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Are Dog Lipomas Cancerous?


Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Characteristics of Dog Lipomas

Lipomas in dogs are growths composed of adipose tissue, also known as body fat. For this reason, lipomas are often called "fatty growths," "fatty skin tumors," or simply "fatty tumors." These generally painless growths are basically deposits of stored fat that for some reason aren't broken down properly and metabolized by the body. The fat is kept solidly in place because it's contained within a thin capsule.

Lipomas are commonly found in middle-aged dogs that are overweight. Certain breeds are predisposed to them. Examples are Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Miniature Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Poodles, and Terriers. If your dog was diagnosed with a lipoma, rest assured you're not alone—actually, you are in great company.

The issue of lipomas is quite widespread; indeed, according to the Whole Dog Journal, 1.7 million dogs in the United States alone are treated for lipomas each year!

These growths tend to share some basic characteristics. Because of these characteristics, some dog owners may feel tempted to diagnose their dog on their own at home, but in the next paragraphs, we will see why this is a risky practice. Following are main traits you will generally notice when you're dealing with a lipoma.

Soft to the Touch

Because lipomas are accumulations of fat under the skin, they will feel like a soft, blob of fat. In some cases, they may feel more on the rubbery, solid side because of the presence of fibrous tissue or inflammation. Even when lipomas grow to great dimensions, their consistency tends to remain the same.

Small, Roundish Shapes

When you palpate a lipoma, it'll likely feel roundish or oval in shape. The size generally varies from the size of a marble to the size of a marshmallow, but it's not unheard of for a lipoma to become as large as a golf ball, with some very large ones even reaching the dimensions of a baseball! In some cases, they may even develop long and wide. I'll never forget the day a vet I worked for called me in the surgery room just to show me a ginormous lipoma almost the size of a small watermelon!

Easily Movable

Because lipomas are fatty, they'll feel squishy under the skin as you palpate them. If you try to press one with your finger, it'll probably move about rather than staying put. This happens because they are typically not attached to the dog's skin or underlying muscle or tissue.

Slow Growing

A lipoma tends to grow slowly and you'll likely notice it as it grows. In most cases, you won't likely see it one day the size of a pea and the next few days the size of a lemon. However, according to CJ Puotinen and Mary Straus, in some cases, lipomas may develop rapidly. If you notice rapid growth, it's best to play it on the safe side and have it checked out by a vet sooner than later.

Generally Painless

As mentioned previously, lipomas generally do not cause pain, infection, or hair loss. However, we will see in the next paragraphs a case where a lipoma may actually cause discomfort and pain.

Preferred Locations

These growths seem to have some preferences when it comes to location. They're commonly found near the upper legs, armpits, neck and along the chest and abdomen. Technically though, they can appear just about anywhere.

Enjoy Good Company

If you just found a possible lipoma in your dog, don't stop looking. Chances are good, you'll find another one, and possibly, another one; indeed, lipomas seem to enjoy each other's company. If you still haven't found another one, your treasure hunt isn't likely over; chances are, your vet may have better luck through a thorough inspection.

The Bottom Line

Just because you have found a lump that shares these traits, doesn't mean it's necessarily a lipoma. For instance, just because a growth is soft doesn't means it's benign. While it's true that several malignant growths are firm and compact to the touch, there are cancers that may appear soft as well. And just because the lump you are looking at is easily movable, doesn't mean it's benign as well. While it's true that many malignant tumors attach to muscles and bones, some may still feel movable. So are dog lipomas cancerous? Read on to learn more.

So Are Dog Lipomas Cancerous? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We often assume that when a vet suspects a lipoma, we're on the safe side, but truth is, there are other things that should be ruled out. This is why after declaring the presence of a suspected lipoma, vets recommend having a fine needle aspirate done to play it safe. Following are answers to the big question of "are dog lipomas cancerous?"

The Good

Despite their unattractive appearance and sometimes large sizes, lipomas aren't life-threatening. Yes, cosmetically they aren't great to look at, but they are benign, and unless they grow so big as to interfere with your dog's natural movements, your vet may simply tell you to just let them be. A vet's recommendation to follow a"wait and see" approach, where you keep an eye on the growth, is only normally given after your vet has ruled out a possible malignancy after doing a fine needle aspiration. Once the pathology report confirms its benign status, your vet may then tell you to just keep an eye on the growth and report any changes.

