First thing is the disclosure; I am not a veterinarian. Always see a licensed veterinarian for your dog’s health requirements. Second disclosure is that you may find affiliate links on this page.
Identifying a Lump on Dog’s Neck
If you have discovered a lump on your dog’s neck, chances are it is a non-malignant basal cell tumor. However, as I will say over and over again, always have it checked out by a professional.
I was spending some quality time with my lab the other night, rolling my hands through the thick folds in her neck. I rubbed her chest and around both sides of her body.
As my fingers trailed back, I felt a lump. It was small, somewhat hard, and just beneath the skin.
My heart did a little lurch and (naturally) my mind went to the worst case scenario. Imagine my embarrassment when I realized it was just her nipple. I’ll give you a second to stop laughing….
But how do you know when a lump is nothing, or when it’s something very serious? The reality is, you don’t.
Even the highest trained veterinarian can’t just glance at a lump and immediately know what it is. They probably have a much better educated guess than I do…but it still needs closer examination. “Closer examination” usually means getting a biopsy or at least aspirating the fluid to exam under a microscope.
What I’m trying to say is not to jump to conclusions when you spot or feel a lump. A lot of times, they really are benign. If they’re not, the sooner you get your dog to the veterinarian the better. I don’t give a lot of advice on this site because I’m not a veterinarian, but I feel pretty confident in telling you to bring your dog to the veterinarian for any suspicious lump.
“Common” doesn’t mean benign.
For some reason, I figured the word “common” meant the lump would be non-cancerous. That’s not always the case. Below is a list of commonly found tumors. One type -- the mast cell tumor -- is particularly dangerous.
COMMON TYPES OF TUMORS IN DOGS:
Fatty Tumors (also known as Lipomas)
This type of lump occurs under the skin and is common in dogs. It can show up as a lump on dog’s neck, but can appear anywhere on the body. My sister’s dog had one once. It was under his jaw, at the top of his neck, and it was huge! The veterinarian did not want to lance it because he feared the dog would (essentially) bleed out. He was an old dog and ended up living with that mass until his final day.
Lipomas are normally benign (not cancerous).
These are a little like pimples in that they occur when skin becomes blocked. These cysts are normally found around the dog’s hair follicles or directly within the skin’s pores. Do not lance or pinch it. When you squeeze a pimple, you end up pushing some of the pus back inside the skin tissue where it can form another pocket. It might even get infected. Watch for signs of redness and swelling. An infection is normally hot to the touch. Overall, it’s not a serious thing and it won’t turn into cancer.
If I saw a wart on my dog, I’m pretty sure I would mistake it for something more serious. They can have a cauliflower appearance and are quite small. They can occur around a dog’s mouth, eyes, between toes, and anywhere there is more skin than fur. It takes a lot of skill and experience to look at something like this and just know what it is. However, it’s good to know that not EVERY lump or bump is cancer. Warts in dogs tend to happen to young puppies, or dogs with compromised immune function.
An abscess is a secondary infection caused by a wound on the dog’s body. Bacteria invade the area which essentially disables the body’s ability to heal the original wound. The infected site will be swollen, red, may ooze pus, and is painful. I would contact a veterinarian for anything that even slightly resembled an infection. An abscess is a bacterial infection and will possibly need antibiotic treatment (oral and ointment, or one or the other).
Mast Cell Tumors
For detailed information about Mast Cell Tumors, visit my post The Truth About Mast Cell Tumor Dog Life Expectancy.
These are the most common skin cancers found on dogs. Essentially, the dog’s skin contains natural mast cells that are responsible for fighting parasitic infection, aid in repairing skin tissue, from new blood vessels, etc. When those mast cells go awry, they become mast cell tumors. The tumors pretty much shut down the skin’s ability to do the things it is supposed to do.
Mast cell tumors will usually spread through the dog’s body, particularly to the spleen, living, and bone marrow.
Basal Cell Tumor
This type of tumor develops on the outer layer of skin. They are firm to the touch and are commonly found as a lump on a dog’s neck or head.
Although most are benign (non-cancerous), there are occasions when cancer develops and becomes malignant (spreads to other parts of the body).
Basal cell tumors are most successfully treated with surgery and -- as always -- it’s better to catch them early on. These tumors are especially common in older dog breeds such as Poodles and Cocker Spaniels.
I am so used to ticks that I can tell it’s a tick just by touching it. If you’re not familiar with ticks, they are disgusting parasites that chomp down onto your dog’s skin and stay there until they fill up with blood and drop off.
The biggest fear with ticks is the transmission of chronic and sometimes deadly disease.
Obviously a tick is neither a tumor or cancer, but they must be removed as soon as possible. The longer a tick stays attached to your dog, the greater the risk of it transmitting disease.
A fibroma is a non-cancerous tumor common to dogs and found on limbs or pressure points. These are also known as skin tags, cutaneous tag, polyps, or collagenous hamatoma. VCA hospitals have a great article with all of the details regarding this growth.
Fibrosarcoma is a tumor found in the connective tissue. It is typically malignant (cancerous) although it doesn’t typically metastasize (spread to other organs in the body). In some cases, if the integrity of the bone is compromised, the dog’s limp may need to be amputated.
The National Canine Cancer Foundation describes these as deadly cancers that originate in the endothelium (cells that line the interior cells of blood vessels) and invade the blood vessels.
3 Types of Hemangiosarcomas:
Dermal– Found on the skin
Hypodermal- Found under the skin
Visceral- Found on the spleen, pericardium and the heart.
This type of tumor looks like a raised button and is found on the dog’s head, ears, or limbs. It is not usually found as a lump on a dog’s neck. The best thing about one appearing on your dog’s head is that it will be impossible for him/her to lick at it and cause infection.
These tumors are fast-growing but usually harmless. You are more likely to see these on younger dogs. Typically, the tumor disappears over time. It is rare for dogs to have a cancerous histiocytoma.
Injection Site Lump
This is one that might be self-explanatory and easily identified if your dog has recently had a shot. That said, I still wouldn’t take it for granted that it’s just a side-effect of a needle injection. Tumors can appear at injection sites (vaccinations mostly) and can even appear years later. Always have those lumps and bumps checked out by a licensed veterinarian.
Could YOU identify any of the above lumps or bumps?
Probably not. As I mentioned above, most veterinarians won’t even hazard a guess without having a look at the cells beneath a microscope.
If you have spotted a lump on dog’s neck, or anywhere else on the body, pay particular attention to additional symptoms like:
- other sores that won’t heal
- weight loss and low appetite
- unusual bleeding or discharge from the lump
- a bad smell coming from the area
Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian if you spot any unusual lump or bump. They are normal, especially as the dog ages, but you really want to catch cancerous tumors sooner rather than later.
You Should Have the Following Information Before Phoning the Veterinarian.
Imagine how many people call the veterinarian to say their dog has a suspicious lump. It might help speed things along if you are able to also give the following information:
- How big is the lump on dog’s neck? Would you say it’s the size of a pea or smaller? Take a picture of the lump with a penny or coin next to it for size comparison.
- Is the lump soft or hard?
- Is it moveable?
- What color is the lump?
- Is their any discharge?
- Have you noticed any unusual behavior in your dog recently (for example; no appetite, weight loss, fatigue)
- Can you tell if the lump is painful for the dog?
At the end of the day, trying to sort out whether that lump on your dog is something to worry about is a useless venture. Don’t panic, but don’t wait on it either. I keep saying this over and over for good reason: Make an appointment with your veterinarian and get that mysterious lump looked at.
With any luck, it will be nothing to worry about. But if it is something, the chances of a good prognosis are much better if it’s caught early!
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