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By By Peter Lam |

Q. I have a 9-year-old Bluetick Coonhound—the best dog I ever had. Last year, I noticed two soft lumps, one on his chest and one on his abdomen. I took him to the veterinarian to get checked out. I asked for the complete geriatric profile, which along with his yearly vaccinations and exam includes a bunch of bloodwork. Everything all checked out normal. Our vet performed a needle biopsy of one of the tumors and said that they were fat tumors. She said there was nothing to worry about, but to notify her if the tumors hardened. Well, they are still soft, but have multiplied to 10! Again, the vet says that they’re just fat tumors. What is a fat tumor, and if they are nothing to worry about, why are they multiplying? That worries me. Should I seek a second opinion? He is getting old and surgery is more high-risk for him, but I would like to keep him around for a few more years. If they are truly nothing to worry about, I'll let it be, but being a nurse, the word "tumor" sends up smoke signals for me. I just don't want him to suffer through cancer. Your opinion would be much appreciated.

A. Thank you for your thoughtful question. Older dogs can get lots of lumps and bumps, and it’s absolutely imperative that dog owners monitor the size, shape and location of these lumps so that their veterinarians can check them out. It’s never acceptable to take a “wait and see" attitude when it comes to skin masses. Just as with humans, the sooner a lump is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances for survival.

Having said that, dogs are very different from people in respect to skin masses because they commonly get small lumps comprised of fatty tissue known as lipomas. These are benign tumors, but can grow alarmingly large.

Your veterinarian is able to diagnose these with a simple procedure known as a fine-needle aspirate. A needle is inserted into the lump, and the contents are pushed onto a slide for viewing under a microscope. Be aware that this is not the same as a biopsy, which requires that a slice of tissue be prepared and viewed by a pathologist to determine the "architecture" of the cells.

However, a lipoma is relatively easy to diagnose, since it looks mostly like oil droplets on a slide. In very few cases, lipomas can be malignant (known as liposarcomas), and can spread. However, these have a different appearance under the microscope and are readily detected.

In general, lipomas are not removed unless they are so large they interfere with a dog's normal movement or cause discomfort. If your dog is going to be anesthetized for another reason, such as a dental cleaning, you can discuss having them removed at that time.

Lipomas often occur on the chest wall, but can appear anywhere on the body. They are generally soft, non-painful, and move around freely under the skin. I would be rest assured that your veterinarian has correctly diagnosed these, but would encourage you to monitor your dog carefully for any new lumps, or any significant changes in existing ones.

This is just one more reason you should spend lots of time hugging your dog.


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