Friday, November 14, 2014

Liam gets a lipoma (a fatty dog tumor)

I pride myself on doing thorough cancer checks on my dogs. Every week, they get the once over when they're being brushed or bathed. They're accustomed to being poked and prodded as I look for lumps, bumps and points of pain.

Up until now, I've never felt anything on either dog. But a week or so ago, I spotted a good-sized lump on Liam's shoulder. It's about the size of a grape, and it was easy to squish this thing between my fingers and move it from place to place. It didn't cause him pain, but it certainly didn't belong there.
I'm pinching the lump here.
Liam had just been through a rabies vaccine, and at first, I wondered if he was having a reaction to that shot. It's not uncommon, my research suggests, for dogs to get soft lumps in the spots where they've had shots. The immune system responds to the stuff in the shots by sending out troops, and those troops cause things to swell up. It can look scary, but often, these bumps go down with time.

But lumps and bumps like this can also be indicative of cancer. Tumors in the spaces between the skin and the muscle aren't all that uncommon in dogs, and sometimes, those tumors come with no symptoms like pain or lethargy or disinterest in eating. Dogs just get bumpy, and the lumps aren't good for them.

I've already lost a dog to cancer, and he was Liam's age when he died. The thought that my pug would have cancer just devastated me, and I was almost too worried to make an appointment to have the lump looked at. What if it was cancer? What if it was incurable cancer? It all seemed too difficult to bear.

Thankfully, I collected my wits and we went to the vet's for a checkup. First off, the staff looked at his chart and reassured me that we were not dealing with a vaccine reaction, as Liam had his rabies shot in the other shoulder (whew!).

So the veterinarian pushed a very small, very thin needle into Liam's bump, to pull out some cells for further examination. Liam didn't flinch or cry at all when this was going on, which was a nice surprise (he can be a little bit dramatic). Minutes later, the veterinarian returned to tell me that Liam's bump was benign. He has what's known as a lipoma.

A lipoma, as this excellent article points out, is a benign tumor that's common in middle-aged and elderly dogs. No one is quite sure what causes these tumors, but studies show that these are encapsulated bits of fat inside a dog's body, close to the skin but not embedded in the muscle, and they don't cause pain or ongoing health issues. As long as Liam's spot doesn't get so big that he has trouble moving or using his leg or shoulder, there's nothing we need to do for this spot. We can just leave him alone.

I've seen articles, like this one in Dogs Naturally Magazine, that suggest that Liam's lipoma is indicative of an underlying health problem. I shouldn't vaccinate him or give him flea medications, these authors suggest, or I've been feeding him low-quality food, so he has a lipoma that is my fault.

It's tempting to take the blame for these spots. After all, if I've done something wrong, I can do something right next time, right? Well, no. Lipomas are considered a natural part of the aging process, according to my veterinarian, and they're not spots that can be either prevented or cured. Playing the blame game doesn't help. They appear. When they do, they should be tested. And that is all.

I don't like the fact that Liam has bumps at all, of course, and it's a little hard to hear that I can't prevent him from getting more of them. But, I am thrilled that this particular lump isn't anything I need to panic over. It won't shorten his life, and that's the best possible news.

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