aren’t dangerous at all. Lipomas are a type of tumor known to affect dogs and, though they can cause certain complications, they are generally not life-threatening.
What are Lipomas?
A lipoma is a subcutaneous mass – that is, a mass that grows under the skin. Lipomas are generally soft and fatty and they are very common in older dogs as well as overweight dogs. The important thing to remember about lipomas is that they are benign – that is, they are not cancerous. If the growth is cancerous, or malignant, it is called a liposarcoma. Liposarcomas can spread to other parts of the body (this is called metastasis) but lipomas generally stay in one place, though they can grow larger over time. Some lipomas grow large enough to impede the dog’s movement, depending where they are located.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common symptom of lipomas in dogs is actually feeling a mass growing under the dog’s skin. In most cases the lipoma will feel soft and moveable and they are frequently located on the belly, under the legs, or in the trunk area. Lipomas generally do not cause the dog any pain or discomfort, though large lipomas may affect your dog’s mobility. In most cases, a dog that develops one lipoma will develop others, so keep an eye out.
In order to diagnose a lipoma in your dog, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam to check for palpable masses all over the body. After locating the lipomas, the vet may use a very fine needle to aspirate the lipoma – to check and see if it is benign or if it might be another kind of mass that presents like a lipoma. In cases where the aspiration is inconclusive, additional tests or surgery may be required. Sometimes a CT or MRI will be able to diagnose a lipoma.
Dealing with Lipomas in Dogs
Because lipomas are benign and generally do not cause the dog any pain, most lipomas do not need to be removed or treated in any way. Untreated lipomas will, of course, continue to grow but treatment won’t be necessary until it impedes the dog’s motion or normal function. If during surgical testing the lipoma is revealed to be malignant, the mass will likely be removed while the dog is still under anesthesia. Removal of subcutaneous masses is generally fairly straightforward but there is one kind of lipoma that is a little bit trickier – an infiltrative lipoma. An infiltrative lipoma is more than just a subcutaneous mass – it has infiltrated into the muscle tissue which makes removal a little more complicated. In cases like this, radiation therapy may be recommended as the primary treatment or in combination with surgical removal.
Even though lipomas are generally not dangerous, you should still have them checked out by your veterinarian. Keep in mind that the only way to find a lipoma is to actually see it or to feel it under your dog’s skin so take the time at least once a week to examine your dog’s body. Even if you don’t find a lipoma you may find another problem early enough to have your veterinarian treat it before it becomes a serious issue. Early detection is the key to successful treatment for a variety of conditions.
As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to keep an eye on your dog’s condition. If you notice any changes in behavior or if you feel a mass under your dog’s skin, do not delay in contacting your veterinarian to have it checked out.