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How to Identify Lumps and Bumps on your Pet

There are many types of lumps and bumps that can affect cats and dogs throughout their lifespan and some are more serious than others.

There are many types of lumps and bumps that can affect cats and dogs throughout their lifespan.  They are very common and it is expected that most pets will develop some kind of lump at some point. Should you suddenly find a lump it is essential that you get it checked by your vet as some can grow so quickly that they need to be removed as soon as possible to protect the health of your pet.

Some types of lumps are more serious than others. We have listed below some of the more common types of growths to enable you to make a more informed decision about what the lump may be. In all cases however, we recommend that you seek the advice of a Veterinary professional. 

Types of Lumps

Lumps or bumps that develop in the skin and underlying muscle or bone of your cat or dog could be one of the following common types:
  1.  Abscesses
  2. Haematomas
  3. Granulomas
  4. Tumours
  5. Cysts


These are very common in cats and often occur after cats have been fighting.  They normally develop a couple of days after a fight and appear as a large fluid filled swelling.  If the fur is clipped there is often a small scab in the middle where the skin has been broken by a tooth.  Often cats will be unwell and these lumps are normally painful if touched, especially if they develop on the limbs. Abscesses can occur for other reasons too.  For example, if a grass seed or thorn has worked its way under the skin.  Abscesses normally need to be lanced and drained by your vet and antibiotics will also be needed.


A Haematoma is when blood accumulates under the skin leading to a large fluid filled swelling.  They normally occur secondary to some kind of trauma.  They are especially common on ears and can develop if your pet shakes their head frequently. If this is the case it may be that your cat or dog has an ear infection which should also be looked into.  Trauma to small capillaries leads to blood accumulating between the cartilage and skin of the ear.  Haematomas are also very common after surgery if your pet rubs or scratches their wound. Ask your vet about how to deter your pet from scratching, and seek professional assistance if your pets surgical wound looks abnormal.  Haematomas can be small or large, and small haematomas will normally resolve on their own. Very large ones may need to be drained by your vet


These are a type of scar tissue and can develop after some kind of trauma.  They are normally felt as a hard round lump within the skin.  They can occur commonly after your pet has been vaccinated, or as a side effect of tick bites, surgery or fight wounds.  They normally disappear within a couple of months; however, we recommend that you seek advice from your vet if they persist. 


These are normally felt as a hard round lump within the skin of your cat or dog.  They tend to appear suddenly and then remain unchanged.  They are normally caused by infected hair follicles or over production of skin oils.  Sometimes they will burst but normally they have to be removed.  As long as they are not continually bursting then they normally pose no problem if left.


There are many types of tumours that can affect your dog or cat.  They can be divided into two general groups; Benign and Malignant tumours.  

Benign Tumours

These are generally slow growing and do not spread to other organs or lymph nodes.  They are normally first detected when they are small and then do not change much in size.  They tend to be round or oval, do not ulcerate, and are often easily mobilised within the skin.  Benign tumours will normally cause no harm if left untreated, however your vet may advise removal if they occur on an area of the body where skin is sparse, such as the face or limbs.  This is because if they were to grow then removal could prove difficult.  It is rare that benign tumours will change to become malignant.  Warts, lipomas or fatty lumps and histiocytomas are all examples of benign tumours.  Histiocytomas are the most common type of tumour seen in young dogs.  These can be itchy and red but normally resolve by themselves without removal. 

Malignant Tumours

Malignant Tumours in pets are much more serious and often require quick intervention.  They normally appear suddenly and grow exceedingly quickly.  They are often odd shapes and often ulcerate.  They normally spread rapidly to other organs and lymph nodes which is why immediate action is required.  They include types of sarcomas which are common on the skin and in the mouth, carcinomas such as mammary tumours and mast cell tumours.  Mast cell tumours are a slight exception to the rule and will often present as very small ulcerative lumps.  They tend not to spread to organs and lymph nodes but can be very locally aggressive and will often recur if they are not removed with very large margins.  This can pose a problem if they occur on areas of the body with limited skin, such as the feet and limbs.

How do I know what type of lump it is?

It is very difficult to diagnose a lump just by looking at it.  An experienced vet will be able to tell the difference between a fluid filled lump like an abscess and a solid lump like a tumour or cyst.  It is impossible however, to diagnose a specific type of tumour by look alone.  Most vets will recommend either a fine needle aspiration or biopsy to confirm what type of lump your pet has.  

A fine needle aspirate (FNA) is when a needle is inserted into the lump and a few cells are sucked out.  The advantages of this technique are that it is very easy and quick and can be carried out in the consultation while your pet is awake.  The disadvantage is that only a few cells are examined so sometimes it can be difficult to make an accurate diagnosis.

A biopsy requires a section of tissue to be taken from the lump, or sometimes an excisional biopsy is carried out when the whole lump is removed and submitted for analysis.  The advantages of biopsy is that a definitive diagnosis can be reached.  However, it does require your pet to be anaesthetised and is a much more invasive procedure.

In summary, if you detect a lump on your pet it is very important to get it checked by your vet.  
As a general rule if the lump is very small and is not growing or ulcerating it is unlikely to be too serious, but you should still seek to have the lump inspected by your vet. If, however a large or ulcerated lump appears very suddenly and is growing quickly you should seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.

If you have any questions at all about the health and wellbeing of your pet, please contact one of our experienced vets for some free advice.