By Dr. Becker
In part 1 of this 3-part video series, Dr. Karen Becker talks about the strange, scary and sometimes gross lumps and bumps that tend to pop up on canine family members.
Today I want to discuss benign lumps and bumps on your dog – the kind you're usually better off just leaving alone.
During her lifetime your dog can produce a lot of lumps and bumps on her body. And while I always recommend you have a new lump or bump examined by your veterinarian, very often these growths are benign and nothing to worry about.
It's not an emergency situation when you discover a new lump or bump. It becomes serious, though, if a lump begins growing rapidly or changing characteristics. So if you notice a fast-growing bump or one that seems to look slightly different than you remember, I recommend you make a vet appointment sooner rather than later.
Charting and Diagnosing Growths
Most veterinarians have body charts showing the ventral and dorsal (front-to-back and side-to-side) views of canines. These charts are used to note lumps when we first see them, and briefly describe their appearance – size, color, etc. Then we refer to these notes each time the dog comes in to determine if the lump or bump has changed size or appearance.
If we do a fine needle aspirate of the growth, which means we suck some cells out of it and send them to a pathologist for examination, we can determine what specific cell type is present. We'll also learn whether it's a benign or malignant growth, and whether it should be removed or is nothing to worry about.
In my practice, I only remove cancerous tumors. Growths can be benign or malignant, and my rule of thumb is this: if the pathologist determines there are spooky cells present, meaning the growth is cancerous or pre-cancerous, I recommend immediate removal.
If the pathology report indicates the growth is benign (no troublesome cells are present), I don't recommend removal unless the lump or bump is interfering with your pet's quality of life.
Is It Ever a Good Idea to Remove Benign Growths?
Sometimes a benign tumor can interfere with a dog's range of motion, for example, if there's a lipoma (a fatty growth) at the junction of a joint. If a dog is altering his gait as a workaround to a growth near a joint, his body weight is shifting which can cause compensatory changes to crop up. In those situations, it may make sense to remove a benign growth.
I was taught in veterinary school to recommend removal of every lump or bump. The procedure makes a profit for the vet clinic, and in most cases the pet owner is happy to have the thing gone.
The downside to this approach is unnecessary expense to the pet owner, and some element of risk to the dog from the procedure. In my opinion, most benign lumps and bumps shouldn't be removed unless there's a medical reason, or the dog's quality of life is impaired or at risk of becoming impaired if the growth gets bigger. It's preferable in that case to remove a lump when it's small rather than large.
If a lump or bump seems to be changing in appearance, I recommend a re-evaluation. For example, let's say your dog has a growth that is one centimeter by one centimeter, and it's been that size for several years. Then suddenly you notice it is now four centimeters by four centimeters. It's time to have that growth re-evaluated.
If the aspiration demonstrates there's a high rate of mitotic cell division (the cells are replicating faster) or there are questionable cells present, it's time to reconsider whether the growth should be removed.
In most situations, removing benign lumps and bumps is done for cosmetic reasons only. The pet owner doesn't like the way the growth looks.
Bloody warts, for example, are unsightly. Groomers catch them with the comb or clipper. In these situations, my advice is to leave them alone rather than remove them.
Point it out to the groomer so he or she avoids nicking it. Make sure your vet is aware of it, and that it has been measured, aspirated, correctly assessed, and noted on a body chart. Then just keep an eye on it.
There's really no good reason to remove a benign growth on your dog just because it's unsightly or annoying, especially if it's not growing or changing.
Sometimes a pet owner will be very turned off by inadvertently touching a growth on the dog's body, to the point where he or she avoids petting the animal. In a situation like that, if the dog will be under anesthesia for another reason – say a dental procedure – quick removal of a gross looking or feeling lump at the same time is not a big deal.
The only reason I would anesthetize a patient specifically to remove a benign growth is if it is fast growing, is impinging on range of motion or quality of life, or the dog is obsessing about it.
