Can A Large Lipoma On A Dog Be Drained?

What is a Lipoma?

A lipoma is a benign (non-cancerous) fatty tumor that develops in the subcutaneous (under the skin) layer.

Lipomas form when fat cells clump together and multiply, creating a soft, moveable lump under the skin. They are typically slow-growing and painless. Lipomas are common in middle-aged and older dogs, especially overweight dogs. Large breed dogs and male dogs are more predisposed to developing lipomas (1).

Common locations for lipomas in dogs include the chest, abdomen, legs, and shoulders. Lipomas can occur as solitary lumps or in clusters in multiple areas. While they can develop anywhere on the body, lipomas tend to form in areas with abundant fat deposits (2).

Diagnosing a Lipoma

If your dog has a lump, the first step is to take them to the vet for an examination. The vet will feel the lump and assess its mobility, texture, and whether it seems to be bothering the dog. Lipomas are soft, movable lumps that feel like bubbles under the skin and don’t typically cause pain or irritation (source).

To confirm a diagnosis of lipoma, the vet may perform a fine needle aspirate. This involves inserting a small needle into the lump and drawing out cells for examination under a microscope. Fat cells are indicative of a lipoma (source).

It’s important to get lumps evaluated as they can sometimes indicate more serious conditions like cancer. Rapid growth, ulceration, bleeding, or causing pain are red flag symptoms to have checked out right away. But in most cases, lipomas are benign fatty masses that can be monitored or removed if problematic (source).

When Drainage May be an Option

Drainage is typically only considered for very large lipomas that are over 5-10 cm in diameter. The size of the lipoma is an important factor, as smaller lipomas can usually be removed surgically with minimal issues. However, larger lipomas present greater surgical risks and challenges.

The location of the lipoma is also key when considering drainage. Lipomas on the torso or extremities may be good candidates, as the skin can accommodate the necessary incision and drain placement. Areas with less skin elasticity, like the joints or head, often are not recommended for drainage.

Leaving a very large lipoma untreated comes with risks. The mass may continue growing and infringe upon surrounding tissues. It can also rupture, bleed, or become infected. Drainage presents risks as well, but may be an alternative to consider before resorting to radical or high-risk surgery, especially in older or medically complicated dogs. According to this source, drainage can sometimes allow the void left behind to heal more naturally compared to surgically excising a giant lipoma.

The Drainage Procedure

The drainage procedure for a lipoma on a dog begins with the vet administering a general anesthetic to fully sedate the dog. This is usually an injectable drug like propofol. Local anesthetics are generally not sufficient since they cannot fully numb deep tissues without risking toxicity. General anesthesia ensures the dog feels no pain during the procedure [1].

Once the dog is under anesthesia, the vet will disinfect the area and make a small incision over the lipoma to access the fatty tumor. They will use surgical instruments to break up the lipoma tissue and drain the contents by applying pressure and massaging the area. Often a penrose drain or other drain tube is inserted temporarily to facilitate drainage of any fluid and prevent seroma formation [2]. The vet will ensure the lipoma cavity is emptied before suturing the incision closed.

After the procedure, the dog will need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking and keep the incision clean. The sutures are generally absorbable and do not need removal. The owner will need to monitor for signs of infection, seroma, or recurrence. Mild pain medication may be prescribed for a few days along with limitations on activity to allow proper healing. Any prescribed medications or supplements should be given as directed. Follow up visits with the vet are recommended to ensure the lipoma does not reform.

Recovery and Aftercare

After a lipoma drainage procedure, dogs will need to take it easy during the recovery period. Activity should be restricted for 7-10 days after the procedure to allow proper healing and prevent complications like seromas developing at the site. Dogs should be kept rested, with only short leash walks permitted until the drainage site has fully closed.

Pain medication like NSAIDs or tramadol will likely be prescribed for 3-5 days following the procedure to manage discomfort. It’s important to give all pain meds as directed and watch for signs your dog is still in pain, like decreased appetite, vocalizing when touched near the site, or changes in behavior.

Owners need to monitor the drainage site carefully during recovery. Signs of potential complications to watch for include:
– Increased swelling, redness, pain, or heat at the site

– Any discharge or bleeding from the incision
– Loss of sutures or the incision reopening
– Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or other concerning signs

Any complications should be reported to your veterinarian immediately. In some cases, antibiotics or additional treatment may be needed. With proper aftercare and restriction of activity, most dogs recover fully within 2 weeks after lipoma drainage.

Risks and Complications

Draining a lipoma on a dog does carry some risks and potential complications to be aware of.

