Should I Remove My Dogs Fatty Tumor?

What are fatty tumors in dogs?

Fatty tumors, also known as lipomas, are benign masses or growths of fat cells that form lumps under a dog’s skin. Lipomas commonly develop on middle-aged and older dogs, usually forming on the dog’s underbelly, chest, upper legs, or around the neck and shoulder areas. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, lipomas tend to grow where fat deposits are normally present in the body.

Lipomas are soft, movable lumps that feel like bubbles under the skin and range in size from a pea to a few inches across. They have defined edges and can sometimes connect via stalks to the tissue beneath the skin. The overlying skin has a normal color and appearance. Lipomas are usually painless, spherical to oval in shape, and have a doughy or rubbery feel when palpated.

Though noncancerous, lipomas can occasionally cause discomfort if they compress on surrounding nerves or inhibit movement if located around joints. Most fatty tumors in dogs are benign, but it’s important pet owners have new lumps evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out the possibility of a malignant fatty tumor called liposarcoma, which requires surgical removal.

Are fatty tumors in dogs dangerous?

Fatty tumors, also known as lipomas, are usually benign growths that do not turn cancerous or spread to other parts of the body (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors). The vast majority of lipomas are harmless lumps of fat that form under the skin, often on the torso, neck or legs. They can range from pea-sized to several inches across.

While the tumors themselves are benign, large lipomas can occasionally cause problems if they compress or restrict movement of surrounding muscles and tissue. Very rarely (less than 3% of cases), a fatty tumor can develop into a liposarcoma, which is malignant (https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_multi_lipoma). Signs that may indicate a tumor is cancerous rather than benign include rapid growth, ulceration, bleeding, discharge or redness of the overlying skin.

Lipomas generally do not require removal unless they impact mobility or quality of life. However, it’s important to monitor all lumps and have a veterinarian evaluate any tumors that seem to be growing quickly, changing shape, or are accompanied by other clinical signs. Rapid growth, skin changes and spreading are red flags for potential malignancy.

Diagnosing fatty tumors in dogs

If you find a lump on your dog, the first step is to have your veterinarian perform a physical exam. They will observe the location of the lump and how it looks and feels. They may take a sample using a fine needle aspiration (FNA) to examine the cells under a microscope and determine if it is a fatty tumor or something else (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors).

Most lipomas are benign fatty tumors that are not cancerous. However, in rare cases they may contain some forms of cancer like liposarcoma. If your veterinarian is concerned about the possibility of cancer, they may recommend additional tests like bloodwork, biopsies, imaging, and cytology to definitively diagnose the tumor (https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_multi_lipoma).

The location of the fatty tumor and how rapidly it is changing can also provide clues. Your vet will consider all factors to determine if it is benign or there is any risk of cancer.

Treatment options for fatty tumors

There are a few options for treating fatty tumors in dogs:

Observation

Some vets may recommend just observing the tumor if it is small and not affecting the dog’s movement or quality of life. Lipomas often grow slowly, so regular monitoring may be all that is needed. According to [1], observation may be the best route if the dog is elderly or has other health conditions that make surgery risky.

Surgical removal

Surgical removal is considered the most effective treatment for fatty tumors in dogs [2]. It’s best to remove them when they are small, as the surgery is less invasive. The veterinarian will put the dog under anesthesia and then excise the fatty tumor. The dog will need to wear an Elizabethan collar and limit activity while recovering from surgery. Most dogs heal well after lipoma removal.

Radiation therapy

If a biopsy determines the fatty tumor is actually a liposarcoma (cancerous), radiation may be recommended. This can help shrink the tumor and prevent it from spreading to other areas [3]. Radiation therapy requires multiple visits to a specialty clinic and has potential side effects.

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

[2] https://www.webmd.com/pets/dogs/what-to-know-lipoma-in-dogs

[3] https://www.ahna.net/site/blog-asheville-vet/2023/02/15/fatty-tumor-dog

Deciding if surgical removal is necessary

When discovering a fatty tumor on your dog, deciding if surgical removal is necessary is an important consideration. The location of the tumor and whether it interferes with your dog’s movement or quality of life is a key factor. According to VCA Hospitals, “The single most effective treatment for lipomas is surgical removal. It is best to remove these masses when they are small; the surgery is usually less invasive” [1].

The size of the fatty tumor and its growth rate should also be evaluated. Rapidly growing lipomas may require removal. According to the AMC, “However, there are instances when removing a lipoma will improve the dog’s quality of life, and surgery is appropriately recommended” [2]. Large tumors that hinder mobility or normal functioning may require surgery.

Finally, the risk of complications should be weighed. Larger fatty tumors in vulnerable locations like the armpit or groin have higher surgical risks. Removal may be recommended to prevent future complications. Overall, consult your veterinarian on the necessity of surgical removal based on the tumor specifics for your dog.

[1] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors
[2] https://www.amcny.org/blog/2022/07/13/my-dog-has-a-fatty-tumor-now-what/

Preparing for fatty tumor removal surgery

Proper preparation is important for ensuring a smooth surgery and recovery when removing your dog’s fatty tumor. Here are some key steps:

Your veterinarian will likely recommend pre-operative bloodwork to check your dog’s organ function and look for any potential issues with anesthesia or the surgery itself. This is especially important for older dogs. According to veterinarypracticenews.com, your vet may also suggest pre-operative xrays to identify any additional concerns with the location of the tumor[1].

