I’m trying not to be a doggy owner that takes my pooch to the vet for every little wart, but I also don’t want to leave things that could be serious.
How do I know what to look out for and when I should be packing up my senior Jack Russell and heading off for a professional opinion?
Jackson is almost 15 years old; over the last few years I’ve noticed that he has a few added bumps and lumps on his little body. More of a skin tag in his ear and a few wart-like growths on his body. Are they dangerous and can they be warts? Thankfully, he isn’t at all bothered by any of them and, as advised by vet years ago, until they grow rapidly or bleed, I shouldn’t worry.
What causes them, are they harmless and is there cause for alarm? He is due for his vaccination in April – can we wait until then or is there reason for concern.
Stephanie Lakey – Centurion
Dr Kathryn Knipe answers…
Lumps and bumps on or in the skin are common problems seen by veterinarians on our pets daily. There are various causes for these and it’s usually best to have any lump on your pet seen to by your veterinarian.
The most reliable way for us to determine if a growth, lump or swelling is a problem to your pet is to have it removed and sent to the laboratory for microscopic evaluation (histopathology). However, this will involve a general anaesthetic, which sometimes we prefer to avoid, especially in very old patients or those with underlying diseases such as kidney or heart disease.
Sometimes we’ll be able to diagnose them by taking a small sample with a needle and syringe (fine needle aspirate) and examining it ourselves under the microscope or sending it to the laboratory for examination (cytological examination). This procedure is safe and minimally invasive, although we may need to give some sedation or local anaesthetic. This technique may not always yield the results we need, but is the first step.
Some nodules and lumps we will simply examine on your pet and take an educated guess that they’re benign and ask you to monitor for any changes such as growth, inflammation or bleeding. If there is any change you are concerned about you should bring them back so that we can sample those lumps again.
There are various causes for lumps and swellings on the skin.
The word “wart” can be confusing as there’s a condition called oral papillomatosis which is a viral disease leading to the formation of warts in and around the mouth. This condition is most common in puppies and immunologically compromised patients. Most dogs are considered to have been exposed to this virus at some point in their lives and it does not affect other species. These particular warts will often regress over time; your veterinarian may crush some of them to stimulate the body’s immune system to clear the virus faster.
The particular wart-like growths that you’re describing that occur over the entire body are often benign skin growths (rather than caused by a virus) that cause no problems to your pet. We will often not risk a general anaesthetic to deal with these harmless growths. However, they may be problematic if in an area where they cause irritation, such as an eyelid, on a part of skin getting chaffed with a collar or harness, or in the mouth. If they become inflamed, bleed or start growing they should definitely be examined by your veterinarian.
Other causes for lumps or swellings on your pet’s body are infections, abscesses, cysts, hypersensitivity or auto-immune skin conditions and tumours.
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It’s important for your veterinarian to examine any lumps on your pet as these types of lumps may cause your pet discomfort, cause them to be ill, or be part of a greater underlying problem that may even be life-threatening. Early detection of some of these problems may be important to effective treatment in the long term, for example for tumours which may spread to other organs within the body.
If your vet has examined these lumps and determined them to not be a problem, it’s advisable to measure the lesion and have it monitored annually at vaccinations to ensure that it isn’t growing significantly.
In short, all lumps and bumps on your pet should be evaluated by your veterinarian. If they’re very small, your pet is not ill, they’re not causing your pet any discomfort and they’re not growing, it should be fine to wait until your pet’s annual vaccination or health check. There is, however, room for error in this and, if you’re at all nervous about anything, it’s better to visit your veterinarian – even if it’s just for your peace of mind. Don’t be concerned with being a “worry-wart”.
I myself would much rather examine a patient to ensure there is no serious problem than blow off a problem without seeing it. Remember, your veterinarian is there to assist you with all and any concerns you may have concerning your pet’s health – it’s our job and responsibility.