For example, a wart around a dog's toes that itches can create an obsession. The dog licks and chews at it constantly, all day. In such a case, even though the wart is benign and not creating any real problems, if the dog just can't leave it alone and is making a bloody mess of it, it's time to consider removing it. If your pet is obsessing over a wart or other growth and won't leave it alone, her quality of life is diminished and we don't want that situation to continue.
The papilloma virus is a virus that creates warts. These warts have certain characteristics, for example, they tend to look like tiny lumps of cauliflower. They're usually flesh-colored, but they can also be pink, black or grey. .
Papillomas, the fancy word for warts, typically develop in dogs with immune system imbalances or an episode of immune system suppression.
Warts are ubiquitous in the dog population – every dog has had exposure to the virus. Whether or not a dog expresses the virus or not depends on immune status.
In my practice I use the expression of papillomas as a barometer of the health of a dog's immune system. If the immune system is thriving, usually few if any warts grow. If they do appear, they often resolve on their own.
It's extremely common for pets to start growing viral warts as they age, and I see this all the time in my practice. When a dog gets to be 7, 8 or 9 years old, he tends to express (grow) a wart or two. Part of the reason I don't like removing these growths is because I use them to measure the dog's immune system response.
The other problem with removal of benign viral warts is they always come back. It's not a matter of if -- it's a matter of when.
Let's say your dog develops three benign viral warts – one on the back of the neck, a second on her shoulder, and a third on the top of her head. And let's say you just can't bear them and so your veterinarian removes them.
Removing the warts doesn't remove the virus from your pet's system. Remember, the appearance of a wart is simply an expression of the papilloma virus residing in your dog, and most dogs.
Three or four months later, you notice a new wart on your dog's tail, and one on her paw. This is another reason I don't recommend removal of these benign growths. They will return, maybe not in the same place – but they'll be back.
Believe it or not, I've seen lots of older dogs with as many as 60 warts. In my practice we call them 'beauty marks' because we're not inclined to remove them. I do note each one on the dog's body chart, and we work on improving immune system viability. And of course, we don't over-vaccinate in my practice under any circumstances, but especially in the case of pets expressing the papilloma virus. Vaccines have been implicated as a cause.
Vaccines and Wart Growth
I studied with Dr. Pitcairn for my homeopathic training, and he has noted a clear correlation between too much vaccine and wart growth. Most holistic vets are aware of this correlation as well.
The condition of 'vaccinosis,' which is too much vaccine present in a dog's body, is a factor in viral wart expression. The warts are an indication the animal has had a negative reaction to a vaccine and/or has been vaccinated unnecessarily.
And here's another interesting fact. The homeopathic treatment for warts is the very same homeopathic treatment for vaccinosis – a remedy called Thuja. This is another indicator of the correlation between over-vaccinating and expression of viral warts.
Needless to say, eliminating or reducing the number of unnecessary vaccines your pet receives is a great first step in reducing the potential for papillomatosis. Continuing to vaccinate can often bring out another round of warts.
Another thing I should mention is that in young dogs there can be an acute expression of the papilloma virus. This can take the form of a huge burst of literally hundreds of warts, sometimes in the oral cavity. This acute expression of the virus is usually an indicator of a weakened immune system.
Although these warts typically resolve on their own in about three months, they can temporarily dramatically reduce a dog's quality of life. A dog with a mouth full of growths can have trouble eating and drinking.
It's important to keep a dog with such an outbreak separated from other dogs.
In my experience, the average pet at the dog park is immunosuppressed. He's eating low-grade dry food, is over-vaccinated and under exercised, and often lives in an environmentally stressful situation. Those dogs are at high risk of picking up an active papilloma virus from an animal with active oral lesions. So always keep your pet away from a dog with an acute outbreak of warts, and if your dog is the one with the problem, keep him separated and out of daycare or group play dates while he's exhibiting symptoms.
It is assumed in the veterinary community that all dogs have been exposed to the papilloma virus, so the goal is to keep your dog's immune system healthy so he doesn't ever have to deal with an expression of warts popping out on his body.
Stay tuned next week for the conclusion of this 2-part series. I'll be discussing other types of benign lumps and bumps like adenomas and lipomas.