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Lipomas in Dogs
Fatty Lumps in Dogs
As dogs age they often get visible lumps some of which may be tumours, others warts. Lipomas in dogs are one of the most common types of growth. They usually occur under the surface of the skin. They are also known as ‘fatty lumps’ because they are mainly made up of fat cells (adipose tissue). Dogs may have several lipomas growing, but this doesn't mean the cancer has spread, each tumour is discrete and unconnected. Lipomas in dogs are benign so there is no spread of cancer to other organs, however there is a similar looking but rare malignant tumour called a liposarcoma. If your vet suspects that a lump is a liposarcoma they will recommend sampling some of the tissue for diagnosis in the laboratory. Lipomas are most common in older dogs which are overweight and female. Labradors and Labrador crosses seem to be especially prone to them.
Lipomas are round or slightly oblong lumps under the skin. They feel quite soft and smooth and they grow slowly. Bruno my Labrador recently had a lipoma removed. When I got him he was seven years old and already had the lump which was about the size of a large marble. Four years later when it was removed it was roughly the size of half a tennis ball. The only way to absolutely conclusively diagnose a lipoma is to send some of its cells for laboratory testing. This can be done before of after surgery to remove it. As an owner you will need to decide whether you want this done.
Vets will usually recommend leaving a slow growing lipoma in place. They don’t hurt or spread and because they need removing under anaesthetic which entails a small risk to the dog it is safe to leave them in place. They will recommend removing it if the lipoma is fast growing, inhibiting the dog’s movement or if the surface has become sore perhaps due to the dog licking and worrying at it. They may also recommend removing a lipoma if the dog is going under anaesthetic for another reason such as teeth cleaning. In Bruno’s case the skin surface of the lump had broken and he was licking it and making it worse, so it was time to have the lipoma removed.
Lipoma Testing and Removal
Lipoma Surgery in Dogs
Your vet will schedule an appointment for the operation to remove your dog’s lipoma and will ask you to bring the dog in to the surgery on the morning of the operation. You mustn’t allow the dog to eat after 9pm the night before and in the morning of the operation it shouldn’t be allowed water either.
You can expect the dog to spend most of the day at the vets. The vet will remove the lipoma, whilst the dog is anaesthetised, through a cut made in the dog's skin and tie off any blood vessels supplying the tumour. The wound will then be stitched up and the dog brought round from the anaesthetic. Your dog will be closely monitored during this early recovery period.
When you collect your dog you may be surprised at the size of the incision made to remove the lipoma. This is because they are often bigger than they appear when covered by hair. The vet will carefully have separated the lump from the rest of the dog's tissues to try and ensure that it is all removed and won’t grow back. There will also be a patch shaved of hair around the wound, which makes it look a bit more dramatic, but this is normal procedure to prevent the wound from getting contaminated by hairs during the operation.
A comfortable alternative to the traditional plastic 'Elizabethan' collar
Lipoma Removal Recovery
To prevent your dog chewing the stitches it will need to wear an ‘Elizabethan collar’. These are also known as a bucket collar, buster collar, lampshade collar or cone of shame! The traditional ones are plastic, some are now see though.
Dogs don’t tend to appreciate wearing these, but it is preferable to them having to be stitched back up again. There are fabric alternatives which are a more comfortable option to the plastic cone. You dog may find it easier to sleep in them as well.
When you bring your dog home from the vets on the day of the operation he is likely to feel woozy and tired. You can see from the picture of Bruno with the bucket collar that his eyes were really drooping. Offer your dog something half its normal meal and then allow it to rest.
The day after the operation he will be feeling sore and probably still tired. Your vet will have sent him home with antibiotics and a painkiller such as metacam, so you should give these to your dog as prescribed. You should just take your dog out for 2 or 3 gentle 5 minute walks.
On day two after the operation your dog will be feeling much more himself, but keep exercise down to a gentle half hour on the lead for the next couple of days. Exercise should be restricted to 'on lead' walks until the stitches are removed fourteen days after the operation.
The video at the top shows the progress of the recovery of the wound from Bruno's lipoma surgery. You will notice the wound looks a bit red on a couple of days, but this is normal. I also made the mistake of leaving him without his bucket collar for 3 minutes whilst I left the room on day 8 and he removed a couple of stitches. Luckily at this stage the vet was confident the wound would heal and didn't need restitching.
If you have other dogs watch out for them trying to lick and nibble at the stitches too. I caught Bob the terrier have a sneaky go at Bruno's stitches on several occasions!
Lipomas do sometimes regrow, but if they have come out cleanly and the vet has been able to remove all the tumour cells, that shouldn't happen.