Think of lipomas as wrinkles on dogs -- unfortunate side effects of the aging process. The good news is that, in the majority of cases, they are harmless, they are slow to grow, and they have no effect on mobility. Removal requires a surgical procedures, but unless the lipoma is causing a problem, removal is not recommended as a standalone procedure.
Lipomas are composed of benign fatty tissue. They form soft, squishy, moveable lumps within the skin layer and are not associated with any skin irritation, pain or hair loss. Their mechanism of action is not fully understood, but they seem most prevalent in older dogs, especially in overweight females. In addition, certain breeds -- such as cocker spaniels, dachshunds, poodles and some terriers -- are more likely to develop these. Lipomas are easily diagnosed with a procedure called a fine needle aspirate. This process involves inserting a needle into the lump, procuring cells and taking a microscopic look at them.
Most lipomas will be centered around the belly or chest and will not impact movement or health. They are merely cosmetic issues. However, on occasion, lipomas may develop in the armpit or groin area, causing restriction. In these cases and in more serious ones, surgical removal may be recommended. Infiltrative lipomas are those that invade the surrounding bones and muscles, causing decrease in function. They're often found on limbs. Elsewhere, they can also restrict breathing, digestion and defecation. It should be noted that, while these are more difficult to control, they are also noncancerous.
Surgical excision of lipomas is the only treatment option. But for cosmetic lipomas, the reality is that if there is one, there will be more. Surgery requires anesthesia, and some risks associated with that -- especially in the target patient -- an older, possibly overweight dog. Therefore, veterinarians will often recommend observation; sometimes they suggest removal should a dog need to go under the knife for another necessary procedure.
When surgery is recommended, as in the case of infiltrative lipomas, or those causing distress to your pup, your veterinarian may want to conduct additional imaging to help determine the extent of the fatty tissue deposits. In addition, the vet will likely recommend preoperative lab work to ensure Fido is healthy enough for a surgical procedure. Surgery will seek to remove the lipoma completely to prevent regrowth. However, if this is not possible, radiation therapy is another means.
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