Lipoma in Dogs
Although it seems like our dogs live forever, they may occasionally develop health issues. Some health issues seem to affect dogs of certain ages or breeds. Lipomas fall into that category and are something worth learning more about.
What is a Lipoma?
A lipoma is a tumor or mass that develops under the skin of some dogs. They’re generally soft, have limited mobility beneath the skin and do not affect the overlying skin. They’re made of mature fat cells and, therefore, feel like squishy, softy lumps and are generally located between the muscle layers and skin.
Lipomas often develop in the chest or abdomen; the biggest majority of lipomas are located anywhere in the body. How they affect the dog depends on how large they get and where they’re located. If undetected or treated, they can get larger with time.
A Breed Predisposition
When a lipoma is located on the lower part of the chest or between the dog’s legs, they can affect the dog’s movement. It’s not unusual for a dog with a lipoma to develop several tumors. Although this can be scary to dog owners, it’s important to remember that just because there are many tumors doesn’t necessarily mean they’re malignant or cancerous. Because different types of tumors can look similar, it’s important to have any mass checked out by a veterinarian.
Lipomas are not classified as cancerous masses. They also don’t typically metastasize (spread) to other organs or tissues. However, they can create other problems if they occur in inconvenient areas of the body or if they grow large enough to interfere with normal everyday movement.
What Dogs are Susceptible?
Lipomas are the most common type of benign growth found in dogs today. Like many other tumors or masses, the exact cause of canine lipomas is unknown. Because they’re made up mostly of fat cells, veterinarians believe that obesity can play an important role in the development or susceptibility of lipomas.
About 16% of the dogs most predisposed to developing lipomas are middle-aged to geriatric dogs. Geriatric obese female dogs are highly at risk of getting lipomas. This is not to say that a young male dog will not ever get a lipoma just that they’re less likely to.
It’s also difficult to determine what dogs are more prone to developing lipomas. However, because they may be found more often in certain dog breeds, a certain amount of genetic susceptibility may be assumed. Breeds most likely to develop lipomas include:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- Cocker Spaniels
- Miniature Schnauzers
How is it Diagnosed?
Dog owners who pet, groom or touch their dog regularly often discover a lipoma on their own. It will feel like a small round lump directly under the dog’s skin. Although they’re generally soft and mobile, they may also be firm masses that appear to be attached to the tissues. It’s also not uncommon for a dog to have several lipomas on their body at one time.
When a dog is brought to the vet with a lipoma, the first thing the vet will do is give the dog a complete examination and check for more masses. Veterinarians generally diagnose lipomas using a fine-needle aspirate. The needle is inserted into the skin to retrieve a few cells to determine if the mass is indeed a lipoma or is a more serious mass that just looks and feels like a lipoma.
Despite the needle aspiration being the most common method of diagnosis, it’s not always 100% accurate because it only pulls out a few tiny cells, and these cells may not accurately represent the entire mass. If the vet determines that he is not getting an accurate diagnosis with the needle, he may perform a biopsy on the dog.
The vet may use imaging tests like an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computed tomography) to get a better look at the mass and learn its accurate location and size. If these methods do not fully satisfy the vet, he may determine that surgical removal of the mass is required to provide the most accurate diagnosis.
Since most lipomas are noncancerous (benign), the prognosis is very good. In most cases, they’re harmless and will not pose a health risk to the dog. There is relatively no prevention method for lipomas. However, since elderly dogs that are obese tend to be at the highest risk for lipomas, maintaining a dog’s good health and monitoring the diet can be the best way to prevent lipomas from re-developing.
Treatment for the lipoma depends a lot on the size and location of the lipoma. The majority of lipomas found in dogs are harmless, so surgical removal is generally used only if the lipoma is large enough to interfere with bodily functions, hinder normal movement or cause the dog discomfort. Often, just knowing that it is a harmless lipoma is treatment enough.
Dog owners who own a show dog or worry about appearance often choose to have the masses surgically removed. Vets often discourage this because the rate of post-operative problems is high with these surgeries. To avoid these complications, many vets are now using liposuction to remove the fatty cells from the mass.
A more complex procedure may be required if the dog has an infiltrative lipoma, which is a lipoma that invades into the muscle tissue and fascia making surgical removal very difficult. In this situation, vets often choose a combination of surgical excision and radiation therapy to prevent the chance of re-growth. Other methods of treatment include laser therapy, steroid injections and similar alternative therapies.
Health issues like lipomas are one of the main reasons why many dog owners choose to purchase pet insurance. Pet insurance doesn’t typically cover routine office visits for services like wellness exams or annual vaccinations but covers emergency visits or services for illnesses like a lipoma. While simple treatment for lipomas may not be really expensive, the costs can add up if surgery, treatment and/or radiation is involved.