Do Lipomas Hurt Dogs When Touched?

What are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign (noncancerous) fatty tumors that develop in dogs, usually in middle-aged to senior dogs over 5 years old (Webmd). They form lumps under the skin that are soft and movable, since they develop in the fatty tissue layer under the skin (Denvervet). Lipomas are typically small, ranging from 1-2 inches in diameter, though they can grow larger (VCAHospitals).

Lipomas commonly form on a dog’s torso, upper legs, upper back, and shoulders, where fat deposits tend to accumulate. However, lipomas can develop anywhere on a dog’s body where fatty tissue is present under the skin. They often feel soft and rubbery, and can be moved around under the skin with no pain or discomfort to the dog.

The defining characteristic of a lipoma is that it is composed of fat cells. So when pressed gently, the lump should have a soft, pliable feel and be movable under the skin. This helps distinguish benign lipomas from potential malignant fatty tumors in dogs, known as liposarcomas, which tend to feel firmly attached in place.

Are Lipomas Painful for Dogs?

Lipomas are generally not painful tumors. They are composed of fat cells and are often soft and pliable. However, in some cases, lipomas can cause discomfort or pain for dogs

According to the Cleveland Clinic, painless is the norm with lipomas. However, some lipomas cause pain and discomfort depending on their location, size and if blood vessels are present (source).

Lipomas may become painful if they are pressing on nerves or contain many blood vessels, according to Mayo Clinic (source). Lipomas growing rapidly in sensitive areas like the armpits or groin can also cause pain.

Signs that a lipoma may be causing a dog discomfort or pain include limping, biting or licking at the lipoma, skin redness, and reluctance to be touched near the lipoma. Dogs may also act irritable or restless if a lipoma is painful. Any behaviors indicating discomfort around the lipoma warrant a trip to the vet.

What Causes Lipomas in Dogs?

The main cause of lipomas in dogs is the proliferation of fat cells. Fat cells multiply and clump together to form a lipoma lump under the skin (source). While the root cause is unknown, research suggests certain factors may increase a dog’s risk of developing lipomas:

– Obesity: Overweight dogs tend to develop more lipomas. Excess fat provides more opportunities for fat cell growth (source).

– Age: Older dogs are more prone to lipomas. Fatty growths become more common as a dog ages.

– Genetics: Certain dog breeds seem genetically predisposed to lipomas, like Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, and Schnauzers (source). The tendency may run in families.

While the underlying cause of lipoma formation is unknown, controlling obesity and genetics in dogs may help reduce risk.

Are Certain Dog Breeds Prone to Lipomas?

Some dog breeds do appear to be at a higher risk of developing lipomas compared to others. According to research published in the Veterinary Ireland Journal, breeds with a predisposition for lipomas include Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Beagles.

The reason for this tendency in certain breeds is not entirely clear. It may relate to genetics, as the predisposed breeds tend to be more closely related genetically. For example, one study found the incidence of lipomas was highest in purebred dogs compared to mixed breeds.

The types of health issues that some breeds are prone to, such as obesity in Labrador Retrievers, may also contribute to their likelihood of developing lipomas. The excess body fat that contributes to obesity could potentially promote lipoma development in affected dogs.

When to See the Vet About a Lipoma

If you notice a new lump or bump on your dog, it’s always a good idea to have your veterinarian examine it to determine if it’s a lipoma or something more serious. There are some warning signs that signal it’s time to get the vet’s input:

Rapid Growth: Lipomas typically grow slowly over a period of months or years. If you notice one getting significantly larger in a short timeframe, contact your vet, as fast growth can indicate a cancerous tumor.

Bleeding or Ulceration: Most lipomas are soft, movable lumps under the skin. If you notice bleeding, ulcers, or scabbing on the surface, have your vet take a look right away, as this may signify a malignant tumor.

Pain and Irritation: Though most lipomas are painless, some may become bothersome if they grow in size and place pressure on surrounding nerves and tissue. Let your vet know if your dog seems irritated by the lump or if it appears to cause discomfort when touched.

Checking for Cancer: Your vet will take a sample of cells from the lump (cytology) or do a biopsy to analyze the cells and rule out cancer. Though most lipomas are benign, it’s important to verify.

Discussing Removal: If the lipoma becomes problematic due to size, location, or irritation, your vet can discuss options for surgical removal. Though not always necessary, this provides a treatment option for symptomatic lipomas.

