Dogs and Lipomas

Expanding on the topic of tumors discussed last week, this blog is devoted to lipomas, aka fatty tumors. Of all the benign growths dogs develop as they age, lipomas are one of the most common. They arise from fat (lipid) cells and their favorite sites to set up housekeeping are in the subcutaneous tissue (just beneath the skin surface) of the axillary regions (armpits) and alongside the chest and abdomen. Every once in awhile lipomas develop internally within the chest or abdominal cavity. Rarely does a dog develop only one lipoma. They tend to grow in multiples and I’ve examined individual dogs with more lipomas than I could count.

Should lipomas be treated in some fashion? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a definite, “No!” This is based on their benign, slow-growing nature. The only issue most create is purely cosmetic, which the dog could could care less about!

There are a few exceptions to the general recommendation to let sleeping lipomas lie. A fatty tumor is deserving of more attention in the following situations:

1. A lipoma is steadily growing in an area where it could ultimately interfere with mobility. The armpit is the classic spot where this happens. The emphasis here is on the phrase, “steadily growing.” Even in one of these critical areas there is no reason to surgically remove a lipoma that remains quiescent with no discernible growth.

2. Sudden growth and/or change in appearance of a fatty tumor (or any mass for that matter) warrant reassessment by a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

3. Every once in a great while, a fatty tumor turns out to be an infiltrative liposarcoma rather than a lipoma. These are the malignant black sheep of the fatty tumor family. Your veterinarian will be suspicious of an infiltrative liposarcoma if the fine needle aspirate cytology reveals fat cells, yet the tumor feels fixed to underlying tissues. (Lipomas are normally freely moveable.) Liposarcomas should be aggressively surgically removed and/or treated with radiation therapy.

4. Occasionally a lipoma grows to truly mammoth proportions. If ever you’ve looked at a dog and thought, “Wow, there’s a dog attached to that tumor!” chances are you were looking at a lipoma. Such massive tumors have the potential to cause the dog discomfort. They can also outgrow their blood supply, resulting in possible infection and drainage from the mass. The key is to catch on to the mass’s rapid growth so as to surgically remove it before it becomes enormous in size and far more difficult to remove.

How can one prevent canine lipomas from occurring? No one knows. Anecdotally speaking, it is thought that overweight dogs are more predisposed to developing fatty tumors. While I’m not so sure I buy this, I’m certainly in favor of keeping your dog at a healthy body weight.

Does your dog have any lipomas?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

Be Sociable, Share!

19 Comments on “Dogs and Lipomas

  1. Both of my old dogs have a few of them. We are leaving them alone, as you suggested. I am calmer about them now. At first, they freaked me out and every new one, we trotted off to the vet to get them checked.

    Since my dogs are fur balls, I am going to make a chart of their bumps and lumps and what has been evaluated and aspirated and what has not so we can do a better job of monitoring them and also get down to business quickly when they go for their annual exam.

    The one that makes me nervous is forward of the coxa and just lateral to the lumbar spine. My vet thinks it is ok, though, and did not think we would gain anything with aspirating and cytology, so I just check it a LOT.

    The interesting things are the chest wall benign lipoma that they both have. Both in the exact same location, mother and son. I think there may be a genetic component to their development and location. It may also be coincidence. It will be kind of interesting to compare the younger siblings when they get older.

    In our case, I don’t think they were caused by low quality food.

  2. I love your articles. I have worked for many vets and I appreciate your no nonsense advise. Thanks!

  3. Hi Judi. Great question. Liposuction has been described as a treatment for lipomas, but with very questionable success. The only reliable way to remove a lipoma is with surgery.

  4. One of my swim clients is a 12yo (maybe 13 now) neutered male Australian shepherd. He has some huge lipomas. One over his shoulder blade is big enough that I can barely cover it with my hand (and I don’t have small hands), one in his armpit is at least tennis ball sized, and two more have sprung up in front of his forelegs. His owners and I have talked about them and wondered if there is some form of liposuction that can be used to at least reduce the size of these with possibly shorter anesthesia time and easier aftercare. Is this possible? Is there anything short of full-blown surgery to help reduce large lipomas?

  5. Dr Kay, as usual, another excellent informative article.

  6. My current dogs are not overweight and they have lipomas all over and more keep popping up all the time. The same with my prior dogs and none were overweight.

  7. Not sure I buy the idea that overweight dogs are more prone to lipoma’s either. Having had Labs my whole adult life I have seen a lot of lipoma’s. Not one of my Labs was, or is over weight. In fact my thinnest Lab is the one that has the most. He is 13.5 yrs old and has more than I can count. He is now being treated a second time in 4 months for an infiltrative liposarcoma in the same basic location. ALWAYS ALWAYS get a fine needle aspiration done of new or changing lumps.

  8. Hi Vicki. Some reports indicate that lipomas are actually more common in female dogs. My experience supports a high frequency in older large breed dogs, males and females alike. By the way, I like the fact that you spell “Dalmatian” correctly!

