Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: What Is that Bump?

 "Can anybody tell me what that bump/lump/swelling is on my dog?" This is one of the most frequent questions owners ask… some include a photo and some figure a description should be enough.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Lumps & Bumps

For sure, they get kudos for finding the bump.

That is the most important step - discovering the bump/lump. That is also one of the reasons why regular grooming, brushing and running your hands all over your dog's body is a vital part of their care.

The second most important step is having it identified.

And they realize that, which is why they post to ask about it or search online photos. But is that the right way to go about it?

Firstly, many of the online photos that might look like the bump you found on your dog are mislabeled. Even if you find one that looks exactly like what your dog has, there is no guarantee that it is what the source says it is.

Secondly, just because the photo does look right and assuming it is labeled correctly, it still doesn't mean that is what your dog has.

With rare exceptions, nobody, not even a board-certified oncologist, can identify a lump just by looking at it.

One of the important questions to answer is whether or not the lump/bump/swelling has appeared suddenly. Meaning, are you really sure it has appeared suddenly. Often owners swear it wasn't there the day before. Hubby always says, "I know that you're sure, but are you right?"

A lump/swelling that suddenly pops up can be causes by a sting, bite or an infection. This may or may not be an emergency but requires veterinary attention unless it disappears on its own within a day or two.

Most lumps and bumps have likely been there much longer than you think. 

They are particularly hard to find when they are tiny. But even a large lump can go unnoticed. When we adopted Bruin, he got his initial thorough vet exam and nothing was found amiss. Yet I thought his chest looked weird. Nobody else agreed, saying that's just the way his chest looks (he was a big boy.) It wasn't until one day at the farm when hubby called me all panicked that Bruin has this HUGE lump that appeared all of the sudden.

It was size of a baseball, it did not just appear over night.

What happened instead is that it was sitting there the whole time, evenly distributed across the chest. As Bruin started to thin out, it must have gotten lose and moved to the side. NOW it was really obvious. Fortunately it turned out to be a lipoma.

Finding a bump on your dog is scary and denial is tempting. 

But denial never cured anything. The best policy when you find a bump is to have it examined AND identified. If it is harmless, great, at least you know. If it isn't, at least you can do something about it. The sooner it gets treated, the better.

See something, do something.

Dr. Sue Ettinger, veterinary oncologist, launched a campaign to educate owners as well as veterinarians, to raise cancer awareness and promote early detection. The simple rule is that if a lump on your dog is the size of a pea or larger, or it has been there for a month, get it checked.

Having it checked doesn't mean your vet taking a look and proposing the wait and see approach. Wait for what? Cancers grow and spread?

When I found a tiny lump on Jasmine's nipple, we took her to the vet right away. He was reasonably sure it was an infection and a short course of antibiotics cleared it right up. But we did SOMETHING.

Breast cancer in dogs is quite common and aggressive. 

If this had been cancer, catching and removing it early could have been the difference between life and death.

Lumps and bumps on dogs range from pimples, warts, abscesses and histiocytomas to fatty tumors, mast cell tumors and many other cancerous growths.

Don't wait, aspirate.

The only way to properly identify a lump is to take a look at the cells inside it, which means a needle aspirate or a biopsy. Why? The fact that it might look like one thing or another does not make it one thing or another.

Cutting out a mass without knowing whether it is benign or malignant means that either more tissue will be taken out than needs to be if the vet plays it safe, or worse, not enough tissue will be removed and cancerous cells will be left behind. This only results in more treatment and more risk to your dog.

Also make sure your vet doesn’t throw away the mass once it’s been removed. Always have it sent to a pathologist.

Why? The pathologist will confirm the type(s) of cells involved in the growth and note whether the entire mass has been removed. The key word here is clean margins - making sure ALL potentially cancerous cells are gone.  If some have been left behind, more treatment will be necessary to prevent or delay the mass’s return.

More than half of lumps and bumps are not cancerous.

That is somewhat comforting but don't take a gamble on a guess. The best policy is to have every lump/bump/swelling that is the size of a pea or larger, or been present for a month or longer, properly identified.

Did you ever find a lump on your dog? Share your story.

Related articles:
If It's Got To Be A Lump, Let It Be Lipoma
Mammary Cancer: Mia's Story

Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog 
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: What Is That Limp? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Loss
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Loss Of Appetite  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Lethargy 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Fever (Pyrexia)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Regurgitation
Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea 
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Changes in Urination/Urinary Accidents 
Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
Don't Panic, Don't Panic: Know What Your Job Is 

Further reading:
How confidently can you diagnose your pets "bump" by a photo online?
Causes of Solid-Appearing Lumps & Bumps on the Skin of Dogs
Lumps and Bumps on Dogs
Five common mistakes with cancer surgery
Mass Removal – Important Things To Know Before Surgery

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do You Know What Your Dog Is Telling You About Their Health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. I've found a couple of lumps on Ace recently. I was pretty sure one was a skin tag, and the vet confirmed this. Then, he had this strange fatty bump on his back that was quite large but seemed like fluid had built up in that spot. The vet wasn't sure what had caused it, but we decided to watch it and see if it would go away. It did.

    Then, I found a lump about the size of a cherry tomato on his side, by his rib cage. That one is a lipoma. I was pretty worried about that one and was relieved to hear it was harmless.

    1. Papillomas are quite unique in their appearance and usually a safe bet. Jasmine had one too.

      I wouldn't have liked "not being sure what caused it" and waiting at the same time. lad it went away, though.

      Glad the third one is a lipoma. If it starts getting naughty, though, have it re-checked.

  2. Ah lumps, the bane of my dog ownership. Labs are notorious for having lumps and my seniors are as lumpy as an old pillow. It's hard to keep track of the ones that have been checked too. I keep a drawing to help me.

    1. Yeah, having a drawn "map" of all of them is the best way of keeping track. With that many I can see how it would be a challenge.

  3. Yes, I can relate to finding lumps and bumps on Haley and I totally agree that you should have it aspirated right away. Our old vet wouldn't aspirate a bump on Haley's foot that turned out to be cancerous and she just had another cancerous bump removed from her upper lip a couple of weeks ago.

    Between those two occurrences, I took her in for two other bumps (one was a lipoma and the other was a sebaceous cyst). I wondered whether to run back in when I found the bump on her lip, but was so glad that I had it checked out right away since it was cancerous.

    Thankfully our new vet is on top of things and the cancerous bumps he removed normally don't metastasize. It's better to get them checked out than to wait around worrying.


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