Cutaneous Skin Lumps in Dogs

Key Takeaways

Cutaneous lumps are lumps within a dog’s skin. 

• Cutaneous lumps make a nodule, raised area, or discoloration on the surface of the skin

• Color and texture changes and raised or rough masses are common manifestations of canine skin lumps

• Skin lumps commonly appear as the result of injuries, warts, hives, skin tags, infections, and tumors - some of which are cancerous

• Diagnostic tests such as fine-needle aspiration or biopsy may be used to diagnose the root cause of cutaneous lumps

• Treatment  depends on underlying cause and may include antibiotics for infections, antihistamines or steroids for hives, or surgical removal for masses or tumors

A Closer Look: What are Cutaneous Skin Lumps in Dogs?

Cutaneous lumps are common in dogs. A cutaneous lump is not necessarily cause for concern, but some lumps are cancerous and thus have the potential to be life-threatening. Non-urgent veterinary assessment is advised for any cutaneous lump. Diagnostic testing, such as fine-needle aspiration, is necessary to determine the type of lump, as well as the treatment plan and prognosis.  

Most common canine skin tumors are benign, but some are cancerous. Diagnosis by a veterinarian confirms whether a mass is a tumor, and whether it is cancerous or benign. Cancerous tumors have the ability to spread to other sites, causing potentially life-threatening conditions like organ damage.  

Hives occasionally appear as cutaneous lumps, and may be associated with anaphylaxis. Dogs with rapidly appearing skin lumps that appear to have difficulty breathing require emergency veterinary care.

Possible Causes

Cutaneous lumps have many and varied causes including: 

• Injuries • Infections, including granulomas and abscesses • Hives • Skin tags • Tumors

Risk Factors

A wide range of possible conditions appear as cutaneous lumps. The severity and outcome varies accordingly. Injuries, infections, and abscesses require prompt veterinary care, to ensure that they are managed appropriately. These types of lumps cause a severe reaction in the surrounding tissue, but have a good prognosis. 

Hives appear rapidly after exposure to an allergen, and generally disappear once the allergen is removed. In some cases, dogs develop swelling around the face, lips and throat that can be life-threatening if the swelling interferes with breathing. These cases require emergency veterinary care.

Masses range in severity from mild to potentially life-threatening. Some masses go away on their own, such as warts in young puppies. Some masses can be left in place without harming the dog, such as skin tags or benign masses. Large masses that interfere with daily life but are otherwise benign have a good prognosis, but require surgical removal. In some cases, skin lumps are cancerous tumors that are life-threatening.

Testing and Diagnosis

A physical examination helps identify any other symptoms that may be related to the cutaneous lump. To determine the cause of the lump, common diagnostic plans include fine-needle aspiration with cytology and biopsy of the mass. Possible treatment plans include:

• No further treatment while monitoring for changes • Antibiotics for infections

• Antihistamines or steroids for hives • Surgical removal for masses

In some cases, a second surgery is necessary to ensure that tumors are completely removed. Complete removal is particularly important for cancers, as any remaining cells may regrow into a new mass or metastasize to other sites.

Similar symptoms

Subcutaneous lumps differ from cutaneous lumps as they lie under the skin, raising the skin surface. These lumps are not attached to the skin, and the skin moves freely over them.

Associated Symptoms

Associated symptoms vary depending on the underlying cause of the cutaneous lump. It is possible for dogs that scratch or bite at a cutaneous lump to damage the skin and develop a secondary bacterial infection. Symptoms of a bacterial infection include:

• Redness of the skin • Crusty or scabbed skin • Oozing pus • Foul odor

Veterinary attention is necessary to confirm the presence of a bacterial infection. The main treatment of bacterial infections is antibiotics.

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