Do Steroids Help Dogs With Lipomas?

What are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign (noncancerous) fat-filled tumors that commonly develop in dogs, especially middle-aged and senior dogs. According to WebMD, lipomas are the most common type of non-cancerous lumps found on dogs (1).

Lipomas usually form between the skin and muscle layer, most often occurring on the dog’s torso, upper legs, upper back and shoulders. They are soft, movable lumps that feel like fatty bubbles under the skin and range in size from a marble to a golf ball (2).

Lipomas are typically painless, harmless tumors made up of fat cells that group together in a capsule. They don’t usually interfere with the health of the dog, although they can sometimes grow large enough to cause discomfort by pressing on underlying muscles or nerves (1).

While alarming to pet owners, lipomas in dogs are almost always benign. However, it’s still a good idea to have new lumps examined by a veterinarian, just to ensure they are not a more serious type of tumor (2).

Sources:
(1) https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-know-lipoma-in-dogs
(2) https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of lipomas in dogs is still unknown. However, there are some factors that may contribute to their development:

Genetics likely play a role, as certain breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, and Miniature Schnauzers are more prone to developing lipomas. Additionally, the tendency for lipomas can run in canine families (1).

Obesity is another risk factor, as excess body fat can trigger lipoma formation. Older overweight dogs are at an especially high risk (2).

Age is also a consideration, as lipomas usually develop in middle-aged to senior dogs around 6 years or older. They become more common as dogs get older (3).

While the exact physiological cause is still being researched, contributing factors like genetics, obesity, and age can make some dogs more prone to developing lipomas.

Diagnosing Lipomas

When a dog develops lumps under the skin, the first step is to have a veterinarian perform a physical exam to identify and locate them. The vet will visually inspect and carefully palpate the skin to determine the number, size, shape, texture, mobility, and location of any lumps or masses.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, lipomas can typically be diagnosed through a procedure called fine needle aspiration (FNA) (1). This involves inserting a small needle attached to a syringe into the lump and suctioning out a sample of cells for examination under a microscope. The cells are checked for the fat cell pattern characteristic of a lipoma.

In some cases where the diagnosis is uncertain, the vet may recommend a surgical biopsy to remove all or part of the lump for biopsy. Examining the histopathology or microscopic architecture of the cells can confirm whether the mass is a benign lipoma or another type of tumor.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options for lipomas in dogs depending on the size and location of the growth. Small lipomas that are not causing discomfort or limiting mobility may just be observed by the veterinarian (Source 1). Since lipomas are typically benign, surgical removal is usually not required unless the lump interferes with the dog’s normal movement or quality of life.

For larger lipomas or ones located in sensitive areas, surgical removal may be recommended. This involves surgically extracting the entire fatty mass and then closing the incision (Source 2). Surgery for lipoma removal allows for complete excision of the growth and minimizes chances of recurrence.

Some veterinarians may also recommend steroid injections directly into the lipoma which could potentially shrink the size. However, results of steroid injections are variable and the lipoma may eventually regrow (Source 3).

Steroid Injections

One potential treatment for lipomas in dogs is steroid injections directly into the lipoma. Steroids like triamcinolone can be injected with the aim of reducing the size of the lipoma by shrinking the fat cells within it.

Research on the effectiveness of steroid injections for dog lipomas has shown mixed results. One small study of 15 dogs found that ultrasound-guided steroid injections could significantly decrease lipoma size, however regrowth often occurred within a year. Other sources suggest steroid injections may temporarily shrink lipomas but do not provide a permanent or complete removal.

Potential side effects of steroid injections for lipomas include pain or irritation at the injection site, infection, and skin atrophy or depigmentation. Veterinary guidance is advised to assess if a dog is a good candidate for this treatment option.

Surgical Removal

The most common and effective treatment for lipomas is surgical removal.[1] Full surgical excision is performed to remove the entire lipoma.[2] This procedure involves a veterinarian making an incision over the lipoma and dissecting out the fatty tumor from the surrounding tissues. The area is then sutured closed.

In most cases, surgical removal of lipomas is a relatively low-risk procedure. However, complications can sometimes occur, including infection, swelling, fluid buildup, and wound breakdown. The risk generally increases with the size of the lipoma.

