Q: Our 5-year-old pit bull mix named Quincy has a hairless bump on the side of his face that just came up. It’s little, so my husband says it’s not worth checking since it’s so small. Could it be something bad?
A: While seldom an emergency, lumps and bumps on the surface of the skin, toes, ears, mouth or anal area are among the most common reasons pet owners visit their veterinarian. But is it always worth the price of a visit?
A good rule of thumb is that any mass larger than a pea should be carefully examined by a veterinarian and tested. According to veterinary oncologists, a fine needle aspirate to see what kinds of cells it’s made of is almost always in order in these cases.
Here’s a list of the top few lumpy bumpy things we’re likely to see on our dogs’ skin:
- Mast cell tumor: The most common malignant (cancerous) tumor of the skin. It can look like almost anything on the surface of the skin, but tends to show up as a partially hairless mass that may or may not be red or ulcerated.
- Histiocytoma: This is a mass that often mimics the mast cell tumor in appearance. It usually regresses spontaneously.
- Melanoma: Superficial melanomas are typically found in the mouth or toes of dogs. These can be especially aggressive malignant tumors.
- Sebaceous cysts: These cysts arise from the sebaceous glands of dogs. They’re filled with gross fatty material and sometimes expressible, pimple-like.
- Papillomas: These wart-like masses look like small cauliflower-type growths on the surface of the skin. They don’t need to be removed but, let’s face it, they’re ugly.
- Lipomas: These super-common masses are soft, fleshy lumps that are typically hemispherical or round. The deeper ones can feel firmer but they’re almost always benign, too.
- Skin tags: These benign masses look like tiny, often elongated outcroppings of skin. We see them a lot on the bellies and limbs and chins of dogs but they can be anywhere on the skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: These red, ulcerated, irregular, angry-looking tumors typically arise in the mouth of dogs. They’re every bit as malignant and aggressive as they look.
The good news is that most lumps and bumps on the skin are benign. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up the phone and make an appointment as soon as you spot one.