You’re sitting in front of your dog’s favorite TV show, absently rearranging his hair coat as the action (or baking, or yodeling, or interior decorating) unfolds onscreen. Suddenly, you realize there is something concealed in his fur that has to be a recent change in his topography. A lump. A chill runs down your spine, I imagine, since that thing does not belong where it is currently located. After roughly nine jillion lumps, I myself no longer feel the chill. There is a map to identifying this lump and eradicating it if necessary. Walk with me for a moment down that well-worn path.

First, know that there are a whole lot of lumps out there, and most of them are not cancerous. Some of them actually belong there. Let’s begin by making sure this is not some normal feature of your pet that is sticking out kind of funny because of how he’s positioned. Yes, we sometimes examine pets for that exact reason. No, we are not laughing at you when this happens. It’s happened to all of us too, at some point or another. If the lump is huge and it was not there yesterday, that’s cause for concern, but it’s harder than you think to determine how long these things have actually been there. Slowly growing masses can actually become quite large before they attract your attention, because nobody inspects every single square inch of their pet every single day with the primary goal of finding lumps. Slowly growing lumps are most often not cancerous.

Some lumps have a profile that is familiar to your doctor. Their location, hardness, mobility, and surface appearance point to their probable identity. If it’s painful to the touch, it’s more likely infection or an injury of some sort. If it’s ugly but not painful, doctor is going to be pressuring you for some diagnostic testing. If the “eyeball diagnosis” is alarming or inconclusive (or, alternatively, if you need reassurance that your mass is harmless), we can seek out a more detailed dossier on this lump by consulting the pathologist. That can often be done the same day, by collecting cells with a needle (just like a blood sample, except inside the mass). Anesthesia isn’t needed in most cases, but we might want a sedative injection if the lump is located in a really inconvenient spot, like right next to the eye or inside the mouth, or on a really angry patient. Masses around the toes and under the tail are extra sensitive also, as you might imagine.

It can take several days to discover a lump’s true identity, because we are consulting someone off site that exclusively examines microscope samples, all day every day, from a large number of patients. In other words, pathologists are very popular people whose time is quite valuable. If we want their expert assistance (and we do), we will have to wait our turn. The report will often give us all the information we need to move forward: should it stay or should it go?

Dr. M.S. Regan