Vet should look at most pets’ lumps, but don’t be alarmed

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.

Q: My old schnauzer keeps getting lumps. So far they’ve been benign but I’m concerned there are now so many that I’m not sure we can possibly check them all. Do they need to come off? Everyone tells me something different.

A: Most seasoned pet owners know the drill: A new lumpy-bumpy mass pops up on their pet’s body, seemingly overnight. It’s a common occurrence in most pets. In fact, it’s among the top 10 reasons owners cite for heading to the vet.

For good reason. There are plenty of ways in which simple swellings can be a manifestation of dangerous but highly treatable diseases. And most pet owners would never know unless they went to see a veterinarian –– usually as soon as possible after observing the lump.

Veterinarians will often refer to superficial lumps and bumps as “masses.” Strictly speaking, they might also be called “tumors,” “growths” or “tumescences” (swellings).

Most of the time external lumpy bumpy masses will be within or just under the skin. Here are a variety of common causes for superficial masses in pets:

▪ Wounds, abscesses and allergic reactions: Most typically the result of bites, stings or allergic skin disease.

▪ Benign masses: Wart-like masses, skin tags, fluid-filled cysts arising from the skin glands, fatty tumors (lipomas) and histiocytomas are all examples of benign masses that may or may not need to be removed.

▪ Cancerous tumors: The scariest of them all. But the good news is that these cancers are often cured once removed.

Here’s what your veterinarian will do:

▪ Get the history: When was it first noticed? How has it changed?

▪ Perform a physical examination: Checking out the entire pet is fundamental, even when investigating a seemingly simple growth.

▪ Insert a needle: A fine needle aspirate is a very common practice. It’s done with the hope of extracting a few telltale cells that can be identified under the microscope. Or …

▪ Undertake a surgical biopsy: This method tends to be the most effective (if more invasive and expensive).

So should you have your vet check them all? Absolutely! The rule of thumb is that all superficial growths should be investigated if they’re pea-sized or bigger (though not necessarily removed). Your veterinarian will probably include an annotated “map” of these in the medical record. This way you can be sure they’re always appropriately monitored and you can rest easy.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to