Why Do Dogs Get Lipomas As They Age?

Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that are commonly found in middle-aged to older dogs. As dogs age, they may develop multiple lipomas under their skin, which are soft, movable growths that emerge from fat cells. While lipomas themselves are harmless, they can sometimes be associated with more serious conditions or grow in problematic areas, so owners should monitor them closely. Understanding why lipomas form and how to manage them can help dogs continue living comfortably into their senior years.

Citation: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/adipose-lipoma-tumors

What Are Lipomas?

Lipomas are benign, slow-growing fatty tumors that develop under the skin of dogs as they age. Lipomas occur when fat cells clump together and form a growth. Because they develop from fat cells, lipomas are usually soft, movable, and located just below the skin.

Lipomas are almost always noncancerous and harmless, though they can sometimes grow to large sizes. The main concern with lipomas tends to be cosmetic, as they can form large bumps or lumps on a dog’s body. Though benign, lipomas should still be monitored since they can occasionally impact movement if they grow in certain areas.

Common Locations

Lipomas typically develop in areas where dogs naturally have more fat, usually on the torso, legs, shoulders, and neck. The most common locations are:

  • Chest and abdomen – This is where lipomas most often occur since dogs tend to have more fat deposits in this area.
  • Upper legs and shoulders – Lipomas can grow on the upper hind legs near the flank as well as on the front legs near the shoulders.
  • Neck and armpits – Lipomas may develop in the fatty tissue around the neck and in the armpits.
  • Back – The back is another common area, especially along the midline.

According to the Thornton Vets, lipomas can grow anywhere on a dog’s body where fat is present. The benign tumors tend to develop in middle-aged and older dogs in areas that naturally accumulate fatty tissue.

Breed Predisposition

Certain breeds are more prone to developing lipomas than others. According to Veterinary Ireland Journal, the breeds with the highest lipoma prevalence were Weimaraner (7.84%), Dobermann Pinscher (6.96%), German Pointer (5.23%), Springer Spaniel (5.19%), and Labrador Retriever (5.13%) [1].

Labrador Retrievers in particular seem especially susceptible to lipomas. As one of the most popular dog breeds, Labradors account for a large percentage of lipoma cases seen by vets. Their tendency towards being overweight likely contributes to their predisposition. Proper diet and weight management may help reduce lipoma development in Labs.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are several potential causes and risk factors that can lead to the development of lipomas in dogs:

Obesity

Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors. The extra fat cells in obese dogs may trigger the formation of lipomas. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can help prevent lipomas.

Genetics

Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to developing lipomas, such as Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, and Miniature Schnauzers. The tendency to form lipomas can be inherited.

Insulin Resistance

Dogs with insulin resistance or diabetes are at increased risk for lipomas. Insulin helps regulate fat cell growth, so imbalances can lead to lipoma development.

Other suspected causes include trauma, chronic inflammation, and hormonal imbalances. But obesity, genetics, and insulin resistance appear to be the most significant risk factors for lipomas in dogs.

Diagnosing Lipomas

When a lump is found on or under your dog’s skin, the vet will perform a physical exam to determine if it is a lipoma. The vet will feel the lump to see if it moves freely under the skin and is soft and pliable.[1] This is indicative of a lipoma, as opposed to other kinds of lumps which may feel hard or fixed in place. The vet will also assess the size, shape, and location of the lump. Most lipomas are diagnosed during routine wellness exams through this manual palpation.

If the vet cannot conclusively determine that the lump is a lipoma through a physical exam alone, they may recommend getting a biopsy. This involves using a needle to extract cells from the lump so they can be examined under a microscope. A biopsy can definitively determine if the lump is benign fat cells or potentially malignant.[2] However, biopsies require sedation and are not necessary in straightforward cases where the vet is confident in the lipoma diagnosis through manual examination.

