People love to pet and groom their dogs and cats, and we often know our pet’s physique as well as our own. As a result, concerns about newly discovered skin infections, bumps and lumps are very common. The causes of these growths in animals are numerous and treatment options can vary dramatically.
Some changes in the skin can occur suddenly. Skin infections, for example, can arise in a matter of days and can feel like thickened areas under the skin. Hives can occur in a matter of minutes and be very dramatic in appearance. Hives are usually the result of an allergic reaction, such as insect stings or even vaccinations. Injectable, oral or topical medications are often used to treat these examples.
A thorough physical exam by a veterinarian is the first place to start when trying to determine the cause of a new lump or bump. Routine annual physical exams by a veterinarian can also identify subtle changes missed at home. As vets, we strive to determine if the lump is on the skin, in the skin, or under the skin. We also try to learn whether the lumps or bumps are new or have been present for a while and if they are infectious, contagious, benign or malignant. During the veterinary exam, your pet’s skin and any suspicious areas will be examined for many different factors, including irritation, infection, color, size, shape, texture, and whether the mass is soft, solid or filled with fluid. We will try to determine if other organs are associated with the lump or bump.
Many times we can visually diagnose the cause of the new growth. Other situations require the use of cytology in which a needle is inserted into the suspicious area. This process does not typically require sedation or local anesthesia. A syringe is attached to the needle allowing a small number of cells to be collected and then expressed onto a microscope slide. A quick 3-step staining process is then performed to look at the cells microscopically and make a preliminary diagnosis of the lump. Veterinarians have years of training in this process and are adept at diagnosing masses or tumors with cytology. If further diagnostics are needed, your vet may recommend surgical removal of lumps or bumps, particularly if he or she feels the initial cytology looks suspicious. Surgical removal of masses allows the surgeon to remove extra tissue around the suspicious areas and submit the tissue to a board-certified pathologist for an exact diagnosis.
Biopsies, or microscopic identification of cell types, allow your veterinarian to make the proper treatment plan for your pet. In some cases, bloodwork may also be needed to determine internal organ function, particularly if the biopsy reveals a malignancy that is responsive to chemotherapy. Radiographs may also be necessary to see if any spread of a malignancy has occurred.
While much of this information can seem overwhelming, rest assured that the majority of lumps and bumps can be diagnosed and treated very effectively, allowing your pet to maintain a happy future and quality of life. The most important thing is to seek advice from your vet as early as possible.
Originally published November 2015 in the Lake Norman Citizen