If your older dog is developing lumps and bumps, take him to the vet for an examination—but don't panic. It's likely these lumps are lipomas, or fatty benign tumors. Check your dog's body regularly for new growths, perhaps as part of your grooming ritual. Lipomas feel soft to the touch and move easily when you grasp them.
Since a lipoma is basically a lump of fat, it doesn't cause your dog any pain and you won't see any changes in the skin, such as hair loss. Lipomas often develop in multiples, so it's common for your dog to have several on his body. While they usually appear on the abdomen or chest, lipomas can form anywhere. Lipomas near the legs can interfere with movement. It's not unusual for lipomas to increase in size over time.
While any dog might develop lipomas, certain breeds are more prone to these fatty tumors. These include the Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Labrador and golden retrievers, miniature schnauzer and Weimaraner. The typical dog with lipomas is a middle-aged, overweight female. Think of lipoma development as a semi-normal part of the canine aging process.
While lipomas are usually benign, the fatty tumor known as liposarcoma is malignant—and, fortunately, also rare. This type of cancer generally spreads to other organs. Your vet will aspirate the lump with a fine needle, so that she can determine whether or not cancer cells are present. If your dog is diagnosed with liposarcoma, surgical removal of the tumor often cures the problem if the cancer hasn't yet spread. Generally liposarcomas are slow-growing tumors. Since it's not possible to tell whether a lump is a lipoma or liposarcoma just by looking at it, have your vet examine every lump as soon as it appears on your dog. If it does turn out to be cancer, early detection and removal offer the best prognosis.
In most cases no treatment is necessary. If the lipoma affects your dog's movement or you just want it gone, your vet can remove it surgically. There's always a possibility that a fine-needle aspiration didn't detect a cancerous cell, so getting rid of the mass allows the vet to examine the entire lump. Some veterinary practices now offer lipoma eradication via liposuction. Whether removed surgically or by liposuction, these fatty tumors often grow back in the same place.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.