One of the main risks is the potential for infection. Any time the skin is opened, bacteria can enter and cause an infection. Using proper sterile technique when draining the lipoma can minimize infection risk, but it is something to watch for after the procedure (Lamagna, 2012). Signs of infection include redness, swelling, discharge, and pain at the incision site.

There is also the possibility that the lipoma may recur and refill with fluid over time. Drained lipomas have a higher recurrence rate than those surgically removed (Toegrips, 2021). The dog will need follow-up visits to monitor for recurrence.

Other risks can include seroma formation, bleeding, nerve damage, or insufficient drainage. The veterinarian will take care to minimize these risks during the procedure. Following aftercare instructions closely can also help reduce complications.

When Surgery May be Preferred

In some cases, surgically removing the lipoma may be preferable to drainage. Surgery is often recommended for larger or deeper lipomas that cannot be fully drained. Surgical excision helps prevent recurrence of the lipoma by removing the entire growth and surrounding capsule [1]. Drainage alone may not remove all lipoma cells, allowing the lipoma to eventually return.

The location of the lipoma is also a key factor in determining if surgery is the better option. Lipomas that develop in trickier spots, like the armpit or groin area, can be difficult to drain fully. Surgery allows better access to remove these lipomas entirely [2]. Lipomas that grow rapidly, ulcerate, or interfere with movement may also require surgery over drainage.

Overall, veterinarians consider factors like size, invasiveness, location, and potential for recurrence when advising if surgical removal or drainage is more suitable for treating a dog’s lipoma.

Cost Comparison of Drainage vs Surgery

The costs of draining a lipoma vs surgically removing it can vary significantly. Here’s a breakdown of average costs:


Draining a lipoma typically costs $200-$300 on average. This includes:

  • Examination and diagnostic fees – $50-$100
  • Anesthesia/sedation – $50-$150
  • Drainage procedure – $100-$200

Total drainage costs are usually on the lower end if the lipoma is easily accessible by the vet. Costs may be higher for difficult to reach lipomas.


Surgical removal costs $300-$800 on average. This includes:

  • Examination and diagnostic fees – $50-$100
  • Anesthesia – $100-$250
  • Surgery – $150-$500
  • Biopsy – $50-$150
  • Pain medication – $20-$50

Complex surgeries for large or challenging to access lipomas may cost $1000-$1500. Location also impacts costs, with higher rates in urban areas.

Lipoma Prevention

There are some steps dog owners can take to help prevent lipomas from developing in the first place. The two most important preventative measures involve maintaining a healthy weight and providing proper nutrition.

Overweight and obese dogs are more prone to developing lipomas. Carrying excess weight puts strain on the body and can contribute to abnormal tissue growths. Keeping your dog at an optimal weight, with ribs faintly visible and a tucked abdomen, can help minimize their risk. Provide measured portions appropriate for your dog’s size and activity level. Get exercise tips from your vet if needed. Regular weigh-ins will help you monitor any weight fluctuations.

Nutrition also plays a key role. Feed your dog a high-quality commercial dog food formulated for their life stage and activity level. Avoid low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy. Ongoing studies are evaluating if certain supplements like fish oil may inhibit lipoma formation, but more research is still needed.[1] Discuss supplement options with your veterinarian.

Make sure your dog gets daily exercise according to their fitness abilities. Regular activity keeps muscles toned, promotes joint health, and aids weight control. Try activities like walking, hiking, running, swimming, or playing fetch. Get approval from your vet first if your dog has mobility issues.

When to Consult a Vet

Dog owners should monitor any lipomas closely and be aware of warning signs that may indicate the need for prompt veterinary care. Lipomas that suddenly begin growing rapidly, become painful or firm, obstruct movement, or rupture or bleed warrant an immediate vet visit. Any lipomas in risky locations like the chest, armpits, or groin also require evaluation, as do any lumps that appear infected, oozing, or foul-smelling.

It’s important to be proactive and have your vet assess any new lipomas when they first appear. Catching them small allows for easier, less invasive treatment options. Your vet can distinguish a lipoma from more serious fatty tumors like a liposarcoma. They may recommend periodic rechecks or testing like needle aspirates or biopsies, especially for large, rapidly growing, or unusual feeling lumps. Don’t wait until there are signs of trouble before seeking care.

Establishing a relationship with a trusted vet allows for better monitoring of any emerging health issues. Partner with your vet for routine wellness checks, promptly report any concerns, and follow their advice regarding testing and treatment. Being vigilant allows the best chance of addressing lipomas before they pose health risks or impact quality of life.

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