Treatment Options

There are a few options for treating lipomas in dogs:

Monitoring

Since most lipomas are benign, many vets recommend simply monitoring the growth over time. Lipomas typically grow slowly, so regular vet checkups every few months allow tracking of any changes. Monitoring is usually the approach for small or slow-growing lipomas that don’t impact mobility or quality of life.

Surgically Removing

If a lipoma becomes large, grows rapidly, or impedes movement, surgical removal may be recommended. This involves excising the fatty tumor under anesthesia. Surgical removal can provide quick relief and prevent further irritation of the growth. Dogs generally recover well from lipoma removal surgery.

According to Poli Pet Shield, surgically removing lipomas has over a 90% cure rate. However, in some cases, lipomas can regrow after surgical excision.

Liposuction

A less invasive option is liposuction to drain the fatty cells of the lipoma. This is done by inserting a small cannula through a tiny incision to suction out the tumor. Liposuction results in less scarring and quicker recovery times compared to surgery.

However, liposuction may not remove the entire growth if it has more fibrous tissue. There’s also a chance of recurrence similar to surgical excision. Overall, liposuction can be effective for some canine lipomas. Discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian.

Preventing Lipomas

One of the best ways to help prevent lipomas is to keep your dog lean and fit. Obesity is a major risk factor for developing lipomas. According to research cited on The Wildest, overweight dogs are 2.5 times more likely to develop lipomas compared to dogs fed a lower-calorie diet. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce inflammation and keep your dog’s immune system functioning properly.

Ask your vet for feeding recommendations based on your dog’s ideal weight. Provide measured portions rather than free-feeding. Get your dog moving with daily walks and playtime. Swimming and agility activities are great low-impact exercise options. Keep treats minimal and aim for healthy options like carrots rather than fatty treats. With a nutritious diet and active lifestyle, you can help your dog stay trim and strong.

When to See the Vet

Although most lipomas are benign, it’s still a good idea to get them checked out by the vet to confirm the diagnosis. You should make an appointment with your vet if a lipoma is growing rapidly, ulcerating, or interfering with your dog’s movement.

A fast-growing lipoma can indicate it is something more serious like a malignant tumor or liposarcoma. You’ll want to get an accurate diagnosis from your vet. If the lipoma is getting bigger quickly, especially in a short period of a few weeks or months, bring your dog in.

Ulcerated lipomas that look red, swollen, and are oozing fluid also warrant a veterinary visit. This indicates the tissue has become damaged and infected, requiring treatment. An ulcerated lipoma will be painful for your dog.

Large lipomas in locations like the limbs, joints, or underarms can restrict mobility and make it difficult for a dog to move properly. If the lipoma seems to be interfering with your dog’s gait or range of motion, have your vet examine it. They may recommend removal to improve quality of life if the lipoma is impeding your dog’s activity.

Even if a lipoma isn’t causing any issues, it’s still a good idea to have new lumps or bumps evaluated during your dog’s annual exam. Your vet can make note of the lipoma’s size and appearance. That way, you’ll have a baseline for comparison at future exams to monitor any changes.

Outlook for Dogs with Lipomas

The prognosis for dogs with lipomas is generally excellent. Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that typically do not negatively impact a dog’s health or quality of life [1]. In most cases, lipomas grow slowly and do not metastasize or spread to other areas of the body. They are usually harmless masses consisting of fat cells. While lipomas can sometimes grow quite large, they rarely impair movement or cause discomfort.

For the majority of dogs, lipomas will not require any treatment. Dogs can go on to live happy and healthy lives with lipomas. Most veterinarians will recommend leaving asymptomatic lipomas alone and simply monitoring their size at regular checkups. Surgical removal may be recommended if the lipoma becomes bothersome due to its size and location, but the prognosis is excellent even after surgical excision.

Overall, the appearance of lipomas is not a major cause for concern in dogs. While the root cause is still unknown, they are considered benign tumors with an excellent long-term outlook. With regular veterinary checkups to monitor size and health impacts, most dogs can thrive alongside their lipomas.

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