Q & A: Lump on senior dog

Q: I noticed a lump on my older dog’s skin. What should I do?

A: A large portion of cancers start as a skin lump. Most lumps on a dog’s skin are tumours. You get two types of tumours. A benign tumour is an overgrowth of non-harmful cells and can just be in the way, but not cause major life-threatening conditions. A malignant tumour can be a very aggressive cancer and spread to the internal organs such as the liver, spleen and lungs, and once it has reached this stage, it is too late to do anything.

The size, shape and rate at which the lump grows are not an indication of whether it is benign or malignant. Sometimes, highly malignant tumours can be very small and grow slowly, but are likely to spread quickly. The right thing to do with any lump is to have your vet examine it. If possible, they will do a fine needle aspirate, where they use a needle to collect some cells from the lump and examine these cells under a microscope to get an idea if the cells are benign or malignant. They will then be able to advise you if the lump needs to be removed or if it can be left alone.

Age is not a reason to leave a lump alone – even an old dog deserves a good quality of life in his last few years. Therefore, it is never a good idea to ‘leave a lump, watch it and see what it does’. All lumps should be treated as serious and possibly malignant until proven otherwise. We see many cancers in dogs these days, so picking it up sooner rather than later can save your dog’s life.

Dr Le-Anne Kleynhans, veterinarian

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