Jeff Kahler: What to do when abnormal growth arises on your pet

Andrea from Allentown, Pa., has a Queensland heeler named Jake. Jake is 8 years old and in very good condition, according to Andrea. Recently, he has developed a lump on the underside of his neck and she has noticed it getting a bit larger in the last few weeks. Andrea points out that this lump does not appear painful or to affect Jake in any way. She wants to know what she should do.

First, it is important to understand that any lump or mass on your companion is not normal. These growths arise as a result of abnormal tissue growth. When these masses are on the outside of the body, we often either feel or see them. When masses develop inside the body, we are ignorant to their existence until they begin to cause problems. Again, either situation is abnormal.

Andrea mentioned that Jake’s mass does not seem to be bothering him, which brings up an important point: Masses, especially those on the outside of the body, are generally not painful or irritating – at least initially. In fact, most commonly, they in no way bother the companion. This fact has absolutely nothing to do with the type of mass or its potential severity. Some of the most aggressive, potentially fatal cancerous masses are painless until later stages of their development. This may be the most important lesson I can share concerning masses of any kind on your companion.

Let me share a few other facts about external masses in dogs. Most of these lumps are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. The masses that are cancerous can oftentimes be cured by effective surgical removal. External masses on dogs generally do not cure themselves.

The first step when you notice a mass on your companion is to take him or her to your veterinarian. No veterinarian can diagnose what type of mass a dog has with 100 percent assurance by merely looking. We have excellent and simple diagnostic tools to help us determine what we might be dealing with. One such tool is fine needle aspiration. With many masses we can introduce a small needle into a mass, remove some of the cells and examine them under a microscope. Sometimes this procedure can reveal whether or not a mass is cancerous (malignant).

It is sometimes necessary to remove a mass and have it biopsied. As I said earlier, removal of even cancerous masses can be curative, thus allowing surgery to give both a diagnosis and a cure.

Do not wait around for a mass to cause problems for your companion. Once a mass is discovered, have it diagnosed. It may be just fine to leave it alone, but it is always important to know that for sure.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.