Are Fatty Tumors Painful In Dogs?

Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that commonly develop in dogs under the skin. Lipomas form from fat cells and are usually soft, movable lumps located right underneath the skin. While lipomas are benign tumors made up of fat cells, they can sometimes cause pain and discomfort for dogs. The goal of this article is to explore whether lipomas are typically painful for dogs, what causes lipoma pain, and treatment options for painful lipomas.

What Are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign (noncancerous) fatty masses that typically grow just under the skin (subcutaneous) (WebMD, 2022). They are soft, movable lumps that feel rubbery or doughy to the touch. Lipomas are usually oval or round in shape and range in size from a pea to a few inches across (VCA Hospitals, 2022).

These fat deposits most commonly develop in middle-aged to older dogs, usually around 6 years of age or older. Lipomas can crop up anywhere on a dog’s body, but they are especially prevalent on the trunk, limbs, and shoulders (WebMD, 2022). Areas with thicker fat layers tend to be the most susceptible to lipoma development.

While lipomas can develop singly, it is not uncommon for dogs to develop multiple lipomas over time. They are generally slow growing and remain benign, meaning they do not spread or turn into cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors

While the exact cause of lipomas is still unknown, there are several suspected causes and risk factors, according to veterinary specialists (embracepetinsurance.com/https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/health/lipoma):

Genetics – Certain breeds like Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and mixed breeds are more prone to developing multiple lipomas. This suggests there may be a genetic component.

Obesity – Overweight dogs tend to develop lipomas more frequently. Excess fat cells may multiply abnormally and form lipomas.

Age – Most lipomas develop in middle-aged to older dogs, from ages 6 years and up. The risk increases with age.

Other suspected factors are hormone imbalances, trauma, and chronic inflammation, but there is no definitive link to these causes yet (vcahospitals.com/https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors). More research is still needed on the root causes and risk factors for lipomas in dogs.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of lipomas in dogs include:

  • Soft, movable lumps under the skin – These are usually rounded, bulge out, and feel rubbery. They can often be moved around easily under the skin.
  • Benign fatty masses – Lipomas are benign fatty masses or tumors. They are noncancerous growths made up of fat cells.
  • Appear under the skin – Lipomas develop between the skin and muscle layer, so they create visible bulges and lumps on the surface.
  • Commonly occur on the torso – Areas like the chest, shoulders, back, and upper legs are common locations for lipomas.
  • Painless – In most cases, lipomas themselves do not cause discomfort or pain for dogs.
  • Slow growing – Lipomas tend to grow slowly over time, starting out small and becoming larger lumps.
  • Soft texture – The fatty tissue that makes up a lipoma has a softer consistency compared to the surrounding skin and tissue.
  • Variable sizes – Lipomas can range from very small, dime-sized lumps to growths over 5 inches wide.
  • Mobile – Since they are not attached to muscle or bone, lipomas can usually be moved around under the skin with gentle pressure.
  • Common in older dogs – Middle aged and senior dogs are more prone to developing lipomas.

If a fatty tumor displays any of these characteristic signs, a veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis as a lipoma through a physical exam and fine needle aspirate. Owners will likely notice a lipoma on their dog as a new lump that is soft, movable, and painless.

Are Lipomas Painful?

Most lipomas do not cause any pain or discomfort. Lipomas are typically soft, movable lumps under the skin that feel rubbery to the touch. The majority of lipomas are small, slow-growing, and remain painless over time.

However, some lipomas can be painful in certain situations:

  • Large lipomas may press on nearby nerves, causing pain, numbness or tingling.
  • Lipomas growing rapidly or putting pressure on tissues can be painful.
  • Lipomas located deep beneath the skin or on joints may cause pain with movement or pressure.
  • Rare conditions like Dercum’s disease involve painful lipomas, especially on the trunk, arms and legs.

If a lipoma is painful, grows quickly, or causes discomfort, it’s important to see a doctor. An ultrasound or biopsy can determine if the lump is a lipoma or another growth. Treating the underlying cause and removing problematic lipomas can help manage pain.

Most lipomas are not dangerous and can be left alone if they are not bothersome. But any painful, rapidly growing, or worrying lumps should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Diagnosing Lipomas

Veterinarians will begin diagnosing a potential lipoma with a complete physical exam of your dog. They will look for lumps under the skin that move freely when gently manipulated. Lipomas have a soft, rubbery texture and are not attached to underlying tissues [1].

Your vet may use a needle and syringe to perform a fine needle aspiration (FNA) of cells from the mass [2]. The cells are examined under a microscope, allowing the vet to differentiate a lipoma from other types of tumors. An FNA can provide a definitive diagnosis for most lipomas.

