What pet owners should know about lumps

Finding a mysterious lump on your pet can be a real worry - so you should always take the precaution of a veterinary checkup, says vet Marc Abraham

Few things are capable of striking as much fear into our hearts as discovering a strange lump on ourselves, with most of us keen to get anything abnormal we find checked out as soon as possible by our GP. But what about our pets, who rely on us to decide whether to see the vet?

As with us, lumps on pets vary greatly in size, shape and severity. Some are not even lumps at all - for example, the tick, a common parasite that buries its mouthparts in the animal's skin head-first, with its exposed greyish body resembling a pea-sized lump. As well as causing local skin irritation, ticks can transmit harmful diseases and should be carefully removed with its mouthparts intact - otherwise a 'true' lump, known as a tick bite granuloma, may form at the site.

Common feline lumps range from classic pus-filled cat bite abscesses to much smaller multifocal crusty scabs known as miliary dermatitis. As the name suggests, these feel like millet seeds in the coat, and are often a manifestation of an allergic reaction - for example, to flea bites.

As with older people, elderly pets are more likely to have warts (pictured) and small growths of the skin or associated structures that may appear unsightly. They are usually benign - unlikely to spread or cause any harm - but do still require close monitoring.

Lipomas - soft, smooth, non-painful fatty lumps commonly found under the skin over the ribcage of more mature dogs - rarely require removal; in fact, most non-serious growths are usually purely cosmetic, with surgery only required if they causing discomfort, suddenly grow rapidly, interfere with bodily functions (for example, obstructing passageways), ulcerate, repeatedly get infected or act as a persistent focus for your pet to lick and chew.

Serious lumps, such as mammary cancers, mast cell tumours and melanomas, usually require more urgent treatment, with surgical removal, X-rays and laboratory tests helping to confirm identity and prognosis. Occasionally, much larger lumps may be sampled (a biopsy) to direct vets to the appropriate therapy.

Finally, one lump commonly appearing in the warmer months is the foreign body reaction caused by a grass seed stuck between your dog's toes, a painful swollen area that requires prompt veterinary help. Early intervention will often prevent serious, painful or even life-threatening growths from developing further, so the golden rule for any lump is: 'If you suspect it, report it.'

Marc Abraham is a TV vet who regularly gives the nation pet advice on This Morning, BBC Breakfast and Daybreak. As well as promoting responsible pet ownership, rescue pet adoption, microchipping and responsible dog breeding, Marc is also an active campaigner against the puppy farming industry and is the founder of Pup Aid. Marc has also written the books Vet on Call and Pets in Need and also has the Canine Care iPhone app for dog owners. For more about Marc, visit www.marcthevet.com or follow him on Twitter @marcthevet