Diagnosing Lipomas

If a fatty mass is suspected to be a lipoma, the vet will confirm the diagnosis through a physical exam and testing. The vet will look at the mass, feeling for its mobility, firmness, and whether it seems to be attached to tissue below the skin. A needle may be used to draw out a small sample of fatty cells for examination under the microscope. This cytology helps rule out the presence of cancer cells. Further testing like an x-ray, CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound can provide imaging of the mass to assess its size, depth, and relation to surrounding tissues and organs. However, a biopsy is usually not required since lipomas have a distinct feel and appearance.

Treating and Removing Lipomas

Many times, lipomas do not require treatment beyond observation, especially if they are small in size. As long as the lipoma is not impairing the dog’s mobility or quality of life, most veterinarians will recommend just monitoring its size at regular checkups.

However, surgical removal may be recommended if the lipoma is in a location that impacts movement or if it is growing rapidly. Surgery to remove a lipoma is usually a quick outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia. The lipoma is removed intact to ensure full extraction and prevent regrowth. The resulting wound is then closed with sutures or surgical glue. Aftercare often involves keeping the incision clean while it heals over the next 7-10 days [1].

Possible complications from lipoma removal surgery include infection, seroma formation, swelling, and wound dehiscence. Limiting activity and following all post-op care instructions from your vet can help reduce risks. Most dogs fully recover within 2 weeks after lipoma surgery.

Preventing Lipomas in Dogs

There are several ways to help prevent your dog from developing lipomas:

Weight Management

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can reduce the chances of lipomas forming. Excess weight puts more strain on the body and can contribute to fatty tumors. Feed your dog a measured amount based on their ideal weight and activity level. Provide daily exercise to help them stay trim and fit.

Healthy Diet

Feed your dog a high quality diet with lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Avoid fillers, by-products, artificial preservatives, and low quality ingredients. A nutritious diet supports overall health and may discourage lipomas. Consult your vet for diet recommendations based on your dog’s needs. [1] [2]


Regular exercise helps control weight, boosts circulation, and supports tissue health. Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of activity per day, depending on your dog’s breed and age. Walks, jogs, swimming, and fetch are great low-impact exercises. Always allow proper warm-up and cool-down time.

Limiting Toxins

Reduce your dog’s exposure to pesticides, herbicides, air pollution, and other toxins which may contribute to lipomas. Use natural flea/tick control methods and avoid chemical-laden lawn treatments. Monitor air quality levels before strenuous outdoor activity. Keeping your dog’s environment as clean as possible can help minimize risks.

Living With a Dog’s Lipoma

If your dog has a benign lipoma that doesn’t require removal, you’ll need to monitor it carefully and make some adjustments to protect it. Here are some tips for living with a dog’s lipoma:

Monitor the size and look for changes. Keep an eye on the lipoma and take note if it appears to be growing rapidly or changing shape. Take photos periodically to compare. Contact your vet if you notice significant changes.

Adjust activities if needed. If the lipoma is in a location where it could get bumped or irritated, you may need to limit certain activities. For example, a lipoma on the leg may mean avoiding vigorous running or hiking. Ask your vet for specific activity recommendations.

Protect the lipoma from irritation. You can apply padding or wrapping to shield the lipoma during activities. Prevent your dog from chewing or scratching at it. Consider an Elizabethan collar if your dog keeps bothering the lipoma.

With some simple monitoring and adjustments, dogs can live comfortably with benign lipomas. Stay in touch with your veterinarian and contact them immediately if you have any concerns about changes or irritation.

Outlook for Dogs With Lipomas

The prognosis for benign lipomas is generally excellent. Lipomas are slow growing and typically non-cancerous fatty tumors that do not spread to other areas of the body. As long as the lipoma does not impact mobility or quality of life, many dogs can live comfortably with a lipoma with minimal intervention.

However, it’s important to have new lumps or bumps evaluated by a veterinarian, as some may be a more serious form of cancer rather than a simple lipoma. According to the ASPCA, liposarcomas, a type of fat cell tumor, can develop deep in the body and spread to the lungs or other organs, requiring extensive treatment. Veterinary assessment helps determine whether a lump is a benign lipoma or something more serious.

While not all lipomas require treatment, surgical removal may be recommended if the lump impacts mobility or quality of life. Prognosis after surgical removal is good, with most lipomas not recurring after being completely excised. Regular veterinary care and monitoring lumps and bumps on a dog’s body are key to ensuring early detection and treatment if needed.

With veterinary guidance, most dogs with simple lipomas can continue to live happy, high-quality lives. However, it’s important not to ignore new lumps and to have any masses assessed as soon as they are discovered.

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