Everything today's pet owners need to create the lives their pets deserve

Should Fatty Tumors be Removed from My Dog?

Lumps on Soldier are fatty tumors, or lipomas

This month’s question about fatty tumors on a dog is from a dog owner in Montana:

“My dog is older (he’s a lab and 12 years old) and has developed fatty tumors under the skin. They are getting bigger, and I’d like to have them removed, but my vet said that my dog was too old, and anyway they don’t hurt him and aren’t dangerous. But they look terrible and bother me. Why won’t the vet remove these things?”

Dr. Kevin Winkler explains that there are different types of tumors with different treatment options:

“Simple fatty tumors, or lipomas, are one of the most common masses seen in dogs.  Nearly all are benign (There is a separate category of fatty tumors that are invasive and will recur {infiltrative lipomas} but these are a separate issue with different behavior).   Benign means they don’t spread like breast or prostate cancer and usually do not recur if completely removed.  That is the good news.  It does not tell us whether they should be removed.  Lipomas generally do not cause an issue to the pet.  They may not look pretty, but the neighborhood dogs don’t point out another dog and tell him or her, “You are funny looking!”  If the issue is cosmetic, you will have to be the judge of risk vs. rewards.  In other words, is the risk of surgery and anesthesia worth the cosmetic improvement of lump removal?”

Reasons to Remove Fatty Tumors

“From a medical standpoint, there are more compelling, and significant, reasons to remove or not remove fatty tumors.  Your doctor mentioned anesthesia as a reason not to remove them.  Even in the most healthy of pets (and people!), anesthesia carries a small, but measurable risk of complications, including death.  Now, I could get hit by a bus crossing the street.  It is my responsibility to look, and decide how big of a risk I am willing to incur.  Is there heavy traffic moving at 40 mph, or do I have a green light to cross, and the traffic is stopped.  The same applies to our pets.  Does my pet have a condition that would be worsened with anesthesia?  Are there other reasons anesthesia might be unduly risky?  At twelve, anesthetic risk begins to increase.  Twelve does not mean anesthesia will be a problem.  At my hospital, I have operated a number of 15-17 year old dogs with no complications.  I need to look and see what other conditions may be present, not just determine the age of my patient.”

“Location and rate of growth are two other important factors in the decision to remove or not to remove fatty tumors.  In some locations, a mass may interfere with normal walking (locomotion).  Usually locations just after the forelimb (in the axilla or armpit) or just in front of the rear limb (inguinal area) will tend to interfere with normal locomotion.  At these spots, I recommend removal sooner than if the mass were on the side of the body wall.”

Have Fast-Growing Fatty Tumors Evaluated by a Veterinarian

“Another concern in fatty tumor removal is rate of growth.  The faster it is growing, the sooner it needs to come off.  I hate to see patients where someone has delayed surgical removal.  Then when the decision is finally made to remove the mass, the veterinarian decides it is too big, or too complex, for removal at their hospital.  The pet is then referred to a vet school or specialty hospital for fatty tumor removal.  What was a simple surgery, now is a longer procedure with a longer recovery, more pain, and a cost significantly more than would have occurred had surgery been done earlier.  Finding the right time for fatty tumor removal is an art of balancing risks and benefits.  Be honest with your veterinarian and with yourself about the reason you want the mass removed.  Always remember, you are your pet’s best advocate.  If you don’t understand or agree, ask more questions.  Be sure you are making the right choice for your pet.”

*In the photo at the top of this article, Soldier is laying down. You can clearly see two fatty tumors, one on either side of his hips. He also has them on his chest. At age 18, these don’t bother him and we have opted to leave them in place rather than risk anesthesia. – Lori Hilliard


  1. Heather Wallace

    October 1, 2017 3:03 pm

    My neighbor has a 14-year old Vizla that always has fatty tumors. She has had some removed due to placement and affecting her quality of life, but others remain untouched. Thank you for this interesting article. I will definitely share it!

  2. Virginia

    March 31, 2018 1:02 pm

    My 11 year old Shepherd mix has had a huge fatty tumor on her side. Vets said it was benign and I put off surgery, not because of the cost. My Neska is an extremely nervous dog. (She was a rescue from the streets and I don’t know her past.)
    The tumor got really, really huge and we opted for surgery three weeks ago. She got through it well, had her appetite, played and was happy.
    Tonight, she just died all of a sudden. Had problems breathing and took her last breath. Her tongue hanging out of her mouth.
    We are all so very heartbroken. Maybe I should never had done this operation.
    Any thoughts, please.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The Contemporary Pet