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Lipoma and Dogs – Symptoms and Diagnosis of Adipose Tumors

Picture of a grey dog

Adipose tumors are quite common in both animals and humans, especially when they start to grow old. Naturally, adipose tumors aren’t all the same, meaning that they can be benign or malignant and they can also vary in terms of their growth rate. 

The benign type is called lipoma while the malignant form is called liposarcoma. In this post, we will look at how lipoma can affect a dog’s life, how you can tell if your Fido has it, and how lipoma can be treated. 

Just what is a lipoma?

As we have already mentioned, a lipoma is a benign type of cancer which affects fat cells. The wide range of lipomas that can be found in dogs can appear right under the skin, but there are some that can develop inside the abdomen or the chest. These can be quite problematic as they can interfere with the dog’s general health and the way his/her internal organs function. 

While lipomas are not considered cancerous and so they don’t metastasize, they can still produce the problems that we have just mentioned. They effectively take up space and they can show up in a variety of inconvenient locations. 

So what dogs are at a higher risk of developing lipomas? All dogs are predisposed to it in equal amounts, but it is estimated that approximately 16% of middle-aged to geriatric dogs are going to develop it at some point. By contrast, it almost never shows up in cats. 

Some of the breeds that seem to be more affected by it are Weimaraners, Labrador Retrievers, and Doberman Pinschers. 

Symptoms

Lipomas can have different shapes, but in most cases, they are spherical or hemispherical. They have the appearance of a lump right under the skin, and this is the first clinical sign that the pet parent might notice. Lipomas are soft and more or less mobile, but it depends on each one whether it is firmly attached to the underlying tissues or not. 

Even though lipomas are not malignant and so they can’t spread to other organs or systems, they can still grow in size, in some cases. That’s how a dog can end up with a huge mass even if it is diagnosed as a lipoma and you decide against opting for surgery.

Some lipomas can get to be so large that they could cover one side of the dog all the while not causing any medical problems. 

Diagnosis

The problem with lipomas is that they can’t be diagnosed just by looking at them. Typically, such a tumor is diagnosed by performing a fine needle aspiration. The reason veterinarians have to do this is that there are two other dangerous types of cancer that can look like lipoma, and they are mast cell tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. 

Both of these types of cancer can develop under the skin and can feel just as soft like a lipoma. Therefore, this is why veterinarians are so keen on making a differential diagnosis. Believe it or not, there can be several lumps on a dog and 90% of them can be lipomas and one can be a mast cell tumor. It’s always better to know for sure.

If the results of the fine needle aspirate aren’t suggestive enough, a biopsy might have to be performed. In this case, a piece of the tumor would have to be extracted by excision. A veterinary pathologist will examine the excised piece and will determine whether histopathologically, it is a lipoma or some other kind of cancer. 

In terms of which method is better, a biopsy always offers better results than a fine needle aspirate. 

Unfortunately, it is not the option of choice for many pet owners who feel like it would be far more painful compared to its counterpart. The truth is that a biopsy is also performed with a needle and an ultrasound indicator and the part excised from the tumor is extremely small. Moreover, there is always the option of a local anesthesia if you want your pet not to feel any pain at all. 

How are lipomas in dogs treated?

All types of cancer can be treated using three main methods — surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. However, since lipomas are benign, they are mostly harmless. If their size interferes with the dog’s movement, exercise, and his or her general health status, the lump can be removed.

Whether you choose to have your dog’s lipoma removed surgically or not, a biopsy should be performed anyway. At least you will find out, thanks to this diagnostic technique, if your dog really has a lipoma or a more serious type of cancer. 

Other options when it comes to treating lipoma are liposuction, laser therapy, and steroid injections. Both in the case of surgery and liposuction, the re-growth rate is high after some time. 

How much does it cost to have a canine lipoma removed?

It depends on the size of the lipoma, its location, how risky the operation can be, the dog’s age, and a variety of other factors. If the operation is very invasive and the location of the lipoma is very hard to reach, it can cost around $1,000. 

However, if the mass is under the skin and the surgery doesn’t present any risks, the operation can cost somewhere between $250 and $600. We recommend getting pet insurance to avoid having to go in debt if your dog needs to have the operation. 

Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing lipomas. However, if you notice any lumps or bumps on your dog, you can take him or her to the vet clinic as soon as possible. Lipomas can be diagnosed via cytology in most cases, and any tumor diagnosed in its early stages can be treated more effectively and with less pain for your canine friend. 

If you have a white, long-haired dog, you can use a colored marker to paint the area where you felt the lump. Taking your dog to the vet’s for routine checkups can make it easier for these lumps to be revealed. 

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