One thing that every owner of an animal is almost certain to encounter is the appearance, suddenly or slowly, of a lump.


These lumps can arrive from a variety of sources, cat or dog bites (abscesses), foreign bodies (grass seeds, bits of sticks or projectiles – often slug pellets!), blocked ducts in the skin (their equivalent of a black head), cysts formed by abnormal cell production, and tumours.


Fortunately many lumps can be dealt with easily – abscesses lanced and drained; foreign bodies removed. There are a significant portion of them that require more intervention and these, the tumours, are what I intend to cover in this article.


Tumours cover a broad range of abnormal tissue lumps. From relatively benign tumours to extremely malignant, the significant feature of any of them is that until they are sampled or removed, it is impossible to tell from just looking at them whether they are benign or malignant. Quite a number of tumours will start out as a benign tumour, only to become malignant later in the animals life. Tumours can affect any part of the body, from skin to internal organs but naturally, the one most often noticed by the owners are those on the skin or immediately underneath it.


Whatever their origin or degree of malignancy, all tumours are types of cancer and should be treated with a similar degree of caution that a cancer in humans would be if you wish your animal to lead a long and healthy life.


One of the more commonly encountered tumours in my experience is the mammary tumour. This is very similar to human breast cancer, and survival rates are very much affected by early detection and prompt removal of the cancer. Just because a lump is small and mobile does not mean that it is not malignant, and tumours that start out benign can and do change rapidly to become aggressive, painful and inoperable. Waiting for a small lump to become a big one is not the way to treat cancer! This is also a cancer that is preventable – it is known that spaying a bitch before her first season significantly reduces her chances of developing mammary tumours later in life – once she has had 2 seasons she is 520 times more likely to develop mammary cancer. Interestingly, mammary tumours are seen almost exclusively in the bitch – most queens are spayed early in life.


The other tumour that is seen more in NZ and Australia than the northern hemisphere is skin cancer. Cats, dogs, horses and cattle with white ears, eyes and nose that are out in the sun are particularly prone to these but they can occur anywhere on the skin. Again, a percentage of these are preventable – keeping the animal out of the sun through the middle of the day, or applying sunscreen formulated specially for animals works well for pet animals.


If you have a lump or bump on your animal don’t wait to seek veterinary advice, and have the mass investigated to determine its malignancy. It is far less stressful to have a benign mass dealt with before it becomes malignant, or a malignant one seen to before it becomes inoperable. In the case where surgery is no longer an option, your vet is able to advise you regard the quality of life and palliative treatment to keep your pet comfortable.


Written by: Suzanne Craig BVCs - Small Animal Vet, based at Balclutha and used in the local newspaper (The Leader) in the monthly Pet Corner section.