  9. 2 male Dalmatians I have had each had lipomas on the chest. As both were exceptionally fit, lean, and active for their entire lives (16 and 15 years), it seems your idea that this is not just overweight dogs that experience lipomas is “spot on.” Interestingly to me, my female Dalmatians never developed lipomas. Are they more common to males?

  10. Thank you for the lipoma discussion. Some information on any research or knowledge on the CAUSES would be interesting. Yes, genetics and maybe too much fat ingestion, though canids need and tolerate a high% of fat- but some science on prevention of the condition will be appreciated. Is it possible that some kind of micro inflammation is contributory?

  11. Hi SC. Thanks for asking the question you did. While removal of most lipomas is relatively simple, no surgical procedure is ever routine. There is always the risk of anesthetic complications as well as complications associated with the surgery itself (infection, chewing out stitches, etc.).

  12. If the lipomas aren’t attached to the lower layer, and are benign, what are the
    risks of surgical removal? It seems like an easy cut, take-out and stitch up.

  13. My dog, Crystal,who is 13 and a medium sized BC/GR mix, has one about the size of a small plum on her neck region underneath and close to her collar. It’s been there for over 5 years and is not apparent because she has a lot of fur covering it. Now in the past 6 months she is getting another one along her left side just under her back bone. It is growing very slowly, but the vet does not seem to be concerned. Again, not apparent unless you pet her and feel it. She is slightly overweight by about 2-3 lbs.
    I have been told in the past the reason dogs get these is there are “bad” things in their system trying to get out and the fatty tumors are one way this happens. Don’t recall the exact terminology used, but the meaning was clear. I have had several fellow dog owners have them aspirated only to have them grow back. So I have left Crystal’s alone since they don’t cause her any discomfort.

  14. My beagle mix Annie has more fatty tumors than anything most are the size of a pea or a bit bigger with the feel of a gummy bear & they roll around under the skin. She did have one on the side of her rib cage bigger than the others but it moved freely under the skin. It continued to grow; we & the doctor kept an eye on it. After awhile it felt attached to the skin with less free movement. By now it was the size of a ping pong ball. We insisted on removing it for comfort’s sake since Annie was reluctant to lie on the tumor side. The doctor wanted to keep watching it but did check the cells. The report results came back as most likely benign but it could be ‘this’ or it could be ‘that’. The doctor didn’t like the findings and recommended surgery. The first surgery did not get clean margins; her second surgery did. No chemo or radiation therapy was prescribed but she makes quarterly visits to her Oncologist. This December will be the 2 yr mark; so far everything is fine.

    Annie is almost 12 yrs old. She eats a mix of home cooked with raw which works well for her as everyone is stunned to find out her age. She’s fit & trim with the energy of a pup but she’s our lumpy girl with about 15 or 20 other lumps & bumps we check regularly. I’ve documented our experiences on my blog 8 Paws and 2 Tails along with other chronic illnesses we’ve dealt with in the hope that other pet parents will benefit from what we’ve gone through.

  15. When I was feeding commercial dog food all my Salukis and other dog breeds that I have lived with got huge lipomas. Since I switched to preparing my own food for the dogs with no commercial dog foods used, not one dog has developed a lipoma of any size in the past ten years. I was told that the fats used in commercial foods are of poor quality and are not able to processed by the dogs. The more I learn about commercial dog foods, the farther I stay away from them.

  16. My Australian Cattle Dog / Beagle cross had 11 aspirations done last week. All proved to be benign. Lucky for me, but “lumpy” isn’t making a fashion statement. I am seriously considering moving them off Blue Buffalo and onto raw. I am concerned that they still won’t be getting (yes, I have two if these) the essential nutrients. The other onw suffers from “collie nose” and we are Cefatab and Doxycycline and Niacinamide along with an ointment to get her into recovery mode since the inside if her nostrils are swolen. I will contact a local ACVN member to get the scoop to getting these two on track. Thanks for posting this timely information.

  17. My Aussie had a lipoma along her ribs behind her front leg that appeared when she was about 6, and grew slowly for a couple of years. Then, it ballooned in size so that my hand couldn’t cover it. The vet removed it and found it was like an iceberg, although it was large outside, it was huge underneath. The surgery took much longer than he had expected, and he took photos because it was so huge inside and in a form he hadn’t seen in twenty years of practice. Pathology showed no cancer or infection, just one honking big mass of fat. Her recovery wasn’t really easy, as she had drains in and it took over two weeks for the incision to heal. I wish that had had it removed earlier, but kept thinking, it is a lymphoma, the aspirate was benign, she isn’t uncomfortable…

  18. Bruin had a lipoma size of a baseball on his chest. It was there already when we got him but the way it was sitting there, everybody kept telling me that was what his chest looked like (including the vet at the time). It wasn’t until he lost some weight and it dislodged and moved to the side when they realized there was something there that didn’t belong. It happened at the farm and hubby freaked out at the “suddenly appearing HUGE tumor”.

    Must have been there for a LONG time because it pretty much didn’t grow since then. Was it because he stopped putting on weight and lost some? Not sure.

    Because if its size, location and Bruin’s age, we left it be.