Help! I felt something strange on my dog/cat! Now what?
By Dr. Bianca-Lee Partington BVSc
Let’s first define what a lump is – any area on the skin of your pet that feels raised or swollen in some way. These areas may be covered with fur, or have absolutely no hair on them at all. They may show some discoloration (hues of red/purple/blue/black etc.) and may also appear to have a crusty scab on top of it. It may be as small as a pimple or as large as an orange (and sometimes larger), or anything in between. Another important detail to note is its texture – how does it feel? Is it soft and squishy? Can you almost pick up the mass between your fingers (is it loosely attached)? Is it very hard and tense? Does it feel warm to the touch?
All of these descriptors are very helpful when discussing a lump with your vet, but please note that nothing will be clear enough to diagnose the type of lump we’re dealing with unless you bring your pet in for your vet to check it out.
The first thing your vet will do is ask you some questions about the lump. They will ask you questions like how long the lump has been there, has it changed size/shape/colour/consistency since you first saw it, and is it bothering your pet (are they scratching/licking at it/painful to touch etc.). The vet may also ask you if your pet was involved in any fight with another animal or possibly had some previous injury that could lead to the formation of an abscess (see definition below).
Once a complete history has been taken, your vet will perform a fine needle aspirate, or FNA. An FNA is a quick and mostly painless procedure where a small sterile needle attached to an air-filled syringe is aseptically (the lump is first cleaned with alcohol) placed into the lump and moved around to obtain some cells or whatever other material is present inside it. The contents inside the needle and/or syringe are then sprayed out onto a glass slide and another slide placed over it (known as a squash method) and then stained to be examined under a microscope (see pictures below).
The diagnosis your vet will make depends on a few factors, such as what is seen on the FNA slide, the change over time of the lump’s appearance, the rate of growth noted, the look and feel of it as well as whether or not it is interfering with your pet’s quality of life.
What do I do once the type of lump has been determined?
There are 3 approaches to any lump:
1. Wait and see – continue to observe the lump, take measurements weekly and record any changes. This should only be done if recommended by your vet and once the lump has been thoroughly examined.
2. Surgery – your vet may recommend surgical removal of the lump with post-op care that may be specifically tailored to the type of mass diagnosed, its size and location.
3. Lancing – this applies specifically to abscesses. In order to allow for drainage of the pus/other contents of the mass, a small incision is made into the lump, the wound is then cleaned out thoroughly and your pet will most likely be sent home on a short course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pain medication, along with instructions to continue cleaning the wound at home or managing/cleaning of a drainage tube if placed.
Are all lumps cancer?
Definitely not! There are many alternative lesions that are classified as non-tumour types – lumps on your pet could be any of the following:
· Abscess: a swollen, infected area within/on the body that contains pus. If your vet places a needle into this and makes a smear of the material (see picture below), it will often reveal thousands of bacteria, white blood cells and some red blood cells.
· Cyst: these are normally thin-walled (in other words almost transparent) sac containing fluid. May also be called a blister. A smear of these lumps often reveals little to no cells besides a few red blood cells.
· Lipoma: very commonly seen, especially in dogs, this a mass of fatty tissue normally between the skin and underlying muscle layers.
· Insect bite: may sometimes appear very similar to an abscess (should it get infected), but may also appear more like a welt, where the skin itself is raised, reddened and sometimes the bite mark may be seen as well.
What if it is cancer?
Sometimes FNA’s taken from your pet are sent off to be looked at/diagnosed by cytologists (a specialist that deals with the formation, structure and function of cells). If the report sent back to your vet confirms that the mass is cancerous, you will be informed on different options going forward, depending on whether it is benign (non-aggressive and unlikely to spread) or malignant (aggressive and will spread if it hasn’t already started), and a host of other factors that contribute to the final diagnosis and treatment plan specific to your pet.
Moral of the story?
It is always a good idea to bring your pet to your vet to have any lumps and bumps checked out. Even the smallest lump could be a cancerous growth but early surgical removal or treatment will have a better prognosis than if it's left to grow or spread too far.
Lyttelton Animal Hospital will run a FNA special from 22 June 2020 - 26 June 2020, have your pet's lumps checked out for only R195