One disadvantage of surgery is the possibility of recurrence. There is a chance that lipomas can regrow in the exact same location or in nearby sites after surgical removal. However, the success rate is still high, especially if the lipoma is small.

Overall, surgical excision is an effective treatment option for most dogs with lipomas. It allows complete removal of the fatty mass and provides a good prognosis in the majority of cases.

[1] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors

[2] https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/six-steps-for-easier-lipoma-removal/

Lifestyle Changes

Lipomas are often associated with obesity in dogs, so implementing lifestyle changes to help dogs lose excess weight can be beneficial. If a dog is overweight, putting them on a structured weight loss program is recommended. This involves feeding them a balanced diet formulated for weight loss and restricting treats and table scraps. Portion control is also important.

Implementing a routine exercise plan, like daily walks and playtime, can help burn calories and shed pounds. Low-impact activities like swimming are ideal for overweight or older dogs. Exercise also provides mental stimulation.

Feeding a balanced, nutritious diet tailored for the dog’s age, activity level, and ideal weight is key. Avoid overfeeding and limit high-fat foods. Consult with your vet on an appropriate diet. Some research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent lipomas, so diets rich in fish oil may be beneficial.

With lifestyle adjustments to promote weight loss and healthy living, some lipomas may shrink or not grow as quickly. However, most still require removal if problematic. Lifestyle changes alone aren’t usually enough, but they can support other lipoma treatments.

Home Remedies

In addition to medications and surgery prescribed by a veterinarian, there are some natural and home remedies that dog owners can try to potentially help treat lipomas in dogs. However, keep in mind that these remedies are mainly anecdotal and have not been well studied scientifically.

Some natural supplements that may be beneficial include:

  • Turmeric – This common spice contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric may help reduce inflammation associated with lipomas when given orally or applied topically.
  • Flaxseed oil – Flaxseed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation. Adding flaxseed oil to your dog’s food may assist with lipomas.

Some other home remedies to consider:

  • Massage – Gently massaging the lipoma may help break down the fat cells over time. However, do not massage forcefully.
  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate healing. Some owners have reported success using acupuncture to reduce their dog’s lipomas.
  • Dietary changes – Reducing carbs, sugars, and other inflammatory foods in your dog’s diet may help minimize lipomas. Discuss diet changes with your vet.

While anecdotal evidence exists for these home remedies, more research is still needed to fully evaluate their efficacy. It’s best to consult your veterinarian before trying any home treatments for your dog’s lipomas.

Prognosis

The prognosis for benign lipomas in dogs is generally quite good, as most lipomas do not cause major health issues. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the majority of lipomas are benign fatty masses that grow slowly between the skin and muscle layer, causing minimal problems (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors). WebMD also notes that lipomas are usually noncancerous and often do not need treatment beyond monitoring their growth (https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-know-lipoma-in-dogs).

In cases of uncomplicated lipomas that do not impact mobility or quality of life, simply monitoring their size at regular veterinary checkups is often sufficient. However, if the lipoma interferes with movement, causes discomfort, or grows rapidly, surgical removal may be recommended. The prognosis for surgical excision is very good, providing the entire lipoma is extracted. There is a chance the fatty mass can recur after surgery, but this risk is low if the excision is performed properly.

Overall, as long as lipomas remain small and non-problematic, the prognosis is excellent. Veterinary guidance can help determine if and when surgical removal is advisable to improve prognosis. With appropriate monitoring and treatment when necessary, benign lipomas generally have a good outlook.

Prevention

There is no known definitive way to prevent lipomas from developing in dogs. However, there are some steps pet owners can take that may help lower the risk:

Maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring regular exercise can be beneficial, as overweight and obese dogs tend to develop lipomas more frequently [1]. Keeping your dog active and avoiding excessive weight gain may help prevent lipomas.

Early detection through regular checks of your dog’s body can allow for monitoring of any lumps to look for changes in size over time. Bring any new lumps or bumps to the attention of your veterinarian right away. Though not proven, some vets believe that catching and removing lipomas when they are small may help avoid future formation [2].

While no surefire way exists to prevent lipoma development in dogs, focusing on maintaining your dog’s ideal weight, health and activity levels gives them their best chance of avoiding these fatty tumors.

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