Discuss the anesthesia plan with your vet. They will determine the proper anesthesia protocol based on your dog’s health, age, and other factors. Some options may include injectable and gas anesthesia. Your vet will monitor your dog closely throughout the procedure.

When dropping your dog off the morning of surgery, follow any overnight fasting instructions from your vet. Bring any pertinent medical records and discuss any final questions or concerns. The veterinary staff will go over aftercare instructions and make sure you understand what to expect after the procedure.

What to expect during and after surgery

The type of surgical procedure will depend on factors like the size and location of the fatty tumor. Small lipomas are often removed through a simple excision, which involves surgically cutting out the mass through an incision in the skin.

For larger or deeper tumors, the vet may perform a more involved procedure. This could require making a longer incision or carefully dissecting around blood vessels and tissues to fully remove the growth. Surgery for large or infiltrative fatty tumors may take 1-2 hours.

After surgery, your dog will likely have staples or sutures that need monitoring as they heal over the next 7-14 days. Your vet will provide instructions for keeping the incision site clean and watching for signs of infection. Expect swelling and bruising around the surgery site.

Your dog will likely be groggy and sore for 12-24 hours after surgery. Rest and restriction from activity are important during the recovery period. Your vet may prescribe pain medication to keep your dog comfortable. Within a few days, your dog should be feeling much better, but activity should be limited for 2 weeks after surgery.

You’ll need to return for a recheck appointment so your vet can monitor healing and remove any sutures or staples once the incision has closed. Full recovery takes about 2-4 weeks for most dogs after fatty tumor removal surgery.

Sources:
https://www.animalsurgicalcenter.com/fatty-tumors–lipomas
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors

Aftercare and monitoring

After fatty tumor removal surgery, your dog will need proper aftercare and monitoring for several weeks as they heal and recover. An Elizabethan collar is typically recommended to prevent your dog from licking or chewing their incision site (https://www.greencrossvets.com.au/aftercare/dog-cat-lump-removal-surgery-recovery/). You’ll need to keep the incision clean and dry until fully healed, which usually takes 10-14 days. Avoid bathing, swimming, or other activities that could wet the incision area. Check the incision site daily for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge, or your dog exhibiting pain. Contact your vet if you notice any concerning symptoms.

Your vet will likely schedule a follow-up appointment 1-2 weeks after surgery to monitor healing and remove any sutures or staples. Additional exams may be recommended down the road to check for potential recurrence of the fatty tumor. Though unlikely, some fatty tumors can grow back after surgical removal. Your vet will let you know if ongoing monitoring is advised based on the type, size, and location of the mass that was removed (https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/dog-tumor-removal). With proper aftercare and monitoring, your dog has an excellent chance of making a full recovery after fatty tumor surgery.

Cost of surgical removal

The cost of surgically removing a fatty tumor can vary based on several factors:

Professional fees – Surgeon and specialist fees are a major component of the total cost. Surgical removal by a board-certified veterinary surgeon typically ranges from $200 to $500 per tumor.

Diagnostics – Tests needed to diagnose the tumor and determine if surgery is appropriate can add $50-$150. Common diagnostics include fine needle aspirates, biopsies, bloodwork, and imaging such as x-rays or ultrasound.

Anesthesia and medications – General anesthesia is required for tumor removal surgery, along with pain medications and other perioperative drugs. These costs often total $100-$300.

Aftercare – The initial recheck exam, Elizabethan collar, sutures/staples, any prescribed medications, and follow-up visits can cost $50-$250.

In total, surgical removal of a single fatty tumor often ranges from $400 to $800. Larger or multiple tumors may be more expensive. Pet health insurance can sometimes offset a portion of these costs.

Sources:
https://www.marketwatch.com/guides/pet-insurance/dog-lipoma-removal-cost/,
https://www.lemonade.com/pet/explained/dog-lipoma-cost/

When to consider other options

In some cases, surgical removal may not be the best option for treating fatty tumors in dogs. Here are some situations where other treatment approaches may be preferred:

Multiple tumors – Dogs that develop many fatty tumors at once may not be good candidates for surgery, as it would require multiple procedures and recovery periods. In these cases, non-surgical alternatives like herbal treatments, diet changes, and supplements may help shrink tumors over time without repeated operations.

Underlying condition – Fatty tumors can occasionally signal an underlying disease like hyperadrenocorticism or hypothyroidism. Treating the underlying condition may help resolve the tumors without surgery. Your vet can run tests to check for related conditions.

Owner unable to afford – Surgery and associated costs may simply be too expensive for some owners. Herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and food therapy offer affordable at-home alternatives without the risks and expenses of an operation. However, monitoring the tumors for any concerning changes is still important.

In general, surgery should not be the automatic default for treating canine fatty tumors. Weigh the specifics of your dog’s case along with your own circumstances. In many situations, less invasive options can be just as effective while avoiding unnecessary procedures.

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