The Bad

In some cases, a lipoma may become more invasive. They may invade the connective tissue found between muscles, tendons, bones, nerves, or joint capsules, and, depending on their location, they may cause interference with normal functionality. In some cases, they may be painful, and they can even cause muscle atrophy, and interfere with movement causing lameness.

Such lipomas are known as "infiltrative lipomas" and they can be found on the dog's legs, thorax and abdomen, head and perianal regions. They are often seen in Labrador Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers. While these tumors don't metastasize (spread to other body parts as malignant cancers do) they can be locally invasive. When these tumors aren't properly removed, they are quick to grow back in about 50 percent of cases, according to Veterinary Partner.

The Ugly

Don't just rely on how your dog's lump looks and feels to assume it's just another fatty tumor! Truth is, there are sometimes growths that look like lipomas, but are actually cancerous! An example is mast-cell cancer, a malignancy known by veterinarians as "the great imitator." Why? Because these cancers may "look like anything they want, even lipomas" according to Michelle Gray, a veterinarian working at Woodland Animal Hospital in Carmel, IN.

Other malignant growths known to resemble lipomas include sebaceous adenomas, hemangiosarcomas, and hemangiopericytomas. Consider reading this story where a vet diagnosed a dog's lump as a lipoma simply by touch and sight alone, until Dr. Dressler steps in and finds out it's actually a large hemangiosarcoma!

At times, what looks like a lipoma may also turn out being a liposarcoma—a cancer that forms from fat cells. This growth, even though quite rare, pretty much behaves in a similar fashion as soft-tissue sarcomas. In cases of low- or intermediate-grade liposarcomas, the risk for spreading is less than 20% according to Veterinary Partner; however, in the case of higher-grade liposarcomas, the risks for metastasis increase significantly.

Why Do Dogs Get Lipomas in the First Place?

Holistic vets believe that lipomas are a sign of a potential imbalance. The body has a hard time eliminating toxins through the kidneys, liver or intestines so it discharges toxins towards the skin. Veterinarian Stephen Blake compares the dynamics to sweeping a lump of dirt under the rug "when you don’t know what else to do with it." According to Chinese medicine, a lipoma is caused by a stagnation of bodily fluids.

Many veterinarians believe that culprits include unhealthy, commercial diets, vaccinations and exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and flea and tick preventatives. However, this seems to be a subject of controversy and we may never really know the exact culprits. Veterinarian Tia Nelson, DVM, of Helena, Montana claims: "I can show you plenty of lumpy dogs who were holistically raised on grain-free raw food and minimal vaccinations, including some of my own. The simple fact is that some dogs are going to develop lipomas no matter what you do.”

In human medicine, the subject of causes of lipoma are also prone to controversy. Some doctors believe there may be a genetic component, while others believe they erupt when minor injuries takes place; indeed, they are often called "post-traumatic lipomas."However, this link remains controversial.

The bottom line? We may really never know exactly what triggers these unsightly growths. All we know is that we must keep an eye on any lumps and bumps and should have them checked out by a vet to play it safe.

Questions & Answers

Question: Our Labrador has had a fatty lump on his leg for three years, and all of a sudden it has grown drastically in size and turned a dark red colour. Could it have turned cancerous?

Answer: Any changes in size and appearance warrant investigation. A fine needle aspirate is not exceedingly expensive and can give quick results.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 03, 2014:

I am happy you found it useful. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on December 02, 2014:

The doggy 'map' that I printed off here, was a tremendous help in identifying the spots. Some were easy, but the other two would sometimes"hide'. I marked them on the map and then used texter to mark them on Goldie for the vets. She looks fine but is not eating, which is not a problem as she has always eaten well, so she can survive a couple of days without quite well. She looks bright but not looking for play. My vet would not have bothered with the cysts except that I was getting panicky, just in case. .!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 02, 2014:

Sounds like good news! My girl's 3 lumps turned out to be two lipomas and a cyst. Vet told me to keep an eye on the sebaceous/follicular cyst for signs of infection and an eye on the lipomas if they grow bigger. Funny thing is that the lipomas I have a hard time finding them and feeling them as they're under the skin, and the previous vet even missed them altogether, go figure! I guess if they grow bigger they should become more noticeable, hopefully I'll be able to take notice.

