By Dr. Becker
Lipomas are benign fatty masses enclosed in a thin capsule, and are the most common type of noncancerous soft tissue growth in dogs. Any dog, regardless of breed, gender or age, can develop a lipoma (or multiple lipomas).
These bumps typically develop just under the skin on the neck, upper legs, underarms, or torso. However, they can occur anywhere on a dog's body, and they can also grow in muscle tissue. If your dog's lipoma is under the skin, you'll be able to move it around beneath the skin, and it will feel soft and squishy. If it's in muscle tissue, it may feel very firm.
Dogs with Metabolism Problems Tend to Develop More Lipomas
Traditional veterinarians will tell you there is no breed, sex or age predisposition for the development of lipomas. And it's true any dog can grow a lipoma – young, old, spayed, neutered, obese or thin.
But in my experience, there is a connection between the number and size of lipomas on a dog, his ability to metabolize fat, and his overall vitality. Dogs with an under-performing metabolism have a greater tendency to develop lumps of fat.
Some holistic veterinarians also believe that lipomas and other fatty tumors are a sign that a dog's body is not able to eliminate toxins through normal processes involving the liver, kidneys, and intestines. And according to Traditional Chinese Medicine principles, lipomas are a manifestation of "stagnant Qi," or "phlegm" (not the expectorated kind Westerners are familiar with, but more of an "energetic blockage" that eventually manifests in a physical, benign mass). Regardless of what viewpoint you have on how and why lipomas occur, it's important to know they are usually not worth panicking about, but worth keeping track of.
Why Most Lipomas Don't Require Removal
Many traditional veterinarians recommend removal of every lump, bump and skin tag you point out to them (or they show you), but many of us in the holistic veterinary community prefer to leave confirmed benign lumps (like lipomas) alone unless they are seriously interfering with a dog's quality of life.
Your veterinarian should perform a fine needle aspirate to determine whether the mass is something to worry about or simply a benign lipoma. If it comes back as a harmless fatty mass, it should be noted on your dog's body chart, including its size and the date. Then it can be watched for any changes in size or shape.
If your dog's lipoma begins to grow, then depending on the location it may be medically necessary to remove it before it's big enough to impinge on your pet's quality of life. This might include a growing lipoma located in a dog's armpit, which may cause an abnormal change in her gait, or one on her sternum that rubs on the carpet every time she lays down, creating irritated skin.
Some lipomas remain the same size throughout a dog's life. They're nothing to worry about, and it's only necessary to watch them for growth or any sort of change.
I very rarely surgically remove lipomas. Those that I have removed were because to do so would dramatically improve the quality of life of the dog. When a lipoma is affecting range of motion or a dog's gait or comfort level, it's best to remove the mass, and sooner rather than later, because the bigger the lump, the bigger the incision.
How to Help Your Pet Avoid Lipomas
To give your pet the best chance to avoid lipomas, it's important to keep her in good physical condition while also supporting her metabolism, immune and lymphatic systems, and organs of detoxification.
- Feed whole, raw, organic and non GMO'd natural foods – in other words, foods that generate the least amount of metabolic stress. Pet food in its natural state provides needed moisture and insures the highest level of biologic assimilation and digestion.
- Provide fresh, good quality drinking water for your pet. This means water that doesn't contain fluoride, heavy metals or other contaminants. Filtered water is best, not only for two-legged family members, but for furry family members as well.
- Be mindful of your pet's BMI (body mass index). Pets can be thin and under muscled, as well as out of shape. Thin pets who are not exercised regularly (which improves circulation and lymphatic drainage) can also develop lipomas.
- Consider air quality. Make sure your pet has access to clean, smoke free air that is free from fumes (cleaning supplies, flame retardants, off gases from paints and new carpets).
- Think about periodic detoxification. Despite the fact we all try to reduce toxin exposure in our pet's environment, it's nearly impossible to avoid all sources of exposure, so providing an occasional detoxification protocol for your pet can be very beneficial.
- Spoil your pet with circulatory enhancing therapies such as massage and chiropractic treatments that assist in detoxification.
- Take care not to over-vaccinate or over-medicate your pet. This includes avoiding all unnecessary vaccines, veterinary drugs, and chemical flea/tick preventives. Certainly you want to make sure your pet is protected against disease, but overdoing vaccines, chemical preventives and other types of drugs can dramatically increase the level of toxicity in her body.