by Dr. Tessa Horslev
“What do you think it is, doc?” asked Miss Petunia’s owner. Just a few days prior she had noticed a growth on Miss Petunia’s chest while petting her dog one evening after their walk. Throughout their lives, our pets often develop various “lumps and bumps”. The good news is that many of these growths are often harmless or benign and do not require medical treatment.
The difficult part is determining which growths are more serious and require medical attention and which growths can be left alone. Some growths, like lipomas, are benign and rarely cause serious issues. Even these growths, however, can occasionally grow large enough or are located in an area that they are uncomfortable for your pet. In addition, in very rare circumstances, a malignant, aggressive form of this tumor type, called a liposarcoma can develop.
Sebaceous cysts are superficial growths on the skin caused by clogged oil glands. Once again, these growths are generally harmless and typically do not require treatment. On occasion though, they can become large, rupture or become infected. In these instances, surgical removal is usually curative.
Then there are the more worrisome growths, the growths that are malignant or cancerous, that keep us up at night wondering about the well-being of our beloved pet. So how do we know which category a growth falls into? Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that there is no way to know definitively what a growth is based solely on general appearance. Benign growths can often have the same appearance as cancerous growths. As veterinarians, we can have very strong suspicions based on clinical experience, but the only way to get a definitive diagnosis is by microscopic examination of a sample of the affected tissue. Once a definitive diagnosis has been made, you and your veterinarian can decide the best course of action, whether it be a conservative wait and monitor approach, surgery to remove the growth, referral to a specialist or no treatment at all.
In general, if you find a new lump or bump on your pet, whether it is on the skin, in the mouth or elsewhere, it is always a good idea to have it examined sooner rather than later. For many cancerous growths, time is of the essence; if the tumor can be caught and removed before it has had a chance to spread, removal can greatly improve the outcome or sometimes even be curative. On the positive side, many of the growths our pets get are harmless and do not require treatment and for those that are more serious in nature there are often effective treatment options available.
Dr. Horslev can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 404.874.6393.