Why Do Dogs Get Fatty Tumors? (Lipoma)

Why do dogs get fatty tumors
Why do dogs get fatty tumors

As our dogs age and their metabolism slows, fatty tumors — known as lipomas or fatty lumps — become increasingly more common. While the word tumor strikes fear into all of us, fatty tumors in dogs are primarily benign, meaning they are not cancerous.

So, why do dogs get fatty tumors? Since fatty tumors are common in older, overweight dogs, there’s a strong correlation between lipomas and diet — specifically, high carbohydrate diets. Many speculate outside influences, like pesticides and food chemicals have an impact, but the direct cause of fatty tumors is unknown. 

While poor diet is one potential cause of fatty tumors, genetics plays a role in lipomas in dogs, too, with certain breeds at a higher risk of developing these growths. High-risk breeds include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Doberman Pinchers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Weimaraners

Symptoms of fatty tumors in dogs (Lipoma)

A fatty tumor is a benign growth beneath the skin in the subcutaneous tissue — fatty layer. Arising from fat cells, lipomas can appear anywhere on a dog’s body but commonly form on the chest.

Fatty tumors are soft, easy to move, and slow-growing. Lipomas are not painful, so there’s no need to be cautious when feeling and moving it around to check for looseness.

Fatty tumor in dogs
Fatty tumor cells under a microscope

How do veterinarians diagnose fatty tumors?

To diagnose a benign fatty tumor, veterinarians extract a sample of the growth for testing using a procedure called fine needle aspirate. 

With a small 22 gauge needle, veterinarians remove a sampling of cells from the mass. The cloudy white tissue is then placed on a microscope slide and dyed. Viewing the sample under a microscope, a veterinarian can identify signs of cancer in the lipoma cells.

Since fine needle aspirate provides a small sampling size, any irregularities will determine if a biopsy is necessary.

Will a dog’s fatty tumor go away?

Fatty tumors don’t go away, but reducing them is possible. Since most dogs with fatty tumors are overweight, focusing on weight loss through a healthy diet and exercise can reduce the size of the fat cell mass. 

To begin a weight loss program for your dog, start by counting your dog’s daily caloric intake, including any human food and snacks they regularly receive. Using your dog’s weight, body score, and goal weight, you can identify the proper amount of calories your dog should consume daily.

Along with diet, increasing daily exercise is essential. Start a daily exercise plan that gradually increases over time as your dog’s conditioning and weight improve. All dogs should receive thirty minutes to one hour of exercise daily, depending on age, breed, and condition. 

A healthy rate of weight loss for dogs is 1% to 1.5% of body weight weekly. Weigh your dog on day one and track weekly results to know if you should adjust the amount of calories and exercise.

Should you consider removing fatty tumors in dogs?

Since fatty tumors are benign and not dangerous to your dog, most veterinarians will advise against surgery to remove the growth. The location of the fatty tumor — and its effect on mobility — will be the determining factor.

For example, if a fatty tumor forms near a leg joint, reducing mobility, your vet may recommend surgical removal.

If you opt for surgical removal, the size of the fatty tumor will impact how invasive the surgery is on your dog. Spotting and removing the growth when it’s smaller is best.

Home remedies for dog fatty tumors

There are several holistic home remedies for shrinking fatty tumors in dogs. Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM, details the following home remedies in a video covering fatty tumor home remedies:

  • Vitamin E
  • Green Tea
  • Probiotics
  • Curcumin
  • Colostrum

Always check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on supplements.

Fatty lipomas in dogs. Two golden retrievers on the grass

Final thoughts

The two most common factors in dogs with fatty tumors are age and weight. Since we can’t stop our pups from getting older, we can at least take control of their weight.

Fatty tumors are a mild health risk of obesity in dogs — the most preventable disease our dogs face today. Obese dogs are 2.6x more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and are at high risk of:

Diet and exercise aren’t the only cause of obesity in dogs. If your dog gained weight rapidly without any changes to their daily routine, it could be a sign of hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

Now that you know most fatty tumors are benign and identifiable by their soft, easy-to-move characteristics, focus on your dog’s health to prevent more and shrink their lipoma.

Have you had success shrinking a fatty tumor? Share this story and your tip for others.

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