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on December 02, 2014:

Hi Alexadry, Goldie has had all four lumps removed. At present she looks a bit battle-scarred, but she is doing well. The Vet said two were Lipomas [fatty tissue] and the other two were Sebacious glands, and he assures me there is no need to send them to the lab. He is an old experienced country vet, so I feel comfortable with his diagnosis.

She also has what looks like skin that is slightly pendulous skin right on her chest, between the forelegs. His view is to "keep an eye on it".

Would you be happy with that kind of diagnosis?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 02, 2014:

Sorry to hear about your dog ladyguitarpicker. Sounds like the lipoma was in an area that was difficult to remove and there were concerns over operating due to age. I am sure he had a wonderful life, 15 is quite a achievement!

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on November 29, 2014:

My dog Sam got a lipoma when he was 13 on his chest it was small then. The vet told me it was a fatty tumor aspirated it and said it was not cancer. I wanted it taken off but they said the dog was to0 old and the tumor was in a dangerous place. To make this long story short the tumor got so big I had the dog put to sleep at age 15. A very good and informative hub. Stella

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 23, 2014:

Thanks MarieLB, when I took my dog to the vet for the small lump, she actually found 2 larger ones under the skin. They felt like lipomas but are waiting on the fine needle aspirate to make sure as there's always those chances for cancer. I hate the wait....

MarieLB from YAMBA NSW on November 22, 2014:

Hi Adrienne, thank you so much for this interesting article. For us dog-owners such information is invaluable, and you have distilled the information of a lifetime into this article. Thank you.


Different Types of Mass

Whether this mass needs removing or not is the next question. Different types of masses, they do need to be approached differently.

Benign Tumors

We have things like skin tags or sebaceous cysts, which are benign lumps. Benign means that although they are growing in that local area, they will not spread to other parts of the body and cause problems elsewhere.

We have benign masses like skin tags or sebaceous cysts. Also, lipomas would fit into this category, which are a very common lump that we get, generally under the skin of larger breed and especially overweight dogs.

These can often be safely left if they are not causing a problem, ulcerating or growing rapidly. That’s not the case for all benign tumors however. Another reason to make sure any mass is checked, even if it appears pretty innocuous.

Malignant Tumors

Malignant tumors are nastier types of mass. They can be really invasive locally. They can cause real problems with where they are or because they often ulcerate. The other big issue with malignant tumors, cancers, is that they spread to other parts of the body. Typically, that's the lungs, but it can also be the liver and kidneys or anywhere else really. Secondary tumors can form elsewhere in the body.

These tumors ideally need to be removed and some of them will need to be removed with a really wide margin. Your vet will have to go quite a long way outside of where the obvious tumor appears to be to try and make sure that we completely remove that mass.


4 Herbs Remedies that Reduce Lipomas in Dog

Chickweed

The Chickweed moves fluids through the body and brings down inflammations throughout the entire system. It clears toxins out of the tissues with the help of the kidneys and liver.

Used internally and externally, Chickweed helps dissolve lipomas and break up clumped fatty tissue. Diuretic in nature, it helps export toxins through the kidneys especially when combined with a lymphatic stimulant like cleavers (Galium aparine).

  • Give as a tincture, 5 drops for every 30 pounds twice a day. Check the chickweed tincture recipe here.

Chamomile & Dandelion

These bitter herbs can help break down fats in the body by stimulating the digestive system. Dandelion and chamomile help clear heat (inflammation) from the body and decrease stagnation of fluids and energy.

Dandelion increases circulation by thinning fluids and supports the linings of the gut by decreasing permeability. It stimulates the release of bile by the gallbladder to help digest fats. Dandelion is a potent lipoma fighter due to its ability to facilitate the removal of toxins through the kidneys and liver.

  • You can add dandelions to your dog’s diet or use a tincture of dandelion ( click for recipe here) giving 1/2 drop of tincture for every pound of weight twice daily. Chamomile makes an effective infusion (a tea steeped 20-30 minutes) added to your dog’s food. Add 1 Tablespoon for every 30 pounds of body weight.


