If your older dog starts getting lumps on her body, take her to the vet—but don't panic. Odds are that these are fatty tissue tumors, technically known as lipomas. While they might look bad, they're generally harmless and rarely need removal except for cosmetic purposes.
These fatty lumps, also known as adipose tumors, lie just beneath your dog's skin. Any breed or type of dog can get them, and they become more common with age. As opposed to a malignant tumor, which is hard and stationary, lipomas are soft and you can move them around with your fingers. Of course, you shouldn't assume a lump you find on your dog is benign—always check with a vet to make sure. Your vet will use a fine needle to aspirate the lump or perform a biopsy. She'll continue to check the lump when you go for regular checkups to see if it has changed or gotten bigger.
Lipomas range in size from tiny to quite large. Many dogs are prone to lipomas after a certain stage in life, with quite a few lumps on their bodies. Bigger breeds of dogs can get larger lipomas, some so large that they affect normal functions. Those have to go. Lipomas usually appear on the legs or the body, less often on the head or tail.
While the jury is still out on what causes these common lumps, one factor may be the dog's diet. Lipomas occur more frequently in overweight canines. Avoid feeding your dog too many carbohydrates, and make sure he gets plenty of exercise. Hormonal issues may cause fatty tumor development. Take your dog to the vet for an examination if he develops skin problems such as canine acne, or his coat seems excessively oily. Lipomas might have a hereditary component. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, the breeds most likely to develop lipomas include Labrador retrievers, Doberman pinschers and miniature schnauzers.
Most lipomas are fine just where they are. You can elect to take them out to make the dog look better, but remember that anesthesia has risks. In some dogs, removing the lipoma is a good idea. If it is large enough to interfere with your dog's movement or his eating, it should go. Some dogs develop lipomas on their eyelids, which affects vision, so they should be removed. Otherwise, remember that beauty is only skin deep, and a few lumps under his skin don't mar the lovability of your dog.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.