If your vet is concerned that a lump may be cancerous, they may recommend a biopsy. This involves surgically removing a small piece of the tumor and sending it to a lab for analysis. A biopsy provides the most accurate way to diagnose if a lump is benign or malignant.

Imaging tests like x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs are not typically needed for straightforward lipoma cases. But they may be used to evaluate large, invasive, or unusual growths.

Treating Painful Lipomas

If a lipoma is causing pain or discomfort for a dog, there are treatment options available to help manage or remove the growth. Some options for treating painful lipomas include:

Pain Medication

Veterinarians may prescribe pain medication to help relieve discomfort associated with a lipoma. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like carprofen or meloxicam are commonly used. These medications can help reduce swelling and provide pain relief, but do not treat the underlying cause (cite: https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-know-lipoma-in-dogs).

Surgical Removal

Surgical removal is often the most effective way to treat a painful lipoma. This involves surgically extracting the fatty tumor under anesthesia. It provides immediate and permanent pain relief by removing the source. Vets typically recommend surgery for fast-growing lipomas or those causing symptoms (cite: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors).

Steroid Injections

Veterinarians may inject a steroid directly into the lipoma to help shrink the size of the tumor and reduce inflammation. However, this does not remove the mass and effects are temporary. Multiple injections may be needed (cite: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/health/lipoma).

Consult with a veterinarian to determine the best treatment approach if a dog’s lipoma is causing pain or discomfort. Timely treatment can help provide relief and prevent suffering.

Preventing Lipomas

While lipomas are typically benign and harmless, dog owners may want to take steps to lower their dog’s risk of developing them. Some tips for preventing lipomas include:

Maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight and obese dogs are more prone to developing lipomas. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can help prevent them. Feed your dog an age-appropriate diet and make sure they get adequate exercise.

Feeding a high quality diet. Some research indicates that feeding fresh whole foods and limiting processed kibble may help prevent lipomas. Choose a dog food high in protein and fresh ingredients.

Exercising regularly. Make sure your dog gets regular aerobic exercise like walking, running, swimming, or playing fetch. Exercise helps manage weight and may discourage fatty tumor growth.

Giving omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or other supplements may help reduce inflammation. Talk to your vet about an appropriate omega-3 supplement.

Considering lipoma surgery. Surgically removing any existing lipomas may help prevent new ones from forming. Discuss with your vet if surgery makes sense for your dog.

While no foolproof prevention exists, staying vigilant about your dog’s weight, diet, and exercise can help reduce their risk of developing painful fatty tumors.

Sources: https://wagwalking.com/wellness/how-to-prevent-lipomas-in-your-dog, https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/health/lipoma

Outlook and Prognosis

The outlook for most lipomas in dogs is excellent. Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that typically do not spread to other areas of the body or turn into cancer (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors). The majority of lipomas are cured with surgical removal and do not recur. As long as the entire lipoma is excised, dogs generally recover well with minimal complications.

In some cases, a lipoma may recur after surgical removal, especially if the margins were not completely clean. Recurrent lipomas may need additional surgery. While uncommon, there is also a small risk of infection or seroma formation after surgery. Limiting activity after the procedure can help prevent complications.

Giant or infiltrative lipomas that invade surrounding tissues can be more challenging to remove completely. These may have a higher rate of recurrence. An incomplete excision increases the chances that not all of the tumor cells were removed. Close monitoring is recommended to watch for regrowth of any remaining tumor tissue (https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-know-lipoma-in-dogs).

As long as lipomas are diagnosed early and fully removed, the prognosis is excellent. Dogs typically recover fully and live normal lifespans after treatment. Any complications are usually minor. Most lipomas do not return after surgical excision, allowing for a positive long-term outlook.

When to See a Vet

It’s important to have any new lumps or bumps on your dog examined by a veterinarian, even if they appear benign. While most lipomas are harmless, they can sometimes be mistaken for more serious fatty tumors like liposarcomas, which are cancerous. Leaving a cancerous lump untreated allows it to grow and potentially spread to other areas of the body.

Signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • A lump that seems to be growing rapidly
  • A lump that is over 2 inches in diameter
  • A lump that feels hard or immobile, as lipomas are usually soft and movable
  • A lump that appears red, inflamed, or bleeding
  • A lump that seems to cause pain or limping

Even if a lump appears benign, it’s best to have it evaluated. Your vet will likely recommend removing and biopsying any suspicious lumps to determine if they are cancerous. Catching liposarcomas early greatly improves the chances of successful treatment.

While most lumps in dogs turn out to be harmless fatty tumors, it’s always safest to get them checked. Contact your vet promptly if you notice any new lumps or bumps on your dog, especially if they show any concerning signs like rapid growth, inflammation, or pain.

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