Although the treatment of dog lipomas is widely similar across veterinary practices, there is often a variance in the price. This depends on your geographical location and the vet practice you use.

Lipomas in dogs are typically non-cancerous and harmless. However, they can sometimes grow very large or in uncomfortable places.

In this case, they may need to be removed. The cost to remove a dog lipoma can range anywhere from $300 to $1,500. The largest factors in the price are the number of diagnostics performed and the amount of surgical time.

Most dog lipoma removal costs will fall into the $500 to $800 range. This price includes pre-anesthetic bloodwork and take-home medications.

Lipomas should not be painful, quickly growing or bleeding. If this is the case, make a vet appointment right away. A normal lipoma can wait until your dog’s regular checkup.

Your veterinarian will look at the lump and decide if it is in-fact a lipoma. To determine this, they may recommend a fine needle aspiration test.

The suspected lipoma will be poked with a needle in several locations. The cells gathered will be subsequently examined under a microscope.

This test will show several characteristics of the mass such as detection of the presence of blood, fluid, cancerous cells, fat, etc.

If your veterinarian checks this cytology in-house, it can be as low as $15. If the case is more complicated, it will need to be sent to a professional laboratory. This will raise the cost to $90 to $150.

Most of the time, a suspected lipoma will only show fat on the cytology. This indicates that the lump is not cancerous.

Again, these lipomas do not need removal unless they become large or uncomfortable. Your veterinarian can best tell you if the mass needs to be removed or not.

However, a fine-needle aspirate only removes a small number of cells from the mass meaning, that the test is not always 100% accurate. Also, a liposarcoma, which is the cancerous version of a lipoma, is virtually impossible to distinguish from a harmless fatty lump.

For that reason, most vets will favor removing the lipoma surgically.

  • Health Checks

At the time of examining the lump, your veterinarian will also check the general health of your dog. This will also check if your dog is a good candidate for mass removal surgery.

Your veterinarian will likely recommend bloodwork and urinalysis to assess your dog’s anesthetic risk.

Most dogs that have lipomas are on the older side and should have a blood chemistry panel, a CBC, and a urinalysis.

All in all, these cost roughly $175 to $250. These tests will show the kidney and liver health of your dog, in addition to detecting many other diseases.

Based on the results of these tests, your veterinarian will choose the best methods of anesthesia to use.

Finally, the morning of the surgery, your veterinarian will do a physical exam on your dog and this will cost between $30 and $50. This exam ensures that your pet is well enough for surgery that day.

The price of anesthesia will mainly depend on the size of your dog. To go under anesthesia, your dog will receive an injection of drugs. While it is falling asleep, they will be intubated so that they can receive gas anesthesia and oxygen.

After this, your dog should be hooked up to a machine that monitors heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure. But do take note that not all clinics routinely use anesthetic monitoring.

Be sure to ask how your dog’s vital signs will be monitored during the procedure. Choosing an American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accredited hospital will make sure that the best practices for surgery are used.

Anesthesia medications and monitoring will be in the $50 to $200 cost range for most dogs. If multiple masses need to be removed and the anesthesia lasts longer, the cost could go up to $400.

Especially for older dogs, IV fluids are usually given during surgery. This involves placing an IV catheter and maintaining the correct rate of fluids.

This will increase the safety of anesthesia for your dog but will increase the cost of the procedure by roughly $30.

Once your dog is under anesthesia, the veterinary technician will prepare the surgery site. The area will be shaved and scrubbed clean.

This will make the area sterile and prevent any infection from the mass removal operation. There is usually no separate charge for this preparation.

The veterinarian will surgically remove the lipoma and sew the area back up with suture. This costs around $400 per hour and $15 per pack of suture.

The time the surgery takes will vary greatly depending on the size and number of lipomas to be removed.

One small lipoma should take roughly 15 minutes and one pack of suture. A very large lipoma could take an hour and 3 packs of suture.

After your pet’s surgery is complete, the surgery site will be cleaned and sterilized. If the wound is in an area on your dog’s body where it could be damaged by scratching or rubbing, a dressing will probably be used to protect the site.

The charge for wound dressing is typically around $20.

Only a pathologist can determine with certainty if the mass removed was cancerous. It is rare for lipoma-like masses to turn out to be cancer, but this test can offer peace of mind.

