Can Lipomas Make My Dog Sick?

What Are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign (noncancerous) fatty tumors that commonly develop in dogs, especially older and middle-aged dogs (WebMD). They form from fat cells that collect and clump together to create a soft, movable lump under the skin. Lipomas can occur anywhere on a dog’s body, but are often found on the torso, upper legs, and armpits (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Lipomas typically have a soft, rubbery texture and can be moved around gently under the skin. They are usually oval or round lumps that range from the size of a grape to the size of an orange, depending on how long they have been developing (WebMD). Lipomas are often described as having a “doughy” feel when pressed gently. While they may grow larger over time, lipomas are not cancerous and are usually harmless benign masses.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of lipomas in dogs is unknown. However, there are some potential contributing factors:

Genetics may play a role, as certain breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Doberman Pinschers seem more prone to developing lipomas. There appears to be an inherited tendency in these breeds (Source).

Obesity is also a risk factor, as the fat cells in overweight dogs may trigger lipoma development. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce risk (Source).

Injury or trauma to an area of the body may potentially contribute to lipomas forming, though the link is unclear. Lipomas sometimes develop at sites of previous trauma like surgery or blunt injury (Source).

Ultimately, the cause is complex and not fully understood. Both environmental and genetic factors likely interplay to influence a dog’s risk.

Common Locations

Lipomas can develop throughout a dog’s body, but they often form in certain areas. According to the veterinarians at VCA Animal Hospitals, some of the most frequent locations for lipomas include:

  • The chest and abdomen, especially along the rib cage
  • The upper legs and armpits
  • The neck and shoulders

As noted in an article from Denver Veterinary Specialists, lipomas tend to develop in the fatty tissue layer under a dog’s skin. So areas with more fatty tissue, like the abdomen, are prone to lipomas.

While lipomas can technically develop anywhere, even inside the abdomen, dog owners are most likely to find them growing on the chest, legs, armpits, and along the rib cage. Checking these areas during regular grooming and petting can help owners identify any new lumps early on.

Symptoms

Lipomas are usually painless, harmless fatty masses that form under a dog’s skin. They often go unnoticed unless they grow large or are in locations that interfere with movement. According to WebMD, the most common symptom of a lipoma is the appearance of a lump or bump under the skin. These lumps are soft, movable, and located just beneath the skin’s surface.

While lipomas themselves are benign, they can become problematic depending on their size and location. Large lipomas in areas like the legs, shoulders, neck, and armpits may impede a dog’s mobility or range of motion. Lipomas around the eyes, mouth, and genitals may also cause issues. Though rare, very large lipomas can ulcerate or obstruct normal bodily functions. So while a small lipoma likely won’t bother a dog, larger ones can potentially impact quality of life if left untreated.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a lipoma usually begins with a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian. They will feel for any lumps or bumps under your dog’s skin, noting the location, size, shape, texture, and whether it seems fixed to surrounding tissues or freely movable. Lipomas typically feel soft and oval-shaped. Your vet may measure the lump as well to track any growth over time.

In straightforward cases, a physical exam may be enough for a veterinarian to diagnose a lipoma. However, sometimes your vet may recommend additional tests to definitively rule out other potential masses like fatty tumors or cancerous growths. These confirmatory tests can include:

  • Fine needle aspiration – inserting a small needle into the lump to extract cells for examination under a microscope. This can help differentiate a lipoma from other tumor types (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors).
  • Biopsy – surgically removing a small sample of the mass for laboratory analysis.
  • Imaging – x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs to evaluate the size, shape, and internal structure of the lump.

These diagnostic tests help your vet determine appropriate next steps for treatment and monitoring.

Treatment Options

There are two main options for treating lipomas in dogs:1

Observation

If the lipoma is small and not causing any problems, the vet may recommend just observing it for changes. As long as the lipoma does not grow rapidly or impair your dog’s movement, it often does not require treatment.

Surgical Removal

If the lipoma is large or positioned in a way that impacts your dog’s mobility or comfort, surgical removal is usually recommended. This involves surgically extracting the lipoma growth. It is best to remove lipomas when they are still relatively small, as the surgery tends to be less invasive. Larger lipomas may require more extensive surgery.2

Risks If Left Untreated

While most lipomas are benign fatty tumors that do not negatively impact a dog’s health, there are some potential risks if large lipomas are left untreated (Lamagna, 2012).

Lipomas can grow quite large, in some cases reaching sizes of 10 cm or more. Giant lipomas that grow rapidly may press on surrounding organs and tissues, which can cause discomfort or impede organ function. For example, a lipoma on the chest wall could compress the lungs or heart, while one on the abdomen could push on the stomach, intestines, liver or other organs (VCA Hospitals).

Lipomas that impinge nerves may also cause paralysis or muscle atrophy if nearby motor nerves are affected. Those pressing on sensory nerves can result in pain or numbness. In rare cases, very large lipomas may rupture, bleed or become infected (Toegrips, 2021).

While most dogs tolerate lipomas well, it’s important to monitor their size and location. Seeking treatment is advised if the lipoma interferes with movement, causes nerve issues or presses on vital organs. This helps avoid potentially dangerous complications down the line.

Prevention

There is no known prevention method for dog lipomas. However, since they occur more frequently in overweight dogs, maintaining a healthy weight is likely beneficial [1]. Keeping your dog at an optimal weight can help control lipoma growth and prevent future ones from developing [2]. Provide measured portions of quality dog food and regular exercise to maintain lean muscle mass.

Additionally, ensuring your dog has access to plenty of fresh, clean water every day may help flush toxins from the kidneys and liver that could contribute to lipomas [3]. Overall, while lipomas cannot be completely prevented, keeping your dog active and at a healthy weight gives them their best chance at avoiding these benign fatty tumors.

Outlook and Prognosis

The prognosis for lipomas in dogs is generally excellent if treated when necessary. Lipomas themselves are benign fatty tumors that usually do not negatively affect a dog’s health (Source). However, lipomas can occasionally grow large enough to interfere with movement or cause discomfort. In these cases, surgical removal leads to an excellent prognosis, with most dogs making a full recovery (Source).

Some dogs may develop multiple lipomas over time. As long as each lipoma is monitored and removed when causing problems, the overall prognosis remains very good. With proper treatment when necessary, lipomas should not significantly impact a dog’s health or quality of life (Source). Discuss any changes in your dog’s lipomas with your veterinarian to determine if and when treatment may become advisable.

When to See a Vet

In most cases, lipomas are harmless and do not require any treatment. However, there are some signs that may indicate a vet visit is needed:

  • The lipoma grows quickly in size
  • The lipoma interferes with movement or seems to cause pain or discomfort
  • The lipoma is located in an area like the armpit or groin and presses on blood vessels, nerves or organs
  • The lipoma becomes irritated, inflamed, ulcerated or bleeds
  • The lipoma ruptures or oozes fluid
  • New lumps appear frequently or existing ones change shape/texture
  • The lipoma inhibits normal functions like urination, defecation or eating
  • Your dog seems lethargic, loses appetite, or shows other signs of illness

According to vets (https://www.denvervet.com/site/blog/2022/08/31/fatty-tumor-lipoma-dog), any time a lump changes or new ones appear, it’s a good idea to get it checked to rule out something more serious like cancer. Contact your vet promptly if you notice any concerning signs related to a lipoma or other lump on your dog.

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