Sending out the mass to a pathologist costs $100 to $300. The price mainly depends on the size of the mass.

Your dog will likely be sent home with pain medication, antibiotics, and an e-collar.

The antibiotics should cost under $30 unless your veterinarian prefers a long-acting injectable antibiotic. This will add significant cost and can be in the $100 range.

For otherwise healthy dogs, pain medication will be in the $30 range. If it has other medical concerns, the cost of pain medication may be over $100.

An e-collar will need to be worn while the surgery site heals. It will cost $10 to $30, depending on your dog’s size.

Straightforward lipoma surgery sites usually heal well and quickly. You will need to take your dog to see your vet again ten days or so following the surgery to have the stitches removed. Follow-up consultations usually cost around $30, but many clinics include them in the surgery price so that you don’t have to pay during the follow-up.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA is a prolific pet health writer, occasional media personality, and a practicing veterinary clinician (for almost 23 years!).


Lipomas and Lumps on Dogs: Common Causes

What’s that strange lump growing on your dog’s belly? If you’re getting increasingly concerned about the growing mass on your beloved dog’s body, then it’s time to learn about lipomas. These masses can be distressing to pet owners and pets alike, especially when you don’t know what’s wrong.

So what are lipomas, and is your dog’s health in danger?

First, we have some good news. While lipomas are a common type of canine tumor, they are non-cancerous tumors, which means they are usually benign. When the endocrine and immune systems are not functioning at full capacity, the body does what it can to encapsulate any unwanted material and eliminate it through the largest excretory organ, the skin. Lipomas and other fatty tumors are usually a result of that process.

It’s estimated that 1.7 million dogs in the United States are treated for lipomas every year. There are a variety of reasons that your dog will develop lipomas, but here are three of the most common contributors to these canine tumors.

Poor diet

Your dog’s diet can actually lead to the development of a lipoma. Carbohydrates, chemical preservatives, and other toxins found in processed food all contribute to fatty tumor growth. Water is also an important part of your dog’s diet. If you can, you should avoid tap water because the chlorine can damage your dog’s thyroid and upset their endocrine system.

Drugs and chemicals

When you go to animal hospitals and emergency veterinarians, your dog will get treated for issues like fleas, ticks, heartworm, and other parasites that can harm your dog (the female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in her lifetime!). However, you should avoid treatments that expose your pup to unnecessary drugs and chemicals. In rare cases, these can lead to lipoma growth.

Environmental factors

Your dog’s environment is a major source of toxins, especially if pesticides or herbicides are present in your area. In the spring and summer, many people are spraying their yards for pests like ants, fleas, and ticks. Unfortunately, these sprays can affect your furry friend too. Most experts recommend not using these products in your home or yard if you have pets. When you walk your dog in a place that’s likely to have herbicides and pesticides, wash your dog’s feet off with soap when you get home to prevent them from licking and absorbing the toxins through the pads on their paws.

Diagnosing Lipomas in Dogs

Most lipomas are diagnosed during routine pet wellness visits. Your veterinarian or animal hospital will do a complete physical exam, and a typical checkup will include an examination for obvious masses. However, if you have noticed a growth on your pup, you can schedule an appointment to find out if it is harmful. During the appointment, your veterinarian will use a needle to take a sample of the tumor. Further testing will reveal whether this is a non-cancerous lipoma or something more serious.

What Happens Next?

In some cases, surgery will be required to remove the mass from your pet’s skin. A computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be needed to understand the mass and tissue location before surgery can be completed. Because lipomas are not usually dangerous, your vet may recommend against surgery , which may be far riskier than the growth itself. This is especially true for older dogs who may not cope well with surgery. While the growing tumor may be distressing, it’s not necessarily dangerous.

If you think your pet is affected by a lipoma, then certain toxins in their food, medication, or their environment may be to blame. If you’ve noticed a new growth on your dog, then it might be wise to get to an emergency animal hospital right away. Hopefully, the canine tumor you’ve found is nothing to worry about!

You don’t need to wait for an emergency to become familiar with our veterinary services . Get the best care you can find for all of your pet’s health needs. We are more than just an animal hospital. Call 520-888-3177 for more information about our specialty services on site, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


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